jetzetters: understanding how gen z travels

by Bryant Lin
January 27, 2023

As Gen Z moves to and through their 20s, we have already taken to the road and the sky to explore the world. Although our generation isn’t traveling at the scale of our Millennial elders yet, Gen Zs in the past year have already become the generation with the 2nd largest proportion of travelers in the US, surpassing both Gen X and Baby Boomers (GWI). What’s behind our generation’s ever growing wanderlust? We took to interviewing Gen Zs from the Koi Pond to find out.

Routines and Habits

Gen Z's travel habits and routines come as diverse as the generation themselves. With different motivations, goals, and backgrounds for travel, some preferred to go it alone, while others preferred to travel with others. Sebastian, a 24 year old Koi Ponder, noted “I prefer traveling alone. Yeah. I like putting my earphones in. I like having everything systematically. ” Motivations also remained a differing factor. Leisure and vacation was by far the most frequently mentioned reason for traveling, whether they are traveling alone or with family. However, Moesha, a 21 year old Koi Ponder, cited visiting family as her most common reason for travel, commuting between Lisbon and Barcelona every month. Others had similar stories; visiting relatives or friends at a particular destination despite being on vacation. When it came to packing, each Koi Ponder admitted to a similar habit: packing at the last available moment, either the night before or the day of their departure. However, booking and planning trips went back to being split among the group: some had decided to wing it entirely, perusing Google Flights until a good deal popped up, while others planned out itineraries weeks in advance. “You know, it’s those kind of moments where you've been thinking about something for a long time or maybe you see it online and you get inspired by it or, or whatever. And then just Tuesday morning you see the flight is like 40 euros and you're like, okay, I'm just gonna buy it.” - Moesha

Maximizing “Value”

For Gen Z, traveling remains a big luxury, which is in line with the rest of the US and the world. Additionally as the majority of the generation has yet to enter the workforce, our desire for travel is still heavily stunted by limited budgets and incomes. Thus, our generation is constantly searching for the best value while planning trips. “Even if I'm traveling with friends per se, for example, I just booked a trip to Puerto Rico next month with friends. I'm flying completely separately from everyone else cause I'm getting the best deal, you know, out of it,” Sebastian mentions in his interview. Although our income may still be limited, Gen Z isn’t afraid to “splurge” when they need to—even though it’s on a much smaller scale. For those that can afford it, Gen Zs tend to avoid Ultra Low-Cost Carriers (ULCCs) like Spirit or Frontier, opting for standard economy options with a free carry-on & personal item and humane legroom instead. Despite our aversion to ULCCs, regular Low Cost Carriers (LCCs), like Southwest and JetBlue, still remain top options for Gen Z travelers, beating out legacy carriers like United or American. Flights and the general mode of travel still remain the cost Gen Z cuts the most: in other words, getting there isn’t as important as being there. Sebastian puts it best: “Cheaping out on flight comfort means being able to take more trips.”

When it comes to places to stay, among our US interviewees, Airbnb remains the standard for lodging with the flexibility of the space and the option of a kitchen as crucial aspects of travel accommodations. For Gen Zs, the place they stay is as much a part of the experience as the destination itself. Each interviewee cited the importance of having a good place to stay while traveling, emphasizing security and comfort as paramount factors in their decision making. 

“Usually when I travel it's kind of to take off the stress of everything that I have going on in my own world. So I don't wanna deal with more stress being on vacation or being, you know, doing leisure activities.” - Jessica, 24 year old Koi Ponder.

What’s Good Here?

Gen Z has an affinity for “doing stuff” while on vacation, whether that was exploration, action, or adventure (GWI). Relaxation falls by the wayside, simply chilling on a beach or lounging in a resort is simply not good enough for us. Sebastian in particular sought after thrilling activities, such as jumping into a river. For others, like Moesha and Jessica, exploration was the primary focus; walking around the city, finding great places to eat, and experiencing the nightlife were all highlights for a destination. Jessica emphasized “finding what is special that you can’t find anywhere else” and pursuing that “unique experience.” However, it isn’t all action for Gen Z—relaxation is still “sprinkled” here and there. Moesha noted that simply walking around was a form of relaxation in itself; there’s no need to be in a certain place at a certain time, she can go at her own pace. So long as they weren’t confined to a schedule, relaxation could find its way into any itinerary.

The Influence of Social Media

Without a doubt, social media plays a big factor in every aspect of Gen Zs lives, including travel. At some point in the planning or traveling process, social media was a large influence for each interviewee. Moesha and Sebastian noted using social media to determine places to go, Kiara, a 21 year old Koi Ponder, and Moesha used social media for research to find new and interesting locations to visit during their stay. Instagram in particular was the most popular platform for both research and recommendations, often leading our interviewees to including specific locations or destinations on their journeys. Finally most people saw posting on social media as an important aspect of travel. But for the interviewees, the idea of posting on social media was more of a personal reason than a public one. Jessica noted using social media as a way of documenting her experience, and it provided an easy way to look back on her memories made on each trip. Kiara and Moesha fell into a similar vein, taking photos during their trip, but posting on social media afterwards. Sebastian in particular also saw social media as important, but it never would determine what he would do. 

An experience for the whole self

For many Gen Zs, the ethos of travel—particularly leisure travel—is centered around self fulfillment and achievement. Given our current life stages, Gen Z is still learning about both themselves and their place in the world, meaning the desire for travel and discovery is high. For Jessica and many others, travel allows for escape, especially from the routine and endless cycle of daily life. “Happiness? Yeah, for me it's just like building those memories and having those experiences. I feel like a lot of the times I'm guilty of kind of getting stuck in the same loop of like, when I'm back home and just working a lot or I'm stressed, I need a way to snap out of it. So to kind of have some new experiences and make these memories. I'm not gonna be young forever. So that's kind of why I enjoy being able to, to make those memories.” - Jessica. Sebastian had similar thoughts: travel makes him “feel alive and human,” and being able to do the things he wants while traveling gives him freedom and control in his life. Traveling to them is a form of stress relief—thus traveling itself should be as stress free as possible—this belief carries over into each Koi Ponder’s respective travel styles. Sebastian notes, “Remember when you grew up traveling and it's chaotic? And everything's stressful and I just don't want that stress.” 

Moesha, on another hand, sees travel as an opportunity to grow: “It's like, kinda the feeling of self-improvement. The fact that ‘Okay, I was able to go to this place to immerse myself a little bit, to walk around just by myself,’ you know? Like getting out of the comfort zone and also like getting to know more culture and also like, I don't know, I'm really big on food. So the fact that I can just, yeah, eat something for, I don't know, if I go to Croatia, something like a snack typical from there I'm just super happy just to try new things as well, you know? So I think it's the fact that I’m getting out of my comfort zone, that’s a big part.” 

Underneath these motivations lies the feeling of joy and happiness. Regardless of the exhaustion or anxiety, just the opportunity to travel gave all the interviewees a strong sense of fulfillment and contentment. For each Koi Ponder, travel was something deeply personal and unique to themselves, yet also spiritual in the fact they can heal and grow from it. Despite the turmoil of travel in recent years, being able to go far and abroad will become another outlet for Gen Z’s as they continue their journey of self-expression.