Wanderlust from the screen to reality

When applying to colleges back in 2012, I knew that study abroad was a big factor for me – it was a must do during college. And I knew then that Australia was my favored destination, so I made sure the programs I liked didn’t limit my options. Back then, Australia seemed far and ~scary~ to study for 6 months; and when I told people that was my plan, they were surprised. But now, it is a very common destination for study abroad, my friends vacations, and Instagram posts. Being someone who always wants to get away from the travel crowds instead of follow them, I’ve noticed that “hot” destinations are changing for people my age, and once something becomes a “trendy” travel place, it is swarmed with American tourists. Also – everyone our age is rushing to travel whenever they get the opportunity. Why is this?
 Forbes thinks social media is making millennials want to travel more. I agree, and I think it’s opening up new tourist destinations to popularity that were previously perceived as too foreign, unsafe, or unheard of. Technology is taking us to places we never imagined going.

Bloggers & Instagram-run businesses

One big factor that has come in to play for travel, as it has for many industries, is the blogger community. Bloggers have become as, if not more, important than magazine editors in their respective areas. For travel bloggers, this has allowed for them to collaborate with companies, brands, and even tourism boards to sponsor and share content to their large followings. With the sponsored posts also come their guides to certain cities, recommendations and tips, and sharing of their experience with their readers. These bloggers must establish trust in their readers, since the readers may follow in their footsteps, and getting these millennials to trust and follow you is an accomplishment. Personally, I am picky about the bloggers I follow, since there seem to be so many out there today.

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Along these same lines, photographers sharing their photos and travel content, and who have built strong brands on this Instagram content, can use their experience to turn into a business. For example, @beautifuldestinations created the “largest online travel community” through their Instagram page, which currently has 8.7 million followers. Today, the page has grown into a full consulting agency that helps hotels, charities, and tourism boards promote themselves and understand how to engage on social media. From where they started to where they are now, Beautiful Destinations is a perfect example of how active and engaged millennials are over travel on social media.

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Peers & FOMO

Oh, FOMO (For those of you that don’t know, this stands for the Fear Of Missing Out). Forbes cites this as a major driver for millennial travel – their friends are going there, so they want to go there too. I think this is definitely true, especially proven by the endless abroad photos taken in the exact same spots, but it also may have to do with the sharing of information. It is much easier to text a peer and ask how she traveled to Bali than spend hours online doing the research myself.

Other Resources

As I myself have been researching travel, I’ve found so many more digital resources than what I ever expected. I’ve learned a lot from looking at the websites of the blogger Instagrams mentioned above, but with those, you sometimes need to look with a close eye to see what is #sponsored.

TripAdvisor is the obvious first. While it might be more popular with older generations, millennials are still driven to read real people’s reviews and opinions over ads. Additionally, other review sites have come into play like Hostelworld, which focuses on hostel/backpack travel.

Facebook communities: These knowledgeable groups are formed by many different people with different motives, but some are really helpful. For example, Girl vs. Globe is a community for solo women travelers where people write questions about safety, planning help, or just general advice, and get tons of responses in return. Millennials value real people’s opinions over ads, and this is a great way to get some quick responses.

Inspirock/ trip planning sites: These sites allow you to input your preferences, destinations, amount of adventure vs. relaxation you desire, and will pull together an itinerary for you in seconds. Below is an example. I was shocked by this free service because not only does it show you possible activities, but lays out how to get to and from each destination, where to stay, and the prices. It is a fast and free travel agent.

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Virtual Reality is something I question with regard to travel and digital business. When I came back from Australia, a neighbor showed me virtual reality of the Great Barrier Reef, where I had been, and I was amazed by the real feeling and imagery that VR displayed. While some may think that seeing the reef from the comfort of their own living room is enough, I have to disagree, but it will be interesting to see the extent to which this could replace people’s desire to get out and see the world.


What does this mean?

Social media and digital business are changing all industries – we know that. For travel, social media has created a wanderlust that was rare in the generations before us. Everything is at the tip of our fingers (literally on the screen). These days, millennials are getting out and following this wanderlust that is all around us online. But as social media and blogs are replacing travel guides and magazines, will virtual reality ever replace the reality of travel? I sure hope not.






  1. Awesome post! I think the travel industry and social media/ digital business is a really interesting intersection to study. It’s as if the market shifts from using travel agencies to book/schedule a trip to the internet to book/ schedule a trip. In every stage of planning a trip from figuring out where to go to actually arriving you are using technology that would have otherwise been done by a travel agent.

    Additionally, what you said about places going from being “too foreign, unsafe, or unheard of” to hot spots is very accurate. In fact, my mom “forbid me” from going to Morocco until I showed her a TripAdvisor article that said, “you are probably safer in Marrakech than in most European cities.” In reading this article and seeing other users’ posts about safety concern, my mom was (kind of) okay with me traveling there. Of course, I was ecstatic because this meant I could experience [post on instagram] the Marrakech souks.

    PS– one of those spots that everyone goes to that comes to mind when I think of Australia is the place with donuts on milkshakes, did you go there? Or is that question going to evoke some FOMO?

  2. lesleyzhou · ·

    Erin, I can definitely relate to your post since I’ve spent a good portion of this semester traveling, and plan on continuing to do so this summer before I start my job full time. My love for traveling has exponentially increased since my exposure to different destinations thanks to accounts that you’ve mentioned (I follow other accounts like @sheisnotlost) and my friends’ posts on FB and Instagram. Social media and the diverse living-options (such as Airbnb) has made it much easier to plan affordable trips with efficient time schedules since my friends and I already research exactly where to go/what to eat/where to visit prior to landing in our destination.

