YOLO, FOMO, and the Rise of Travel as Cultural Signifier

May 20, 2019

By Carlo Versano

It has become a cliche of the millennial and Gen Z cohorts to say they prefer "experiences over things." But a new study on global travel preferences gives an indication of how important experiential travel has become ー so much that it's creating its own "culture economy."

The study, commissioned by Culture Trip, surveyed 10,500 respondents in the U.S. and UK, including in-depth interviews with 150 of them, found that nearly half say they are now compromising on daily expenses in order to travel more.

Keisha Lamothe, video lead at Culture Trip, told Cheddar that the effects of that sea change are being felt in the economy, where millennials are putting off big purchases. "They're not necessarily saving for a big-ticket item like a house," she said.

That trend, of course, has to do with a confluence of socioeconomic factors including the student debt burden, higher costs or living, and sluggish wage growth. But social media and the YOLO/FOMO culture has given rise to a desire to travel more (and document it, of course) in a sort of keeping-up-with-the-Joneses mentality that used to have more to do with what car was in the driveway than what posts were getting the most likes.

"They don't want to miss out on anything that their peers or their families are also experiencing," Lamothe said.

The travel landscape of 2019 can be broken into four types, according to Culture Trip, with the "culturally aware" on one end of the spectrum and the "culturally fluid" on the other. The former is made up mostly of older travelers, mostly over 55, who "know what they like" and prefer to take trips to locations relatively close to home, according to Lamothe.

On the opposite end are the "culturally fluid."

"These are the nomads at heart," Lamothe said. It is that segment of the traveling public that is lifting companies like Airbnb (and the reason behind that company's recent acquisition of last-minute booking app HotelTonight) and other services that let them "live like a local" ー which happens to be Airbnb's actual slogan.

The trend has had mixed results for local economies. Cities like Barcelona have welcomed the influx of short-term rentals and the tourist dollars that come with them, but not without major backlash from the actual people who live there.

For full interview click here.