A multi-generational approach to travel

I was born in the 60s, which has enabled me to experience a veritable revolution in the art of travel throughout my life.

At my age, I’ve already rubbed shoulders with several generations who, in their own time, have had a different approach to travel. Each of them influenced the way those who followed discovered the world.

I invite you to reflect on the subject.

To analyze the evolution of travel in Western Europe over the generations, a graph will speak louder than any words.

I’ve superimposed the growth in international travel on the average age of each generation.

The growth in international travel has been phenomenal, from 25 million passengers in 1950 to almost 1 billion 200 million in 2019.

It’s interesting to note that this explosion in travel demand coincided with a different age for each successive generation. This explains, in part, their contrasting approaches to the trip.

Like all segmentation, this one is simplistic, but it aims to highlight what, from my point of view, characterizes one generation about another.

Inter generations

“The greatest generation” born between 1905 and 1925

That’s my grandparents’ generation. They saw two world wars and the birth of commercial aviation.

The world remained inaccessible to all but a handful of adventurers and explorers. Only the elite had the opportunity to travel abroad for pleasure. Transport costs were prohibitive. This was the era of sleeping trains and ultra-luxurious liners. The colonial empires of European countries are the stuff of dreams, but few visit them. As a result, in the minds of our grandparents, there was an idealization of these far-off exotic lands.

The middle classes only traveled out of necessity, for example, to emigrate to the United States or the colonies hoping for a better life. Paid vacations were not introduced in France until 1936. The first trip for many of our elders was simply to discover the sea!

My maternal grandparents, in their twenties and newlyweds, used to go on cycling vacations in their late 20s. It was considered avant-garde at the time. It wasn’t until they retired in the 70s that they began to travel as we define it today. They took organized group trips to nearby countries in Europe and around the Mediterranean.

For this generation, book travel is important. The imaginary journeys of 19th-century writer Jules Vernes and the adventure novels of Joseph Kessel and Jack London were the stuff of dreams for our grandparents. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry brought the great epic of l’Aéropostale to life with the remarkable “Night Flight” published in 1931.

This generation has now almost disappeared, but it sowed the seeds of the desire to travel for their heirs.

“The silent generation” born between 1925 and 1945

That’s my parents’ generation. As children or teenagers, they experienced the Second World War. They were marked by the horrors and deprivations of this period. For many, the first great journey was the exodus along the roads of France or Europe. There was also the tragic journey of the deportees, for whom this would be their last.

But for this generation, the end of the conflict coincided with their lives as young adults. With energy and a strong will to work, they contributed to the reconstruction of European countries. It was they who generated the baby boom of the 50s.

For this generation, the journey began, sometimes dramatically, with the wars of decolonization. These included, for French people, the Indochina War in the 50s and the Algerian War at the end of the same decade. Conscripts, not professional soldiers, were sent to the front. It’s important to remember this to put the difficulties of this generation into perspective.

For this generation, travel has long been synonymous with danger. Roads were still perilous (in France 16,000 fatalities in 1970 compared with 3,500 in 2017), and plane crashes often made the headlines in the 50s and 60s. The health situation in much of the world was still not very reassuring.

It wasn’t until they were in their fifties, or even retired, that this generation took a more positive, modern approach to travel. They are therefore less adventurous than the generations born after them. Independent travel is chosen by them only in easy countries, especially in Europe. This generation leaved it to tour operators to organize their trips to far-flung countries. This was also the period when Gilbert Trigano invented the ClubMed concept.

This generation only discovered the Internet after retirement age. Many people have been feeling a bit left behind by new technologies.

My parents, members of this generation, were rather avant-garde, in particular, my mother, who spent one year in Tahiti in 1951 (a trip I recount in an article), then worked as an air hostess based in Algiers between 1957 and 1961. My father traveled the world as part of his work as an engineer.

“The Baby Boomers generation” born between 1945 and 1960

This generation has benefited from a combination of circumstances. Born after ’45, they only experienced the Cold War, which fortunately did not degenerate into a global armed conflict. They entered working life with full employment, had a successful career, and retired young and in good material conditions. It’s also the generation that brought about a certain liberation of morals after May 68.

Baby boomers were the first generation to be able to travel the world in their youth. It all started in the 70s with the Kathmandu paths of the hippie movement. But contrary to popular belief, only a small proportion of “baby-boomers” have attempted this adventure.

The arrival of jumbo jets like the Boeing 747 triggered the democratization of air travel, with fares that have continued to fall ever since. Travel was becoming more and more remote, and took many different forms. From packaged hotel stays to independent travel, cruises, and discovery tours. In France, it was Jacques Maillot who inaugurated this new way of traveling with the creation of Nouvelles Frontières.

For this generation, travel means above all catalogs and paper guidebooks, and a close relationship with professionals such as travel agencies to prepare for their vacations. The Internet, which they discovered late in life, remained a secondary medium for them. They have used it more to prepare for a trip, for example, by checking the weather or checking in for their flight.

