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Why Travel Matters More Than Money to Millennials

Millennials might feel they're in precarious financial or professional growth situations, but the burnout they're experiencing is a core reason they're spending more on vacations.

Despite being more educated, millennials are poorer and own less property than their parents and grandparents did at the same age.

You might assume, given millennials’ financial situation, that they’d be staying in to save money. Instead, more than half are taking on debt for summer travel.

Why? Social pressures probably play a role, but the better answer is burnout: Seven in 10 of them experience at least some job burnout, Gallup data shows. And for them, a true summer vacation is worth any amount of money.

What’s Wrong With ‘Bleisure’?

Surprisingly, the best evidence for the burnout hypothesis may be the rise of what one consulting firm calls the “bleisure” traveler. Millennials who can’t get away from work are splurging on luxuries that make business travel feel like a break.

“As more and more millennials have entered the workforce over the past few years, they have brought a new desire to make business travel less mundane and more adventurous,” say Credera consultants Emily Dunn and Cameron Weinert. Bleisure travelers buy primetime flights, lodging close to attractions, and little extras to make business trips more enjoyable. 

Why bother with bleisure? Because more than two-thirds of millennials self-identify as workaholics. They’re burned out but afraid to unplug. Desperate for a break, they spend more than they should on small comforts.

Snaps as Self-Care

What about millennials who can put business on the back burner? They’re going all-in on getaways that help them feel “seen,” a key part of self-care. 

By curating and customizing their vacation photos, Millennials aren’t being vain; they’re expressing themselves. A study showed that just 45 minutes of artistic expression can significantly reduce cortisol levels. Forty-five minutes spent looking through vacation photos and then cropping, adding filters, and adjusting the light on them isn’t just a trip down memory lane — it’s also time to unleash creativity and reduce stress.

For their canvases, young adults are taking grand adventures. They’re choosing destinations not by what’s cheap, but by which trips best align with their artistic sensibilities. “For many millennials, their social presence is an extension of their personal brand,” says Andrew Arnold, a millennial lifestyle entrepreneur.

Arnold is right, but he misses the point: Personal branding isn’t always a matter of competition. For young adults, it’s an act of reconnection.

Social Connection Counts…

Expressing ourselves social media may fight stress, but it has a greater purpose: connection. Not just millennials, but all Americans, now spend more time socializing online than they do in the real world.

Whether or not that’s a good thing, mental health experts say interacting with friends and family is one of the best ways to stop burnout. “These interactions should ideally involve pleasurable activities with minimal stress and strain, primarily with people who have positive energy,” explains Dr. Susan Biali Haas

What social activity could be less stressful or more pleasurable than showing our best selves through a screen? In fact, talking about ourselves is so pleasurable that participants in a Harvard study were willing to give up money to do it.

Sound familiar? It sure does to those millennials taking on travel debt.

…And Debt Doesn’t

But don’t millennials — not just the poorest generation, but also the most financially literate one — understand how debt works? That it only means more stress down the road?

Perhaps, but it doesn’t take much debt to make them wonder: What’s an extra $1,000? And millennials in debt are so strapped that six in 10 of them can’t say when, or if, they’ll pay it off. A fifth of them actually expect to die in debt.

Young adults may be in financial trouble, but they’re subscribing to the theory that “you only live once.” Taking vacations may take them further down the path of debt, but vacations also enable them to break free from their daily lives and, for a moment, capture the life they dreamed of through years of internet exposure.

Maximizing Time Off

One reason millennials may be trying to pack a lifetime into a weeklong vacation? They generally get less time off than generations that have been in the workforce longer. And while many are more than willing to spend their vacation days, others forfeit theirs out of fear.

“Sometimes we forget that most of that generation graduated into a really difficult economy,” points out Katie Denis, vice president at labor advocacy group Project: Time Off. Millennials who land secure jobs “really want to hold onto them,” she says.

Remind millennials — particularly those that try to make them up via bleisure — that they’re owed time off. Tell those that are taking time away that you’re looking forward to seeing their photos. And above all, don’t interrupt their adventures unless you absolutely have to.

So is unplugging worth spending more money? Not every generation would agree, but millennials certainly do — and it raises some interesting questions about how we weigh our emotional well-being versus our financial well-being.

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