The World of Generation Next

Last summer I brought a wisp of my childhood to our dinner table, a game called Geography that my family played when I was growing up.

Each person would name a place starting with the last letter of the preceding destination: me, SwedeN; my mother, NormandY; my sister, YellowstonE; and so on. Playing this game, my children—Mackenzie (seven) and Chase (nine)—have become conversant with the world’s unfamiliar names, which leads to discussion of unusual customs.

They seem to love all that is foreign. My daughter is often nose down in an atlas, ferreting out names that she hopes will stump the rest of us: Lesotho, Montevideo, Iqaluit. 

For decades, the geographic literacy rate has been pitiful among American youth. A National Geographic/Roper survey taken in 2006 revealed that only half of respondents 18 to 24 years old could find New York State on a map.

My kids’ interest in geography gives me hope that young Americans are becoming more geo-savvy.

This hope gained velocity recently when I joined a leg of the Millennial Trains Project (MTP), the brainchild of 26-year-old Patrick Dowd, who quit Wall Street to launch an entrepreneurial caravan on rails.

Twenty-four millennials (those born in the 1980s and ’90s) crowd-funded $5,000 each to ride 3,000 miles from San Francisco to Washington, D.C., on mid-century railcars—listening to speakers, sharing ideas, and connecting with like-minded innovators in cities such as Denver, Omaha, and Pittsburgh.

I talked about the power of travel. And how critical it is to become global: To succeed in the world we need to understand it. To do that, we must travel it. As I spoke to them, they not only embraced the notion; they were living it on the train.

The lessons I take from my kids and Dowd and his peers: Emerging generations are less U.S.-centric and more curious about the wider world. Which comforts me as Traveler enters its fourth decade (we’re celebrating our 30th anniversary this year)—and inspires me to thank you for supporting an organization that celebrates knowing and preserving our world.

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Keith Bellows is editor-in-chief of National Geographic Traveler magazine. Follow his story on Twitter @KeithBellowNG.

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