How This Boomer Made Peace with Traveling with Millennials
It's better to build bridges than clash over differences, especially when you're the only boomer on the bus.
Boomers vs. Millennials
I travel occasionally for my job as a freelance writer, and I’ve noticed a trend. The people I meet and work alongside are getting younger, and sometimes I’m the only baby boomer on the tour bus. Don’t get me wrong. Some of my favorite people are millennials—like my son—but you can feel out of place when all your companions are focused on selfies, Instagram posts, and the latest Bachelor scandal.
I’ll admit, I’ve also gotten sensitive since the phrase “Hey, boomer” went viral. It sounds ironic and impatient, like, “I’m calling you out, older person. You’re taking too long paying for your coffee with Google Wallet.” That said, I realize boomers aren’t completely innocent here, either. Just take a look at these 20 things people often blame on millennials—but shouldn’t.
Recently, I toured a museum with a Gen-Y group, and when I fell behind, they walked off and left me. I didn’t take it personally. I realized we just didn’t have anything in common, so while they hung out together, they forgot me. But this prompted me to try building a few bridges across our cultural divide.
Try something new
Courtesy Lynn Coulter
One simple way I’ve found to connect with millennials is by eating like a millennial. I grew up in the South, where we fried everything from chicken to okra and pickles. The Gen-Y travelers I’ve met are much more health-conscious, opting for organic foods and preservative-free products.
One morning, I passed up my usual bacon and toast for a smoothie like the ones they were drinking. Mine came in a tall glass, thick and green and murky, with a blend of spinach, kale, peanut butter, and chia seeds. I didn’t love it (dirt and grass flavor, anyone?), but the next day I tried a dish of eggs topped with mole. Not exactly low fat but still new to me and millennial-recommended. Kale smoothies and eggs that stare back at you will never taste like bacon, but they opened a conversation between our generations about healthy eating and let them see that boomers, contrary to what they might think, are willing to try new things.
For a trip down memory lane, check out these iconic American foods that defined each decade.
If you want to connect with millennials, I’ve learned you also have to connect with technology. Unfortunately, some boomers have been slow to embrace new devices, apps, and programs, and because we’re afraid or unwilling to try them, we’ve reinforced a stereotype that we’re a bunch of old fogies. We even fall for myths about technology that hamper our ability to use it.
One night, on a bus ride back to our hotel, I was amazed to see how fast my millennial seatmate was posting hashtags on Instagram. His secret was copying and pasting from a notepad app rather than typing from scratch each time. He gave me a few more techie pointers on that trip, and now we each have a new follower on social media.
Value experiences, not stuff
Millennials will tell you that they don’t put a lot of value on things. They’ve seen older generations work hard for big houses and fancy cars, only to wind up stressed and dissatisfied. That’s not to say they don’t like to shop. On a trip to Oaxaca, I saw my group barter for handmade sandals, and at a market in Old Jerusalem, they bought handfuls of souvenir key chains and refrigerator magnets. But these weren’t pricey purchases, and on other trips, I’ve seen them spend their hard-earned money on things like foodie tours, so they could sample the local cuisine, or on classes that combined yoga stretches with stand-up paddleboarding. Their take on doing rather than owning inspired me so much, I opted to join them for a full-body wrap in hot mud on a visit to the Dead Sea. Now I’m budgeting for more new experiences.
Act your age—or don’t
Millennials are authentic, and they want other generations to be authentic, too. When I balked at rappelling down a cliff on one trip, they understood that it just wasn’t for me. (As it turned out, most of the millennials in my group didn’t want to climb down a mountainside that day.) On a different tour, a young woman helped me struggle into a damp, clammy wet suit in a miserably hot, humid jungle so I could swim with our group through an underground river. I didn’t let age define me on that adventure: She laughed when I told her about wearing old-fashioned girdles, and my traveling companions cheered me on. Millennials don’t expect you to fake your age or abilities. They just want you to be real.
Unsolicited advice can annoy anyone, but millennials really dislike it. They’re independent and savvy, and they brush off nervous boomer questions like, “Are you sure that Uber ride you just booked is safe?” But on one trip, I learned not to give advice to millennials the hard way. Thinking I was comforting a young woman who’d lost a loved one, I spouted some unasked-for, if well-intended, remarks. We were in the desert, sitting some distance away from our group, and she was almost leaning on my shoulder while she shared her heart. Then I piped up, and everything changed. She pulled away, her expression froze and that was the end of the conversation. I’d been trying to make things better and realized, far too late, that I’d failed to listen. That was all she wanted.
These are the things you should say to someone who is grieving—and the things better left unsaid.
Courtesy Lynn Coulter
I probably don’t need to tell you this, but millennials love taking selfies. They know how to pose, too, and make their social media sites work for them with memorable images of the places they’ve been. I suspect I’m like many boomers—more comfortable with and more used to being behind the camera than in front of it. But if you want to befriend a millennial, it helps to be a little selfie-ish and turn the lens on yourself.
You can also volunteer to help when millennials can’t manage to take selfies. On a trip to the Caribbean, I followed my group down a beautiful beach to a swing on a distant sand bar. The swing was a fun photo opp for tourists, but you had to swim to reach it, so you couldn’t take a phone along to snap selfies. I held the group’s phones instead and took pictures while my new friends struck their best model poses. All too soon, a storm rolled in and chased us off the beach, but it didn’t dampen the friendships we formed that day.
If you want to up your selfie game, make sure you know the best (and worst) time of day to take a selfie.
Find common ground
Courtesy Lynn Coulter
Everyone has something in common, no matter where you’re from, who you vote for, what you believe in, or how old you are. Millennials are deeply interested in environmentalism and sustainability, issues any generation can get behind. I found my common ground in Mexico with a millennial who let me take his place in a small group of tourists who were being allowed to release baby turtles into the sea. He’d released a hatchling before, he said, and he wanted me to have the experience. No doubt my stepping all over his feet to see the turtles had something to do with it, but I appreciated his kindness. I also discovered that I really didn’t have to look very far to find our common ground: It was the sandy beach, bustling with baby turtles, that we were standing on. If you’re looking for some travel inspiration, consider these 15 breathtaking places to visit before they disappear.