By Rianne Coale
For adolescents and college students, travel plans usually revolve around school schedules and family getaways. But for working millennials, gone are the days of our set summer-long vacations and spring break escapes. Instead, we accrue paid time off (PTO) and can decide to take days off whenever we damn well please. But how do we cash in on that?
Uptown resident Ron Johnson said he definitely fits the classic millennial stereotype _ plenty of student debt, married later and bought a car instead of a house. The 28-year-old said his PTO goes toward vacations, from something big after a tax refund to smaller weekend getaways.
“I don’t think I ever got over the childhood idea of being an explorer. There are too many cool spots in the world to ever see them all, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to try,” Johnson said. “So when I go on vacation, I make it my goal to go somewhere new, exciting and challenging. The best part is that you can find that thrill by flying halfway around the world or by driving to the next state.”
The numbers back up Johnson’s approach. A study by Harris Group found that 72 percent of millennials prefer to spend more money on experiences than on material things, fueling what is referred to as the “experience economy.” Travel expert Kendra Thornton, owner of Chicago-based travel agency Royal Travel & Tours, said millennials travel for the sense of adventure and to see new or buzzworthy destinations (leading to those picture-perfect spots you see while scrolling through your Instagram feed).
“Millennials want unique experiences; they avoid ‘tourists traps’ and prefer longer and more frequent trips to make use of their hard-earned vacation time,” Thornton wrote in an email. “Millennials see value in travel and are grateful for the first-hand knowledge and insight a professional travel consultant can provide _ not just where to stay but also where to eat and what to see to get the most authentic local experience possible.”
When it comes to the length of their vacations, many young people report taking a mix of short weekend excursions and one or two long vacations spaced out across the year.
“In total, I take three or four trips a year. Two of those trips will be short weekend trips to visit family or friends, and the other two will be leisure trips,” said 23-year-old Old Town resident Tracie Rose. “I prefer to travel in the off-season, so I normally book trips for March or late October (or) early November. As much as I would love to travel in the summer when the weather is warm, prices are normally double what they are in the cooler months.”
Price is an obstacle for young professionals looking to get away, but it’s not the only one. The millennial generation has often been pigeon-holed into a caricature of a person who cares more about the perks of a job than the actual work that goes into the position. But a recent study by Project: Time Off and GfK reports that they’re more likely to see themselves as “work martyrs” _ meaning they’re less likely to use all their vacation time on purpose _ than older generations.
The report, which includes surveys of over 5,000 full-time employees who receive PTO as a benefit, concluded that more than 43 percent of work martyrs are millennials, compared to 29 percent of overall respondents. And nearly half (48 percent) of millennials think it’s actually a good thing to be seen as a work martyr by their boss, agreeing more frequently with these four work martyrdom statements:
“No one else at my company can do the work while I’m away.”
“I want to show complete dedication to my company and job.”
“I don’t want others to think I’m replaceable.”
“I feel guilty for using my paid time off.”
This guilt is so real that for people like 27-year-old Fulton Market District resident Josh Jackson, not having PTO can be seen as an advantage.
“I don’t have any PTO, so I can take as many or as few vacations as I want, as long as I get my hours in each year,” he said. “I don’t really budget, I just make a list of a few places I want to go and pick the one that is the most economical at the time I want to go … I use vacations as my big expenses each year.”
Johnson and Rose’s cost-conscious approaches fit in with trends that Thornton has noticed among millennial travelers.
“They will travel anytime they have the money and time to do so _ they aren’t tied to specific times of the year,” Thornton said. “If they are value cautious, then they have no problem traveling to popular places in the off season (think Europe in the winter or Caribbean in the summer).”
Lincoln Park resident Belinda Knox, 25, agreed.
“The question I usually ask myself is ‘Where is the coolest place can I go for the cheapest?’ and work my way down from there,” she said.
Bottom line: Cost and work martyrdom shouldn’t obstruct millennials from setting out on the adventures they seek. For Johnson so long as you know what you’re looking for, an exciting vacation is possible almost anywhere.
“Wikipedia is like a vacation menu. Read one little fact about Norway and then you can find yourself booking plane tickets and rental car in a couple clicks,” Johnson said. “I decide where to go based on interesting things I’ve learned and try to plan a long enough trip to accommodate the main things I want to accomplish.
“I’ve spent a day in a small town in Iowa and a will do 12 days in Scotland later this year,” he added. “It’s all about following up the spark with good research.”