Following the Brexit Vote, Young Europeans Worry About Restricted Travel

Viacom International spoke with European youth immediately following the Brexit vote - and the implications of potential travel difficulties emerged as a key concern

A few years ago, Viacom International carried out global research to understand Millennials’ views of the future. Many of the young Europeans we spoke to at that time felt great optimism about their futures, in part due to ease of travel and moving abroad–both facilitated by the European Union.

After Britain’s recent vote to leave the EU, we returned to seven of those young Europeans to hear their reactions to Brexit and learn how their views about the future may have shifted. In this second of three posts on the topic, we explore a key theme across these discussions–the implications of not being able to travel as freely.

Educational and career opportunities may be diminished

One of the top-of-mind impacts was that it may become more difficult and expensive to travel to and study in the UK, which will affect some young people’s plans.

This is a generation who take getting onto the career ladder seriously – noticeably more so than young people even a decade ago. They’re aware of the competitive nature of the job market and believe international experience and fluency in a foreign language give you an edge. Many young Europeans expect to live, study and/or work abroad at some point.

The UK has always been a place they could go to become fluent in English while staying close to home, perhaps paid for by an Erasmus grant. In the future, they may need to look to Ireland or further afield: to the US, Canada, Australia. If other EU members follow Britain out, this would limit their opportunities more seriously.

Travel difficulties would impede valuable cultural understanding

The implications of restricting freedom of travel go even deeper. The younger generation attach great meaning to travel. For example, back in 2013, a 16-year old Maria told us:

“I really think that traveling is an important thing to do, especially when you’re young, because you can grow as a person. And in such a globalized world, it’s very ignorant not to learn about other countries.” (Maria, then 16, Madrid)

At 19, Maria is just as passionate about traveling, telling us “travel gets rid of hatred” and that not being able to travel stunts your personal growth. Others told us travel nourishes the soul. It enriches the countries you visit and the country you return to.

For young Europeans who’ve grown up in an increasingly globalized world, limiting freedom of travel feels like a retrograde step. In fact, it feels almost dangerous, given that – as several pointed out – ‘isolationism hasn’t worked well historically.’ Brexit may mean people stay at home instead of trying to live abroad, and it may reduce cross-cultural understanding. In Maria’s words, “globalization has taken a step backwards here.”

Travel is also to some extent a cultural expectation nowadays. A ‘culture of interesting’ has been created (by peers as well as traditional and social media) in which you cannot be seen to be still – you must be doing something interesting, and travel is one way that this can be achieved. Jasmine (16, London) told us “a life without travel would be boring” and Gloria (21, Rome) that it’s unfashionable not to travel. Though they didn’t explicitly say so, it seems restricting freedom of travel will make it harder for young Europeans to achieve the perfect ‘Instalife’ they see around them.

This is the second of three posts covering insights from these conversations. The first  focused on what the EU means to young Europeans and what impact they believe Brexit might have. The final post in this series will look at the generational rift that the Brexit vote has revealed.