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At what age do you cease to be part of the youth travel market? Twenty-five? Thirty? Forty? Or when you concede defeat?

image001A study on youth travel has made an interesting finding: the age-range of those who consider themselves part of the “youth market” has gotten bigger.

The World Youth Student and Educational Travel Confederation’s New Horizons III study found a “greater diversity of demographics and age categories now seeing themselves as youth travellers and consuming the products and services traditionally associated with the sector”.

The organisation says the study indicates youth travel has become a state of mind rather than an age bracket.

Hmmm. I’m yet to turn 40 but I’m not sure I still consider myself part of the youth market. I’ll happily crash in a tent or trek through a jungle, but I have little interest in going out partying or making new friends in hostels.

That’s probably as much to do with personal choice as it is with age, but there must come a point where we’re kidding ourselves.

When we think we’re young and hip – but have to get out our reading glasses to check the map?

Never too old for adventure

Perhaps what we’re really talking about is the global boom in adventure travel, which is certainly more about a state of mind than age.

A study by The George Washington University and the Adventure Travel Trade Association in the United States found the adventure travel sector has grown by 65 per cent per year since 2009, which makes it one of the fastest growing industries in the world.

The study estimated the global adventure travel sector is now worth $US263 billion ($277 billion) per year, not including money spent on air fares.

This jumps to $US345 billion if you factor in all the gear and clothing that we buy for our travel adventures, because buying the gear is half the fun.

The study found there has been a big increase in the percentage of travellers who can be classified as adventure travellers, combined with an increase in the amount spent per trip.

Not too rough, thanks

A big factor in the growth of the adventure travel sector over the past decade has been the growth of soft adventure options, including volunteer-related travel.

Tour operators such as Intrepid Travel and G Adventures have developed a large range of “comfort” trips that offer adventure without hardship and there are now also many luxury travel experiences that fall under the adventure travel umbrella.

The Adventure Travel Trade Association deems a trip to be adventure travel if it involves at least two of three elements: a connection with nature, interaction with culture and a physical activity.

In other words, adventure does not have to mean abseiling off a cliff.

In Australia, Roy Morgan research shows huge interest in cultural and nature-based holidays, with the majority of Australians saying they desire authentic holiday experiences away from the crowds.

However, many of us end up in cities or busy beach destinations regardless, says international director of international tourism, travel and leisure for Roy Morgan, Jane Ianniello.

“In reality, holidays are often a compromise based on budget and time available, as well as the wants and needs of other family members and friends,” she says.

No time to relax

The New Horizons study, which surveyed 34,000 young travellers across 137 countries, says there has been a big rise in people travelling to gain educational or work experience.

Five years ago, three-quarters of young travellers were travelling purely for holidays but today it is less than half.

More than 20 per cent now want to travel to learn a new language, while 15 per cent want to gain work experience and another 15 per cent want to travel to study.

Young travellers are also staying longer overseas and spending more time in remote destinations rather than gateway cities.

However, they are not necessarily roughing it, with the study showing a significant rise in travellers who identify themselves as more upmarket “flashpackers”.

Hostels are the most popular form of accommodation but the report notes that hostels have changed to meet the needs of modern youth travellers. Many hostels now have private rooms, ensuite bathrooms and trendy cafes in place of crowded dorms, shared bathrooms and communal kitchens.