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Solo, But Not Alone: Five Tips for Engaging Millennial Travelers

At the end of 2016, I spent five weeks traveling solo through Central and South America. Though I was on the road for over 30 days, there was only one night during my entire journey—on a remote island off the coast of Cartagena, Colombia—where I felt truly alone. I hadn’t told any of my fellow travelers or friends back home where I was going to spend the night. I was totally and completely off the grid. While I had anticipated and prepared for many more lonely (albeit exhilarating) moments throughout my trip, the reality of solo travel in today’s connected world turned out to be quite different.

What we really mean when we say we’re traveling alone

Millennials travel more than any other generation—on average 4.2 times a year, compared to 2.9 or 3.2 for older age groups. By 2020, young travelers will take 320 million international trips. Articles and features bombard our inboxes, lauding the best places to travel in 2017, the most sought-after experiences for millennials, the most ‘Gram-worthy hotels. And despite it being only January, so begins the bucket list for this year’s escapes.

Luckily, we live in a day and age where the pursuit of travel is encouraged. In 2017, “work-life integration” is more commonplace than ever, buoyed by global connectivity and increasingly flexible work environments. New industries are pioneering the idea of unlimited vacation policies, and social media gives us inside access to the incredible places our friends, family, and total strangers are visiting every day of the year.

As a result, travel—even to some of the most remote destinations on the planet—has become far less intimidating than it once was. When given the opportunity to purchase a flash deal for a 12-day trip to Japan, today’s adventurous millennial would rather go alone than not at all.

Sure, some people thrive in the wilderness without another soul in sight, opting for uninterrupted self-discovery. But for many solo travelers—myself included—setting out on our own means we’re on the hunt for greater community—to take part in a truly unique experience, something bigger than ourselves, with other like-minded explorers.

Today’s millennial traveler—what you need to know

As millennials continue to prioritize travel and experiences over traditional life milestones, brands are starting to take note. We believe this represents a huge opportunity for brands— and not just those who fall into the travel category—to contribute to a solo traveler’s happiness and connectedness before, during, and after a trip. We have compiled a list of five tips for better understanding and engaging today’s millennial traveler.

#1. Think local

Undoubtedly, one of the biggest trends amongst millennial travelers today is a desire to forge deeper connections to the people, customs, and traditions of the place they are visiting. This is especially true when traveling solo, which makes one more reliant on the local community and resources.  

Nearly 40% of millennials claim that when planning a vacation, “opportunities to learn something new” is an extremely important consideration when deciding where to go. Offer young travelers a path to cultural immersion and bring them something new and different by partnering with indigenous brands to co-create a uniquely local experience.

#2. Help foster communities around common interests

These days, travelers are less interested in working their way down TripAdvisor’s list of iconic sites and monuments, and more focused on exploring a personal interest, particularly when traveling alone. 

Consider, for example, that 54% of travelers plan to participate in an adventure activity on their next trip. The best way to provide value to your adventurous customers is to connect them with others who share their passion. Become a catalyst for community by sponsoring events or building an online platform that connects your audience with other fans while they’re on the road. If your brand is uniquely positioned to support travelers who like to volunteer, consider organizing this type of trip or activity. And since a staggering 97% of millennials will post on social media while traveling, and even 75% post once a day, the special connections you help create are bound to be shared.

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#3. Understand the various segments of the millennial audience

Collectively, millennials spend $200 billion per year on travel, but it’s important to understand the diversity in spending habits amongst the traveling millennial cohort. While 68% of millennials claim they are most likely to spend less than $1,000 on a trip, we’re also seeing growing demand for more curated, upscale homestays as well as the “TEDificiation of travel,” where affluent millennials are willing to pay a premium in order to rub elbows with influencers and experts abroad. 

It might make sense to stock hostels with your shampoo product so weary explorers can freshen up, or instead, supply animal safaris with your industry-leading brand of professional camera equipment. Put yourself in the shoes of the solo traveler and imagine what products or services will be most appreciated on their journey. 

#4. Show up in the right places with the right content. 

Millennials like to plan ahead, but they also appreciate the ability to leave adventure and discovery to chance when traveling by their lonesome. Thanks to global connectivity, today’s travelers have the ability to dedicate time to research both before and throughout their trip. To capture their attention, however, it’s vital to make your content visual, actionable, and relevant for both of these touch points. Instead of sharing hour-by-hour itineraries, create inspiring content that aligns with an explorer’s mindset. Think about where your brand can authentically offer thought-leadership for travelers. Can you curate a list of the best yoga studios in Thailand, or the best coffee shops in Colombia?  


#5. Look inward for opportunities to engage

Consider how you can align your own company culture with millennials’ preference for travel over other perks. Rethink your internal policy around mobile working. Consider adding rotational programs that offer younger employees the opportunity to travel if it demonstrates a clear ROI for your brand. Incentivize employees with an all expenses paid trip as a reward for celebrating a two year anniversary at your company. As millennials become the biggest generation in the workforce, adopting innovative policies around travel can be an effective strategy for boosting recruitment and retention efforts.