    This might be a helpful tip for anyone who is planning on traveling to unfamiliar places in the near future – you can always check if an Airbnb/hostel location is in a safe neighborhood by inputting the address into Google maps and checking to see how far it is walking distance to well-known hotels such as the Hilton or Marriott, because more often than not, these hotels tend to be built in safer places!

  3. laurenmsantilli · ·

    The title of this really caught my attention because I just had a long conversation with a friend last night about a chat she had over dinner about Wanderlust. My friend’s dinner partner wants to start a podcast interviewing people about the idea of Wanderlust, because she is fascinated by the deeper reasons people travel. People have all sorts of reasons for traveling – ones that the stranger sitting next to them on the airplane will know nothing about. It could be to see family or to travel, or may have some whole other significance. One time when I was sitting next to a stranger, he ended up confiding in me that he was visiting his partner he had met online who had recently been diagnosed with a terminal illness, even though they had yet to meet in person. Based on my conversation with my friend last night, I would guess that virtual reality can never really replace travel when it has deeper meaning behind it. But – for those who seem to just travel for the Instagram post, it is potentially a much cheaper way to fulfill that part of the market. Great post Erin!!

  4. Great post! This reminded me of the article Isabel wrote last week about the “reality,” or lack thereof, being depicted on Instagram & other social media sites, driving millenials to want to do more and publish all of their noteworthy experiences. I think this really plays into the FOMO aspect of travel motivation, because people are being pushed by these beautiful/exciting posts that often times don’t really represent the reality of the situation. I honestly also think a lot of millenials are “doing it for the insta”: traveling to beautiful landscapes to be able to post their own photos of it online, and are therefore heavily influenced by popular social media posts they see. It’s amazing to see how influential the @beautifulplaces account has become!

    Also really love the idea of incorporating VR into travel planning–it seems like an awesome marketing tactic. For me, this would definitely spark a desire to see a destination in person!

  5. Great post! I certainly think that socia media has fueled a generation’s travel bug. I’m not even sure the term “wanderlust” was as widely used when I was in college five years ago, despite having done the whole study abroad experience myself. I certainly think the ability for anyone to make their pictures look like postcards with filters and different captions for all to view is a motivation to get out and see more places around the world. I doubt that VR will actually hinder people from traveling in the future…but what is the point if you can save money and see the same sites from the comfort of your own home? (some may argue, but not me…)

  6. lenskubal · ·

    Erin, what a great post! I haven’t had much time to travel during college, but I plan to quite a bit after I graduate. This post really opened my eyes to a lot of tools and things I should know before I fly off around the world. Although I haven’t been to the places I plan on traveling to, social media has made it pretty easy to discover new places and plan trips to where I want to go. I feel like social media allows people to become more familiar with destinations before they even get there. Social media truly is a tool for travelers, and opens up a lot of different logistical possibilities when traveling

  7. alexisteixeiraa · ·

    I thought this was a well-written and very accurate post. It is strange that people telling others about the amazing trips they have gone on is no longer necessary now due to social media, everyone knows where people went, what people ate, and where people stayed. While there are a number of benefits that have spawned from this uprise in millenial travel such as seeing new places, hearing and learning new perspectives and truly traveling to places that were once seen as unsafe or too rare, I think it is also making people do things for pictures. For instance, if you go to Africa or Thailand, many people take pictures with elephants or tigers and while they make for a cool picture that will probably get you a lot of likes these animals are often poorly treated and wouldn’t be able to ever survive in the wild. However, this increase in traveling really helps when you need restaurants to go to or go-to places to see. We just need to be aware that we are going to places we actually want to go to, not just for the pictures. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on both the benefits, the businesses, and the future of the intersection of traveling and social media/digital business.

  8. Nice post. The topic of study abroad has come up a bunch over the years. The jury is still out whether social media a net positive or negative for the experience. Probably a little of each.

  9. mikeward7 · ·

    This is a great post! I was lucky enough to study abroad during my junior year and it was an incredible experience. I hadn’t really thought of the experience through the way you just explained it but now that I think about it, I wasn’t really expecting to be very interested in studying abroad until I saw all the amazing things my friends in the grade above me were doing when I was a sophomore. This was one of the main reason I started to even look into it. One of my close friends that’s a junior even told me that he started looking into studying abroad in Dublin once he saw the things that I was posting on instagram and facebook. I think you’re right in that it’s really changed the way our generation looks at travel.

  10. terencenixdorf · ·

    Great post! You’ve hit on a really fun topic here with the use of social media and its influence on people to travel. I, personally, don’t travel much but I feel FOMO all the time about not being in certain places and I definitely agree that it’s because of what I see people post on social media. It was funny that you mentioned people traveling to the same places because this past Winter Break I noticed just that. There were 3 separate groups of people that I knew from high school all traveling (separately) around Thailand, posting Instagram photos in the same spot. I’m also a casual runner so I follow a few pro runners that train out in places like Colorado, Arizona, and Oregon and the pictures that they post are so beautiful that I’m going out to Colorado on a 2 week trip to explore the mountains. I also think something that another role social media may play in increased travel is that you’re seeing everyone else do it so there’s a sense of familiarity or safeness. People our age aren’t traveling to the unknown and I think this is because very few parts of the world are unknown in large part due to social media and blog sharing. Thanks for sharing!

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