I read the other day that British discount travel provider Flight Centre is purchasing GapYear.com, a community-based website catering to those interested in traveling across the world for long periods time, a year perhaps even.
For those unfamiliar with the term “gap year”, it’s common terminology for taking a year off to travel but also simply the act of extended traveling whether or not you’re actually planning on a full year. The term started quite some time ago in the UK where extended travel has long been what one does before settling into a permanent career, and also where the word “gap” is not generally frowned upon in regular conversation.
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The acquisition by Flight Centre means a couple of things to me: one, that they have better foresight than your average massive travel company, and two, that extended travel is gaining traction on the collective mainstream consciousness. Why else would they pay “an undisclosed amount” for GapYear.com? Because, as Mintel estimated, the gap year market is around $10 billion per year.
No Stream Like the Mainstream
I can’t help but write on the topic because I feel it remains poignant that with movies/novels like Eat Pray Love doing well around the world, along with Briefcase to Backpack getting multiple page e-ink coverage in the New York Times travel section, and organizations like Meet Plan Go selling out their (okay, free) events all over the country, it’s pretty hard to argue the fact that the importance of extended travel in the life of your average everyday Joe Q. Tourist is ramping up.
Dump into the pile the fact that AirTreks has quite sparklingly weathered the recent recession and is currently banging out business and you can gather that this thing might actually be catching on.
It leads one to wonder just what is the prognosis for long-term, nomadic style traveling? It’s certain that this way of travel is not for everyone. There’s a healthy contingent of travelers who actively avoid trips that are more than two weeks long, either because they can’t make it happen or don’t want to. But you simply can’t argue anymore that the idea of extended travel is purely for a select demographic.
Take travel bloggers for example, one look will show you their numbers, and one more will show you the amazing number of them who are traveling for indeterminate amounts of time, out there right now making their longstanding travel fantasies happen in a very real way. I can guarantee very few of these bloggers were actively engaged in this blog-travel pastime three, or even two years ago.
Take Matt Kepnes for example. Matt is a one of the more high profile long-term blogger/travelers, now on the road for two years and counting and has built a business around his passion for travel. In those two years he has elevated “NomadicMatt” to one of the most popular travel blog brands on the web. How could this be when his type of travel is pigeonholed as the niche of the niche in travel? My guess: because of new attention being laid upon the long-term traveler. (Okay he’s also prolific writer and a shrewd businessman.)
But Matt’s not the only success story. Take look at what Gary Arndt’s Everything Everywhere has done, or the popularity of Dave Lee’s Go Backpacking. These guys are out there, spreading the word that long-term is not only possible but hugely assessable to anyone with a little bit of inspiration, and as they do, this style of travel will be picked up by any number of mainstream news sources, accelerating the beams of limelight in their direction.
Is This All a Good Thing?
Asking the question of whether travel is going mainstream really does beg the question: “is it a good thing?”
My answer is yes, and no, but mostly yes. Yes, because travel is essentially one of the healthiest things you can do with your life. And yes because the world needs travelers, or tourists, or whatever you want to call them. With them comes money, an appreciation of foreign cultures and foreigners in general and a overall smashing of the biases that incubate in a boxed-in world. By contrast there’s the no. No, because it jams more and more and more people into what may be the most delicate and ill-prepared system in the world, the international travel industry. But that’s another story.
With news coming out everyday that big players are more and more interested in getting into the long-term travel game the more people’s ears will start listening. If you offer it, they will buy it. Look for more big companies “reaching out” to extended travel wholesalers, community organizers and even individual bloggers in the future, and when they do, they’ll start promoting the hell out of that style of travel. Mark my words.
My suggestion? Get in on it now, before the rest of them mainstream swimmers jump in the water. Because with mainstream attention comes the inevitable backlash, and backlashes as you know can be ruthless.