The Malta Independent 21 September 2021, Tuesday

Travel for young people

Rachel Borg Saturday, 24 July 2021, 07:16 Last update: about 3 months ago

Travelling for young people was an essential in the formation of their educational life and for the pleasure it brought.  One of the overlooked consequences of the COVID19 pandemic has been the sudden halt to international travel, especially for youth.

Erasmus programmes and adventure travel were part and parcel of the academic life enjoyed by students.  The low-cost travel generation could benefit from greater opportunities than ever enjoyed before.  Destinations kept cropping up all around the continent and beyond. 

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Travel extended far and wide, for wonderful cultural exchanges and experiences.  Friends were made and languages improved. 

One of the benefits included making plans and occupying thoughts for the future and when a career or job might take off.  Students face long years of hard study and having a target in front of them, to travel and enjoy some freedom after their dedication to passing their exams is over, becomes not just an option for them but a strong motive.

The internet has brought the world into our home.  Webinars, videos, chats, social media.  In addition to that, Malta is a destination for English Language Studies for Foreigners and the sector has been an important element of our tourism infrastructure.  This contact with foreigners, in social life, in cultural areas and in personal friendships has brought about an increased interest in Malta and Gozo’s youth for travel and experience.

Summer of 2020 and 2021 has largely cancelled the opportunity for adventure travel and holidays abroad.  To make matters worse, the cultural activities that we normally enjoyed in summer are so limited that they are falling off the radar.  Tired and frustrated, the younger audiences are resorting to a Do It Yourself trend, extending to outdoor activities on the beach and on certain occasions in the town squares, to entertain themselves. 

The number of cigarette butts collected from beaches and shores is incredible.  Pizza delivery packaging and other take-away boxes are everywhere.  Noise is inevitable, though it should not be. 

Rather than having herd immunity we have herd instinct.  Packs of young people out drinking and socialising.  They have indeed had an extraordinary time in these past 18 months or so with so much impacting their life. 

French President Emmanuel Macron said on vaccination requirements:  “I no longer have any intention of sacrificing my life, my time, my freedom and the adolescence of my daughters, as well as their right to study properly, for those who refuse to be vaccinated.  This time YOU stay at home, not us.”

 A lot of our thought in these past months facing the virus, has been for our elderly and their confinement, which was indeed tough and something never experienced before.  That separation from family and affection and care was enormous to bear. 

However, youth and children too have faced very difficult realities.  Because they were deemed to be less vulnerable when it came to contracting the virus, they have not had access to the vaccine at the same level as adults and elderly.  In Malta the uptake of the vaccination among youths is good and the level of it.  But it is not the same in other countries, where the younger generation still lag behind or have preferred not to take the vaccine. 

Time now is of the essence.  Young people are missing out on travel which is not just a luxury but an important part of their formation as adults and good citizens.  It is only when you get out of your comfort zone, out of your bubble, whether that is family or friends, that you begin to build your confidence and strengthen your identity.

In the past, London was the centre for Maltese youth and the Bunch of Grapes pub in Knightsbridge, popular on Sunday afternoon for brunch and music.  We piled into flats sharing floors to sleep on and stumble into late at night.  We went to Soho, ice-skating and travelled for the first time on the famous Underground.  Trains driving in, doors opening, people pouring in and out and funny red maps telling you where to get off and change to get to Piccadilly Circus and Covent Gardens.

Today, trips to London are so frequent and relatively inexpensive that young travelers seek more distant and diverse destinations for their end-of-study trips.  The Far East, China, Japan or even the USA. 

Trips abroad featured strongly for couples, prior to getting married.  Honeymoons then became a ritual of discovery of places.  South Africa, Maldives, Tanzania or other African states. 

Now, this delay in travel means further delay in marriage and in starting a family.  Economic reasons also affect the chances of getting on to the property ladder.  Malta has the lowest fertility rate in all of the EU, with 1.14 births per woman recorded in 2019.

This stood well below the EU average of 1.53 births per woman in 2019. This is a slight decrease from its recent peak in 2016 (1.57), yet an increase compared with 2001 (1.43). The highest total fertility rate since the start of comparable time series was in 2008, 2010 and 2016 (1.57), in between it fluctuated between 1.51 and 1.57.  This rate, quite likely includes births from immigrants to Malta.  Any visit to the gynae outpatients at Mater Dei can give a good idea of how many foreigners are giving birth here.

It is important therefore that coming out of the pandemic, attention and plans will be made to help this generation get ahead when it comes to buying a home and starting a family.  Many youths will not put off their travel plans and go straight to marriage after graduating, even after post-grad.  Studies should be made on what could impact fertility and decisions. 

As marriage is left for later and parents have sacrificed a lot for the education of their children, the ability to rely on the bank of mum and dad has diminished.  More and more people finance their own homes, their own weddings and work in demanding jobs.  Financial aid can help balance work and raising children.  Not just with child-care centres.  Many young mums like to be there when their children are still infants.  Getting ahead in a job can take time and with the extra time that Covid has caused in normal stages, having some financial aid would help choices.

Before we get hot under the collar about young people and the disturbance they are causing (which can be a big nuisance) let us also shift some responsibility onto the government, who should not just bounce from one policy to another without understanding the impact that this can have on the health and future of our youth. 

Having fun should not harm them.  Citizens too deserve respect.  Listening to them is very important.  Many youths and young adults have become very conscious of their part in society and the good of the country.  From Neil Agius, to kayakers, to clean up initiatives and to movements for the protection of trees and agriculture, and in trying to keep a cultural and social life going against all odds, we owe them a lot to keep their spirits up and listen to them.  Their needs are our needs too.

 

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