More travelers want to be active on vacation: 5 free ways

What do you do on vacation?

Some people just want to lie on the beach and read a book while sipping a piña colada to decompress from their busy work lives.

But more people want to be active, explore and have a bit of an adventure. In fact, more than 90% of travelers participated in an activity during their last trip, according to travel research firm Phocuswright (see its tweet below).

Phocuswright defines “activities” as tours, attractions, events, activities (excluding dining and shopping) and transportation that travelers spend time and money on while traveling.

The global travel activities market represented 10% of the global travel market in 2016 — more than the rail, car rental and cruise segments, according to Phocuswright.

Phocuswright chart of activities share of travel

And the global travel activities market is growing fast — faster than the overall travel industry — and Phocuswright expects it to reach $183 billion in bookings by 2020.

Phocuswright global activities bookings

So, what do people most like to do when they travel?

Hiking is a top activity, according to the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA). Travelers also like trips with an “environmentally sustainable” element and family or multigenerational travel. I wrote an article on multigenerational travel in January for The Dallas Morning News.

Being active on your vacation doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. Here are five free or inexpensive ways to explore and stay active:

Free tours: Many U.S. cities offer free walking tours — either guided or self-guided with brochures made available at a library or visitor center. Many organizations, such as San Francisco’s nonprofit City Guides, are led by volunteers who accept donations. FreeTour and Free Tours by Foot offer free or low-cost guided walking tours of many U.S. and European cities. These tours are a good way to meet locals of a new city or country as well as fellow travelers.

Universities: Many universities offer campus tours to the public, not just prospective students. Stanford University, for instance, offers a free 70-minute, volunteer-led walk daily at 11:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. In addition, some colleges have free offerings, such as campaniles, nature trails and art museums. I wrote a blog post “How to make college tours fun” last year about some of these offerings at California universities.

Mobile apps: Many apps will act as your tour guide just about anywhere. The free Field Trip app uses your phone’s GPS to find cool things wherever you are worldwide — from temples and museums to restaurants and shops. The Historypin app (all free) offers planned excursions and vintage photos of your location with information and an interactive map — all through crowdsourcing.

Bike share: Many cities offer bike (or scooter) share programs that are inexpensive. It’s an easy way to see a city, but stay active.

Airbnb Experiences: In addition to home rentals, Airbnb a few years ago began offering activities offered by locals of a destination. Recent top-rated experiences ranged from snorkeling in Merida, Mexico, for $41 per person to a traditional Thai Yantra tattoo in Chiang Mai, Thailand, for $82. Since 2016, Airbnb has expanded its Experiences to more than 1,000 destinations.

What do millennials want when they travel? Authenticity

Millennials have put off expenses like getting married and buying a home or car, but that will change as they enter their prime spending years (25-45), according to a report by Goldman Sachs.

Travel, however, is one thing millennials already spend money — and plan to spend more money and time on, according to Goldman Sachs and other reports.

Millennials were born 1982-2004, making 13 to 35 this year. The range of dates varies depending on the source: Goldman Sachs, for instance, defined millennials as being born between 1980-2000 in its recent report.

Why is so much attention paid to millennials? They’re today’s largest living generation at more than 75 million members. Their numbers are expected to peak at 81.1 million by 2036.

When it comes to travel, millennials want authentic, unique, adventurous and immersive experiences, according to the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA). They want to be active and to live like a local, which influences everything from where they stay overnight to what they eat.

Millennials also are the largest and most technologically and social media engaged group of consumers. In fact, Airbnb says some 60 percent of its bookers are millennials.

Here’s what Airbnb’s “Rise of Millennial Travel” report found out about the travel habits and preferences of U.S. millennials:

  • More than 70 percent say “travel is an important part of who I am as a person.”
  • At least three quarters prefer to create their own itinerary rather than take a tour.
  • Nearly 60 percent don’t mind traveling solo.
  • More than half say they spend more on travel than they did a year ago.
  • Nearly 60 percent seek more of an adventure when they travel vs. decompressing.
  • More than half say meeting people when traveling is more important than bringing back souvenirs.
  • Three quarters prefer to try food at local restaurants, rather than familiar chains.
  • Most say discovering hidden local places is more important than visiting major tourist attractions, and they prefer accommodations in cool, local neighborhoods than close to tourist attractions.

The Airbnb report is based on the company’s booking data and a fall 2016 online survey of about 1,000 millennials in the Unites States, the United Kingdom and China.