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March 13, 2012

Americans of Generation Y: Are we the “Go-Nowhere Generation?”

Recent buzz around the web has suggested big changes in travel, but these trends are much more complicated than gradual increases in tourism as discussed last week by Chris and Marco.

Generation Y, is that you? Photo from CNN

We know we can expect at least one billion tourists by 2012, but not everyone is joining the great migration.

A controversial New York Times article suggests quite the opposite for Americans of Generation Y. It suggests that Americans born after 1980 have become “risk-averse and sedentary,” more conditioned to slouching instead of moving forward. We’ve been dubbed the “Go-Nowhere Generation,” with more of us living at home, checking Facebook and waiting for the economy to change instead of moving to places where we may be better off.

While some of the reasons for less movement (economic downturn, student debts, technology addictions?) ring true, I can’t agree with the vague generalizations of America’s young people. Traveling for better opportunity is less common not just because we’re stuck tweeting in front of the TV! Tom Joad and his family did indeed travel half of the US for a sunnier economic climate, but twenty and thirty-somethings in America are living under much different circumstances than the Joads of the 1930s. In this great recession, it’s the housing crisis, low wages and debt that encourage staying put instead of breaking free like the Joads. Hard working adventurers and idealists of the past headed west to farm, moved to Alaska to log, and bolted to Las Vegas to join the burgeoning casino industry. By 2009, most cities in the “top 10″ list for opportunity became those that were hit hardest by the crumbling economy.

But what about the lingo of Generation Y? An increased popularity of the word “random” contributing to young Americans relying on luck instead of effort? I don’t think so. It’s doubtful that the Disney Channel show “So Random” has much of an influence on the American psyche. And can we be sure that Facebook plays a leading role in the declining number of US drivers licenses being issued?

The Joads' Jalopy: photo from The Guardian

It’s a tough economy in the US and outside of it. It’s true that many young Americans are emerging from the standstill, and are simply underemployed and drowning in student debts which may lead to more local living. The root causes of this slowed travel phenomenon are more complicated than I know, but I can assure you that any inclination to lazily live at home and depend on “luck over effort” isn’t a result of a Disney Channel slogan.

What do you think? As like minded readers sharing a passion for travel, why do you think American young adults are in a migratory standstill? Do you think the same rules apply to other countries of Gen Y?

Posted by | Comments (11) 
Category: General, Notes from the collective travel mind, Travel Writing

11 Responses to “Americans of Generation Y: Are we the “Go-Nowhere Generation?””

  1. Courtney Says:

    Last time I checked, the recession happened because a board room full of multi-millionaires got just a little bit more greedy and set into motion a ticking time-bomb to profit off of at the very real expense of others. It wasn’t a 22 year-old college graduate who, after seeing the way the world really works and after dealing with the pyramid scheme of a totally useless college education, got a little apathetic and disheartened along the way.

  2. Roger Says:

    I work at a community college and it does concern me that the economy is having an impact on budgets and the opportunity to travel abroad. On one hand, the numbers of students participating in the study abroad program seems to be healthy, even up, here, but the duration is getting shorter. Three to six weeks is the norm, and that is just not long enough, I’m afraid. Time and budget constraints are the killer of all things inspirational regarding travel, and I think that is a major bummer for the development of our young people. Isolationism, ignorance and distrust of anything foreign will be a consequence. While I have lived abroad in the past, and loved it, I have also lived in seven states, which I think has been a way of seeing above our petty regional differences.

  3. DEK Says:

    The Youth of Today have always been a source of despair. For one thing, they seem to enjoy the role. I know I did when I was a kid. I am struck, though, by the decline in drivers licenses mentioned by the NYT article — from 80% of 18-yr-olds in 1980 to only 65% in 2008 — as driving a car seems to me the gateway drug to independent travel. Otherwise, you have to go where everyone else goes, on public transportation.

  4. Beth Anderson Says:

    How much of this is a result of divorces? My brother, who may actually be Gen X come to think of it, is going through a divorce which means he is tied to his town until both kids reach 18. He’d be much better off in a new town with a new job. He won’t leave his kids. Gen Y would be old enough for a similar phenomenon.

  5. James Says:

    This post was real interesting. I disagree with the claim that generation Y kids don’t travel because they’re risk adverse and sedentary. They have been brought up to want a different dream though. Personally, i was born in 1988 and had to work hard and save money before being able to go on my first solo-backpacking trip. When i came home and told other people my age, they were interested and wanted to know how they could backpack too. I told them to stop wasting money on alcohol, stupid crap, and save there cash. Next, i said invest it in your experiences and take action. Some of them got inspired and ended up buying a plane ticket. The point is, once you put an idea in anyone’s head, they will make it happen if they want it bad enough. My contention would be travel and backpacking especially is not as talked about or endorsed in American culture compared to Canadians or Europeans. Its more acceptable to settle, get a job, and join the rest of the consumer society.

  6. DEK Says:

    Why do we care if others travel? Can’t we be content with our own travels and talk about them among ourselves or with those who want to hear about them? Why this proselytizing fervor to see all the world in motion, glutting the roads to faraway places, overburdening travel facilities and disrupting traditional communities? As best I can tell, none of the great travelers, from Odysseus onward until recent years, preached the Gospel of Travel. When they told their stories they did not add that of course their listeners ought to do the same thing themselves. Why do today’s independent travelers — I don’t think we hear this from unashamed tourists — feel this need to recruit others? I see no benefit to myself as a traveler from having more people abroad, and regularly experience a cost from it.

  7. James Says:

    Personally, I believe other people abroad is a burden as well. Especially when the majority of them do the same things they were doing back home- What’s the point? Travel is not some glorified vacation- especially if you’re vagabonding. I’ve usually experience most of my growth when i’m struggling to survive and feeling alive.

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