The Millennials Who Want to See the World

PHOTO: Adam Shepard in Lake Atitlan, Guatemala, October 2011.
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For some Millennials, like Adam Shepard, 30, from Raleigh, N.C., living abroad was an experience he desperately needed in these profoundly changing times.

Shepard is no stranger to adventure.

In 2006 he moved to Charleston, S.C., with just $25 in his pocket and emerged 10 months later having achieved some semblance of the 'American Dream.'

This time around, he wanted to experience the places beyond America's borders, not just click through pictures of someone else's adventure on a computer screen.

"There were people that I would tell about this trip, and they didn't think it was a terrible idea, but they weren't as supportive as I thought they would be," Shepard told ABC News. "But my parents always encouraged us to get outside and try different things, and that is important," Shepard said.

So, working at speaking engagements and as a bartender, Shepard over two years saved up $19,420.68. Starting Oct. 1, 2011, he spent 363 days traveling across 17 countries on four continents.

While his journey had moments of relaxation on a beach in the Philippines, or bull fighting in Nicaragua, Shepard also spent two months with Honduras Child Alliance, digging wells for clean water access. The vast majority – some 80 percent – of their volunteers are between the ages of 22 and 30 years old, hailing from all over the world.

"Not only does it empower our projects to have these volunteers from everywhere, but they walk away with a sense of community," Eve Horowitz, executive director of the Honduras Child Alliance, told ABC News. "In the states, if you want to get together with a friend, you text or Facebook message them, but here, you knock on their door."

The Millennial generation has also been hailed as a civic-minded, socially conscious generation, volunteering in record numbers.

Often a requirement of graduation, volunteer rates for ages 16-24 nearly doubled from 12.3 percent to 23 percent between 1989 and 2005, according to the Corporation for National Community Service. In "Millennial Makeover: MySpace, YouTube, and the Future of American Politics," co-authors Morley Winograd and Michael Hais claim that people born between 1982 and 2000 are the most civic-minded since the Silent generation of the 1930s and 1940s.

Currently, most Peace Corps volunteers are Millennials, with 84 percent ages 18-29.

More than 8,000 Americans serve overseas through Peace Corps service, working on projects related to agriculture, community economic development, education, and health and youth development. Don't skip out on college though, 90 percent of volunteer positions require a bachelor's degree.

"Peace Corps service is a great way for Americans to apply what they learned in the classroom or workplace in a non-traditional environment," Erin Durney, public affairs specialist for Peace Corps, told ABC News. "Volunteers have the same passion to make a difference today as they did when the agency was started in 1961, but these volunteers have the innovation, flexibility, and now the technology to solve 21st century problems at the grassroots level."

And Millennial travel is only growing.

By 2020, Millennials will comprise more than 40 percent of the U.S. workforce, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics and will have a major impact on the $855 billion U.S. travel and tourism industry.

According to a study by the Boston Consulting Group, Millennials report a greater desire to visit every continent than preceding generations, and appear to harbor a greater interest in cultural experiences and international travel.

In the survey, individuals ages 18-34 years old report a greater desire to travel abroad than other generations by a 23 percent margin, with only minor life-stage effects, such as waiting to have children or purchasing a home later in life.

Isabel Sterne, 25, of Bozeman, Mont., was a working woman in New York City before volunteering with Peace Corps for a year in southern Namibia. While abroad, her main responsibility was to provide health education to members of the community, including information on substance abuse and HIV/AIDS prevention.

"It was a tough decision to leave everything I loved in New York and set out to the unknown," Sterne said. "It's freeing, scary, and none of us know what to do, so I think a lot of Millennials use travel as a way to better understand themselves and their dreams outside the pressure of American life."

Despite a gloomy job market with a crushing 11.7 percent unemployment rate, entry-level occupations and $322 billion held in student debt, Millennials still view travel as worth the price. Travel spending by these younger individuals rose 20 percent in 2010, making them the fastest-growing age segment, according to American Express Business Insights.

Facebook has also taken notice.

Last year, their data team analyzed the types of memories shared on the social networking site and produced an infographic indicating that travel stories comprise 42 percent of posts on the average user's timeline.

"Books, music, everything is dematerializing, it's turning virtual and travel is increasingly playing a role in how people represent their identity," Andy Murdock, U.S. Digital Editor at Lonely Planet said. "It's not just bragging, it's sharing that they are volunteering, learning a new language, stating who they are."

The economy is likely contributing to the trend.

Absent a family to care for or a mortgage to pay, some Millennials are searching for work experience that can be applied to future jobs rather than join the droves of traditional job seekers struggling to find work at a greater rate than any other time in recent history.

"Travel is something that can be built into your resume, if you do it well," Murdock said.

Meet Plan Go is one website that offers a 'how-to' for those who want to take a break from their career and travel the world. They encourage individuals to look at a gap on their resume as life defining, rather than life defeating, according to their website.

Nicole Campoy, 27, now an editor with Fodor's Travel, wasn't sure what direction to take post-graduation and eventually decided to travel for four months, spending time in Hong Kong, Italy, Portugal, and England.

"If I thought about it for five minutes, I could think of 15 countries where I have friends I can visit and even stay with," Campoy said. "In this day of constant and immediate sharing, the world starts to seem like a more accessible place. If someone can Instagram from Nepal, why can't I go to Nepal?"

Postponing traditional life goals like finding a steady job or graduate school while virtually liquidating your savings is indeed, a big decision.

In hindsight, Shepard found his time in Latin America more rewarding than some of the other, squeaky clean, pristine, touristy areas. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 37 million Americans can speak Spanish and it helped that Shepard is one of them.

"In the Philippines either you had money or you didn't. In Honduras, no one I met or saw had money," Shepard said. "I thought I knew poverty, but to work alongside the people and play with kids who have never owned shoes, I didn't really understand until I touched down."

It wasn't all ditch digging for Shepard while in Honduras, he also found his love.

In an era where 1 in 5 relationships start online, Shepard defied the trend, and met and fell in love with Ivana Mravikova, 23, from Slovakia.

Adam and Ivana were married December 2012.

"I don't want to create some crazy movement, but there are pockets of people in our generation who are curious, but don't have the moxie to take a trip like this," Shepard said.

His advice? Muster the moxie.

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