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Young and restless – Sue’s award-winning article

Last weekend, our very own Sue Williams won an Australian Society of Travel Writers award for the Best Travel News Story of 2023 for this yarn, which first appeared in the SMH Traveller section, about how young people are starting to travel again.

They’re the generation that have missed out the most through the pandemic – that epic gap year wander around the world, those uni holidays discovering Southeast Asia and that precious breather, roaming Europe, before kicking off a career.

So has travel, as a result, lost its appeal forever for the young, or are they ready and raring to get back out there to see what life beyond Australia has to offer?  

All early signs are that they’re even keener to travel than even before. Youth travel specialists Contiki says it’s seen a 107 per cent increase in bookings in April to June, compared to the first three months of this year. “Similarly, 61 per cent of young Aussies committed to making international travel a priority for this year,” said managing director Toni Ambler.

“The European summer shaped up to be the most popular time to travel, with 64 per cent jetting off for some European sun. We are also seeing travellers make the most of their time abroad and book multi-destination trips including Amsterdam, France, Italy, UK, Germany, Austria, while beach escapes and island adventures has meant destinations like Greece and Croatia remain popular.”

Webjet has also just recorded a sizeable growth in the share of international flight bookings amongst 18 to 25-year-olds, particularly to Europe. “It seems that these travellers are the most eager to make up for two years’ worth of delayed gap years and university semester-break holidays,” said CEO David Galt. 

“[But] as increased airfares continue to impose on young price-savvy travellers, it’s  much more crucial to find the best deals available on the market, especially for those with flexible travel dates who can use the Price Calendar Tool to find the cheapest period to fly.”

At the Australian Institute of Foreign Study, managing director Wendi Aylward says they’ve had double the number of applications from young people to travel to the US to work as counsellors at Camp America, while school-leavers are currently increasingly calling at Flight Centre stores to ask about regulations and restrictions and whether travel is safe. 

“A lot of youth travellers have a lot more money saved up from their jobs and are deciding to do that dream trip to Europe they’ve been planning for at least three years,” said Nathan Varney, at a Flight centre store in Brisbane. “The most popular destinations are Europe and Fiji and Bali is currently resurging.”

Many others are after bragging rights for their friends. “And who wouldn’t?” asks Taree Flight Centre consultant Katrina Van Der Merwe. “They want the salt flats of Bolivia or a camel ride in Egypt or to hike the glaciers in the Rockies. We’re also seeing a lot joining up with groups and tours as winging it entirely on your own can be daunting in this day and age.”

Laura Suine, 19, Cabarita, Sydney

“I’m planning a big Europe trip for next year, going to Italy, Greece, Spain … and the rest to be decided. I’ll be on a semester break from the third year of my architecture degree at UTS, so will have two solid months away. 

“I’d originally planned this trip for 2021 with my family and friends and their families after we’d finished the HSC. At least it’s given me more time to save. I’m used to having big family holidays overseas, but we haven’t done that for three years. Now, looking forward to this trip, it’s: Yay! I feel like now I’m going to appreciate every little moment. Even the things we used to hate, like checking in and going through security, feel so exciting.

“I am a bit more nervous, though, about being in a country where I don’t speak the language in case I do get sick, or there is an outbreak of illness. I never thought about that before, but I love travel and I don’t want to wait any longer.”

Kit Swingler, 22, Northcote, Melbourne

“I left Melbourne at the start of April with my partner Georgia and have had a month in Nepal, a month in Vietnam and now we’re having two months in Bali.

I finished my science degree at the University of Melbourne at the end of 2020 and had planned this trip for 2021. But that couldn’t happen, so I did some hospitality work and received support payments which meant I didn’t have to touch my holiday savings. So, I’ll aim for post-grad medicine studies next year instead, and enjoy travel now.

“Sometimes, there’s a lot of COVID-related stuff around, certainly in airports and with mass transit but, outside, it feels pretty removed. Walking in the mountains in Nepal, you feel a world away from COVID and you can forget all about it for a little bit, although some of the routes are closed and teahouses, where you stay and get food, are shuttered. 

“I think I’m definitely enjoying travel more now. I was raring to go. It puts it all into perspective how lucky we are to be able to travel and see the world when it was shut off from us for so long. If anything, it’s made me even keener to travel, despite the fears, and I plan to travel as much as I can.”

Gaby Lioe, 22, Hurstville, Sydney

“Me and my friends – there’ll be five to six of us – are planning to go to Europe next year. We’ll go everywhere … England … Spain … Greece … Italy … France. We want to do the whole thing and we’ll have four to six weeks. I’m so excited. My parents are Indonesian, so I’ve been there a lot, but this will be my first time in Europe.

“I’m an actor and I graduated a year ago from my Bachelor of Performance at the University of Wollongong and I’ve been working in [menswear retail] Tarocash to save money for the trip. 

“I want to go over and sightsee and try different food and party. I’m so eager to go; I think COVID has made me even more keen. I’ve really built this trip up and think, and talk, about it all the time. I don’t feel worried at all. I want to travel to other places too, and eventually I want to go and to America to see if I can work there.”

Amelia Fuhr, 20, Coburg, Melbourne

“I’m studying international business, majoring in marketing, at Monash University and I’ve only one more semester to do next year. But the whole reason I did this course was that it has an overseas exchange program as part of it, but that was cancelled because of COVID. But I’ve reapplied so I’m hopeful I’ll be able to go in January. 

“I choose Colorado in the US because it has lots of outdoor activities and beautiful mountains, and it’s so different to Melbourne. I also want to experience US college life. I missed out on most of mine because of the pandemic. My dream is eventually to go and live and work overseas. 

“I now see travel as more of a luxury, something that we should no longer take for granted. It’s even more exciting than it was before and I’m going to appreciate it so much more. I definitely feel more cautious about it, however. I chose Colorado, for instance, over Boston because that’s more likely to have lockdowns. I’d hate to go over and end up locked down and the cost of quarantine in a hotel would be huge. There are risks, but in the end, you want to travel and you just think, Whatever!” 

Patrick Barnden, 23, Box Hill, Melbourne

“The last time I was overseas was in 2020, in Japan, right before COVID started, and lots of the attractions were closed and there were complications with flights. I just graduated last year with a commerce degree from Deakin University and am now in the first year of my full-time work as an accountant, so I haven’t planned any trips coming up. 

“I’m still young so I do want to get out and see different things and places and make new memories. I definitely have ground to make up but I haven’t had the chance yet. I did travel a lot when I was younger with my family to Europe and Asia and now I want to travel with friends or by myself 

“For my next trip, I’d like to go back to Europe as I love all the different cultures there and I’ve always liked Asia. I don’t think my attitude to travel has changed at all. Because I’m vaccinated, I think I’ll be pretty OK and while travel seems a lot more complicated now, I’m sure it’ll be easier later on.”

Sue Williams
Sue Williams
Sue Williams is an award-winning journalist and author who’s written for all of Australia’s leading newspapers and magazines and has published 25 books.

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