Intimate holiday
Lonely young people are embarking on shared travel experiences across the globe in small groups. Helena Lopes/Pexels

In an age where loneliness is increasingly prevalent among younger generations, Millennials and Gen Zers are finding innovative ways to create meaningful connections and memorable experiences. The rise of small group travel is emerging as a popular solution to this modern epidemic of isolation.

Millennials and Gen Zers are often more isolated than previous generations, despite being constantly connected through the internet. This paradox of digital connectivity has led to fewer face-to-face interactions and a decline in the formation of real-life relationships. The constant dopamine hits from social media have kept young people glued to their phones, further exacerbating feelings of loneliness.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also played a significant role in deepening this sense of isolation. Many Gen Zers, in particular, grew up during this time, missing out on crucial real-life interactions and becoming even more dependent on the internet for social engagement.

Despite these challenges, young people are not letting loneliness dominate their lives. Many are turning to services like Intrepid Travel, which offers escorted tours worldwide for small groups of travellers. Intrepid Travel operates in over 100 countries, with group sizes averaging ten people. This smaller group size allows for more intimate and meaningful travel experiences, which are highly valued by younger travellers.

Small group travel offers a stark contrast to mass tourism. Large group tours can be overwhelming and impersonal, making it difficult to form genuine connections. In contrast, smaller groups foster closer bonds and allow for more personalised experiences. Matt Berna, Intrepid Travel's Americas president, told Business Insider, "It allows us to travel like locals. We eat in small local restaurants. We stay in family-owned hotels. We typically avoid mass market tourism, hotels, or experiences."

These intimate travel experiences are particularly appealing to 18–29-year-olds, but older millennials are also joining in, leading Intrepid Travel to raise the age limit for its young travel experiences to 35. The desire for immersive and interest-based vacations over traditional tourist attractions is driving this trend. Young travellers are increasingly prioritising local activities and unique experiences over visits to famous landmarks.

The 2023 Global Travel Trends Report from American Express Travel supports this shift, noting that about one in eight young people prefer engaging in local activities when travelling. Intrepid Travel's itineraries often include camping, cycling, festivals, and culinary experiences, which are ideal for fostering camaraderie among small groups.

Interestingly, older millennials are starting to align more with Gen Z and younger millennials in their travel preferences. This generational shift highlights a growing trend towards seeking authentic and immersive travel experiences. As a result, destinations like South America and South Korea are becoming increasingly popular. South Korea, in particular, saw a 172 per cent increase in global visits from 2022 to 2023.

The motivation behind this trend is multifaceted. Young travellers are not only looking for unique experiences but also aiming to become trendsetters. By discovering and sharing lesser-known destinations with their friends and family, they feel a sense of novelty and adventure that is often missing in their daily lives.