Environmental conditions have long been secondary for this generation. It’s the one that created the ski factories in the Alps and the huge hotel complexes in the Canaries and Tunisia. This will be reproached later by the younger generations, who forget that the Boomers enabled them to start their lives in material, economic, and health conditions unknown in the past. If traveling the world has become easy, it’s also thanks to the boomers, even if they didn’t fully appreciate the consequences.

I’m a little bit too young to consider this my generation. Above all, it’s that of several of my aunts and uncles and some of my friends.

“The generation X” or “The hyphen generation” born between 1960 and 1980

Ah, Generation X, caught between the boomers and the millennials. It’s been wrongly called “lost”, because it didn’t benefit from the 30 glorious years, and only entered the digital age as an adult.

And what if its richness would rather lay in being the link between these two generations? Still young enough to adopt new technologies, but experienced enough to do without them? That’s my conviction and my experience.

Here’s an example: a “boomer” will easily find his way with a road map, while a “millennial” will swear by his GPS… which may mislead him with false information. Generation X is comfortable with both complementary tools.

Generation X are, first and foremost, the heirs of May 68. They have kept the spirit of freedom, but with a greater awareness of economic constraints due to the crises they have experienced in their working lives. This generation is aware that travel is something extraordinary, and that the opportunity for a wide public to discover the world is a recent phenomenon.

This is the generation that lived through the fall of the Berlin Wall and the incredible shift in the world’s geopolitical balance. Their first trips were made without the Internet, with the Lonely Planet guidebook as their only source of information. A real sense of adventure that this generation once had, but which has now been lost.

Today, however, his approach to travel is more similar to that of millennials than boomers. This was the first generation to discover the world. They were motivated by the fact that so many of their children were leaving to study or work abroad. The increasingly international corporate world has also played a role in the development of Generation X’s appetite for travel.

Generation X is the generation that has seen the Concorde adventure, the incredible rise of Airbus, France’s TGV network, but also the abandonment of night trains.

Generation X gave more importance to free time, and therefore to travel than to work.

They have lost certain illusions. Tomorrow’s world won’t necessarily be as good as the boomers thought. It will just be different.

This generation is more comfortable as a digital user than as an actor. They still have a certain complex about it compared to younger people. So they’ll use all the tools the Internet offers to prepare for a trip, but won’t express themselves as a blogger or vlogger, for example.

Born in the early ’60s, Generation X is my generation. Rather than “lost”, I think its true name is a “hyphen”. It’s a generation that deserves a different look, especially from boomers and millennials.

“The generation Y or Millennials” born between 1980 and 2000

The travel blog generation! At ease with new technologies. It’s that of our youngest friends and the children of our first comrades.

A marketing target, to the point of excess, for many companies in recent years.

Millennials’ playground is the world. This is both natural and obvious since all they’ve ever known is a planet that’s now accessible almost everywhere, with cheap air travel and abundant information on the Internet to help them prepare for their trip.

This is a generation that finds it normal to study or work abroad. The Erasmus program was a real boost. Targeted by low-cost airlines, it has made the most of air transport, which has been transformed into a commodity.

Millennials are looking for meaning. Working? But why? Travelling, but preserving the planet? Imaginative, they invent new concepts, such as earning a living as a “digital nomad”. But they are also faced with their contradictions: they want to respect the environment while maintaining their habits as heavy consumers.

Will their destiny be a mirror image of that of the “silent” generation, who had a difficult youth but a gentler second half of life? Only time will tell, but we sense that many challenges lie ahead, such as climate change, the health crisis, new wars, the excesses of liberalism, and mass tourism. Millennials will be in the driver’s seat over the next two decades.

“The generation Z” born between 1995 and 2010 and ” The generation Alpha” born after 2010

These are the rising generations. It’s too early to say how they will travel. What we can say is that it will inevitably be marked by increasingly stringent environmental constraints.

And what lessons will they learn from the Covid-19 crisis? In 2020, the world has suddenly closed up in a way not seen since the Second World War. In 2023, it has already reopened, at a fast pace. The travel adventure will continue, but in what form?

Let’s go beyond generational differences!

The little inter-generational journey I proposed to you highlighted the generational disparities. My intention was above all to make you aware of the incredible evolution of our relationship with travel over the space of three or four generations.

But I’m going to ask you to put this approach into perspective, however seductive it may be!

Firstly, it’s a partial reading of society. It applies to a Western European population that is fairly well-educated and integrated into globalization. Yet there is a significant part of our society that feels excluded from these developments. Due to a lack of means and education, travel is not part of their lives. The “gilets jaunes” movement in France has reminded us of this loudly.

Secondly, generations are not hermetic but form a continuum. To be a member of Generation X means to have been born between the early 60s and the late 80s… which doesn’t mean you’re all the same over these twenty years!

Behind generations, there are individuals. We all know the “boomers” who are digital-minded and avid travelers, but we also know the “millennials” who are home-loving and resistant to new technologies. The generational approach is just the key to understanding societal evolutions, with a focus on travel over the last few decades.

Finally, this article is not a scientific or sociological study. It’s my perception as a “Gen X” who has spent his life rubbing shoulders with his fellow human beings born between the beginning of the 20th and 21st centuries.

And what do you think? How do you see yourself? Let me know what you think in the comments below!

The drawings were created by Tartila on freepik.com


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