Routine is the enemy of progress was the mantra that encapsulated one young German couple’s year-long pursuit of happiness. After living together for three years in Berlin, filmmaker Felix, and his musician girlfriend Mogli, packed up their lives and their Bernese Mountain dog Rudi, and drove across North America from Alaska to Argentina. The entire journey, documented in a film on Netflix, aptly titled “Expedition Happiness”.
To an outsider looking in, the couple led a picture-perfect life: a contemporary loft to call home, a well-earned reputation amongst the creative set and each other’s companionship. Yet, a gaping hole remained unfulfilled in their lives. “Why Berlin? Why Germany? And why settle down so early?” wrote the couple on an entry they penned for Southern Chronicles, a site that curates travel escapades.
The final impetus for the couple to leave their home country came when they stumbled upon an old 40-foot school bus online. Transforming the vehicle into a home for the road, complete with furniture, electricity and even plumbing, the couple then set off on their pilgrimage. What ensued in the months after was a traverse through vast, boundless stretches of barren land, encounters with exotic wildlife and the visual ephemera of uninhibited views of the Milky Way. Every step of their journey was meticulously documented in film footage and photographs. At the time of print, the pair’s Instagram account (@expeditionhappiness) had amassed an impressive 150,000 followers.
Some ten years ago, Felix and Mogli’s year-long nomadic escapade may certainly have raised more than a handful of eyebrows. But today, choices like theirs, are approached with unflinching conviction, particularly, amongst the millennial set. According to a study of youth and student travel released by World Youth Student and Educational (WYSE) Travel Confederation and World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), the total value of the international youth travel market was almost USD$190 billion (approx. S$254 billion) in 2009. By 2017, the figure had risen to more than USD$280 billion (approx. S$374 billion). These figures are further projected to increase to more than USD$400 billion (approx. S$535 billion) by 2020. Additionally, it has also been reported that these young travellers spend longer periods of time away than the average tourist.
The observed phenomenon then begs the question: What had transpired in the years between the previous generations and the millennials? The advent of the internet and the simultaneous rise of social media immediately call to mind as plausible explanations. Littered with awe-inspiring imagery from even the most exotic destinations around the globe — one can wake up to the breath-taking views from atop the Machu Picchu and fall asleep under the Milky Way of the Sahara Desert all while remaining within the comfort of their home. These virtual experiences, however, inspire travel aspirations easily actualised through the accessibility paved by the wealth of information at one’s disposal online.
An enabler in more ways than one, the internet presents opportunities for globetrotters to financially sustain their travels. “I am very fortunate I get work through my Instagram so it allows me to work from anywhere in the world as long as I have my camera and phone,” says Melody Tan, who embarks on trips that keep her away from home for a good half of the year.
To satiate the growing appetite for travel, the ecosystem has adjusted itself to accommodate these citizens of the world. The rise of hostel culture, free hosting through homestays and overseas work programmes entice with economically viable alternatives for individuals who seek extended periods of travel. The price tagged to one’s wanderlust ambition these days is greatly reduced. Ticking off all the pragmatic considerations, there is little then that holds one back from spreading their wings.
In hindsight, rationality, in fact is an afterthought to this generation of wilful, risk-taking internet beings who nosedive into decisions led by their whims. Think vicariously meeting strangers off mobile applications, embracing the uncertainties of the freelance culture and hopping onto the bandwagons of fleeting hype. Sometimes, the reason for the relentless pursuit to broaden their horizon boils down to a restlessness of the everyday and a curiosity about the greater world.
However, what often gets left behind in these situations is an understanding that travel is hardly a quick fix to discontentment with the rudimentary. And those who embark on long walks into the sunset on the opposite end of the world, begging for self- enlightenment, often come home empty-handed. Not to take anything away from the lessons of travel, it is a gift that keeps giving but only on the occasions that the right questions are sought out.
“And so our travels and our search for happiness didn’t end at some exotic place on the other side of the globe but at the dinner table in Germany, with our families on Christmas,” wrote Felix and Mogli in concluding their road trip. Echoing a similar sentiment, “More recently, I went from Thailand to Los Angeles and found myself in Catalunya for two weeks before heading to London, Marrakech, Milan and Stockholm. [All of that] over two months and I can easily say it was the most exhausting trip of my life. I really missed home, my friends, family and my Hokkien mee (a local Singaporean dish),” says Tan.
But chances are if you are a millennial reading this, you are going to embark on that long journey without a second thought any way. To that, I say “Bon Voyage!”.