Key takeaways

  • Surveys show that, even though Generation Z adults may not have reached their peak earning years, they may be more willing to spend money on leisure travel than their Gen X and Baby boomer peers.
  • Pent-up demand for travel caused by COVID-19 means that many Gen Zers are ponying up more cash than normal for their travel plans this year.
  • Gen Z individuals still tend to be savvy when it comes to shopping for the best deal and using credit card rewards to pay for airfare and hotels (which may be why Gen Z has the least amount of credit card debt when compared to older generations).

It’s easy to see why Generation Z (anyone born after 1997 according to Pew Research Center) has a different worldview than those in Generation X and even Millennials (those born between 1981 and 1996). The young people who make up Gen Z have never known a world without the internet, phones that tether you to the wall or rapid technological disruptions and discoveries taking place every few years.

Gen Z also tends to be more open-minded and understanding of social change, and they seem to think anything is possible because it is. Those in the younger generation seem more inclined to want to get out and explore — even though their parents and grandparents may not have had the same opportunities.

In fact, a new Bankrate survey released in July 2023 showed that, this year, younger generations are more likely to travel just for fun than their older counterparts. Specifically, survey results showed 68 percent of Gen Z respondents planned to travel for leisure this year, along with 69 percent of Millennials.

The impact of affordability on Gen Z’s travel plans

Recent data underscores the fact that Gen Z travelers want to get out and explore, and that they’re willing to do so even if their finances aren’t exactly squared away. That said, the increased costs of travel may be pushing trips out of reach for some Gen Z adults who have high expenses or incomes on the lower end.

Key facts:

  • 24 percent of Gen Z travelers planned to spend less on trips this year compared to last year due to economic concerns (Bankrate)
  • 47 percent of Gen Z individuals who aren’t taking a summer vacation this year said it is because they can’t afford it (Bankrate)
  • 61 percent of Gen Zers who took three or more leisure trips over the previous 12 months come from households with earnings below $50,000 annually (Morning Consult Pro)
  • More than half (52 percent) of Gen Z adults are considered frequent travelers, meaning they take at least three leisure trips over the previous year (Morning Consult Pro)
  • 43 percent of Gen Zers taking a summer vacation this year said they would visit the beach, while 32 percent said they would take a staycation (Bankrate)

Post-pandemic, Gen Z is ready to travel

The COVID-19 pandemic that started in early 2023 may be mostly behind us, but the overall increase in travel demand it caused is definitely not. Research shows Gen Z adults may be more eager than ever to go somewhere new, especially since most pandemic-related travel restrictions are now a thing of the past.

For example, according to Bankrate data, 31 percent of Gen Z adults have taken an overnight trip outside of their local area for leisure in 2023, while 49 percent plan on taking one before the end of the year. Further questions revealed that 30 percent of Gen Zers are more excited about travel than they were before the pandemic, compared to 25 percent of Millennials and 18 percent of Generation X.

How likely are you to take a summer vacation this year?

While traveling more, Gen Z is spending less

Inflation is definitely playing a role in how much Americans can spend on trips, and that includes Generation Z. Bankrate data shows that, across all generations and age groups, 29 percent of summer travelers report choosing less expensive accommodations, 28 percent are engaging in cheaper activities and 26 percent are driving instead of flying to help cope with surging prices.

Gen Zers may also be especially frugal when it comes to getting the most bang for their buck for their travel plans. A 2023 travel study from Student Universe showed that nearly two-thirds of Gen Z travelers search for the cheapest accommodations, flights and more, and nearly half (46 percent) said they rely on financial help from parents to cover the costs of trips.

Then again, new research from ICF Travel also shows that having shared values with a travel brand is twice as important for Gen Zers than for Baby Boomers. This suggests Gen Zers may be willing to spend more on travel and experiences that align with their personal values.

And even though Gen Z is more excited for leisure travel than other generations post-pandemic, they’re not necessarily planning on spending more. For example, only 21 percent of Gen Z travelers say they will spend more on leisure travel in 2023 than 2022, while 27 percent of Millennials, 29 percent of Gen X and 33 percent of Boomers said the same thing.

How likely are you to spend $1,000 or more on leisure travel this year?

How Gen Z is paying for travel

According to Bankrate data, only 8 percent of Gen Z travelers are willing to go into debt — or add to their existing debt — for leisure travel this year. So how, then, are they planning to pay for travel?

According to a recent eMarketer survey, Gen Z adults and Millennials are the most likely generation to cash in points and miles to cover part of their travel expenses. Further, Gen Z and other younger travelers appear to care more about loyalty programs than other generations, and these travelers may place a premium on programs that have flexibility and choice built in when it comes to their redemption options.

Key facts:

  • 52 percent of frequent Gen Z travelers said they’ll go to a national park in the next year and another 55 percent plan to visit a theme park, suggesting that they favor longer trips, but not necessarily pricier ones (Morning Consult Pro)
  • 33 percent of Gen Zers who are likely to take at least one summer vacation this year are selecting less expensive accommodations and/or destinations due to inflation (Bankrate)
  • 21 percent of Gen Z adults plan to use credit card rewards to pay for some travel in the future, alongside 21 percent of Millennials and 20 percent of Gen X (Bankrate)
  • Generation Z carries an average credit card debt amount of $2,282, compared to $4,576 among Millennials and $7,070 among Generation X — they may be cashing in their points and miles for travel, but they aren’t using credit cards to rack up as much debt as other generations (Bankrate)

The bottom line

Gen Z is full of savvy travelers who love getting a good deal on airfare, flights and vacation packages, and they prefer to take longer trips when they can. Travelers in this generation also seem more comfortable spreading their wings and seeing the world than previous generations, which makes sense considering the way the internet expanded our collective knowledge just before they were born.

If you’re part of Gen Z and looking for ways to pay less for travel this year, know that savvy planning, budgeting, searching for deals and signing up for travel credit cards can all help defray costs. Travel may be expensive right now, but you don’t have to let prices and demand hold you back.