Never Stop Exploring (Whatever Your Age!)
One of the things that we have noticed in many years of travel is the increasing number of older independent travellers on the road. Travel is no longer the domain of gap year travellers, but people of all ages are out there creating their own unique adventures all around the planet.
Traditionally known as a 'gap year' and referring to university graduates who take a break before joining the rat race, a gap year can now apply to people of all ages and walks of life. Independent travellers range in age from teens to seventies (and beyond).
On a trip to New Zealand, an encounter with an Australian woman in her mid sixties evolved into a friendship and a visit to her house in Melbourne a few weeks later. She was travelling alone on a Kiwi Express bus, which traverses the country providing backpackers with budget accommodation and arranging bungee jumps, white water river rafting and other adrenaline fuelled activities.
When we were in India, we met a teacher in her fifties who had taken a career break. She and her husband had travelled through New Zealand, motor biked in Cambodia, rented an apartment in Chang Mai, Thailand and were next were headed to Africa. They were travelling on the cheap and having the time of their lives. These are typical examples of the many travellers now roaming the planet.
We are no spring chickens ourselves, (Ku being in her early fifties and T in her forties). Ku took her first major trip thirty years ago, over-landing from New York City to Los Angeles, and is now more motivated than ever to explore the planet.
Nowadays, the economic situation means that redundancy or 'being let go' (often with an attractive financial package) is an option for many. Instead of investing in a new kitchen or adding a conservatory, some people are grabbing life by the throat and booking year long round-the-world tickets. Way to go!
The internet has made everything so much more accessible for potential travellers. From exploring travel options to gaining inspiration from all the great blogs out there, it's all available at the touch of a finger. Arranging independent travel has never been so easy. Hostelling is now for everyone. The 'Youth' in the founding Youth Hostel Association has now become redundant. There are thousands of hostels throughout the world that welcome people of all ages.
Many older globetrotters are in a better place to travel from a financial perspective. Even those who haven't paid off their mortgages can get their monthly payment covered by renting out while they are away. Taking a career break if you are able to is a perfect escape route, as you know you have a job to return to after your adventures.
Of course, some countries require a little more resilience to travel in than others and some people prefer to visit these places when they are younger. However, this doesn't stop the many older travellers who can be found trekking through the jungles of Peru or taking overnight buses in India.
It's great that the spirit of adventure is alive and kicking in both young and old, and there is nothing more inspiring than talking to a 75 year old life-loving and enthusiastic backpacker!
Mature Adventurers - The Differences!
When you are older, you know yourself better than when you are in your twenties. It may be perceived as being 'set in your ways' and the disadvantage is that you may not try new things to the degree that you did when you were younger. However, the big advantage is that you have tried a lot of those things, and you don't want to waste time and effort doing them again! We, for example, know that there are many so-called tourist attractions that we wouldn't be prepared to queue up for hours to see. We would rather spend our days seeking out our own travel 'gems', off the tourist track and usually a more authentic experience. In other words, you become more discerning.
Knowing what to take becomes so much easier! Back in the day, we were both schlepping ridiculously large backpacks round the world! It has taken years of experience to hone our packing skills and we now both travel with a day pack each, no matter how long the trip (see below!)
Mature nomads are travelling for the right reasons. Not wishing to stereotype, but we have occasionally come across a backpack-toting young gapster who, on Daddy's money, is partying their way through South East Asia or Australia, rarely taking in their surroundings beyond the next beach bar. Now, we both love to party ourselves, but it is not the main reason that we travel. For a minority, the gap year is more about following the backpacker trail, than experiencing fascinating cultures, hiking into remote and beautiful places and immersing themselves into this amazing world.
Your perspective changes. Twenty years ago, Ku spent a month in New Zealand as part of a R-T-W trip, and wasn't too impressed! Finding it damp, twee and un-exotic, it was abandoned to the recesses of her travel memories. Last winter, however, we spent several months hiking and camping in the South Island. This time around, she loved it! Often, what appealed in youth, doesn't later in life, and vice versa. Although Ku didn't find New Zealand too exciting all those years ago, with maturity, she was able to appreciate the spectacular bushwalking, amazing wildlife, beautiful scenery and even the unpredictable weather!
It may be (and there are exceptions!), that at a slightly advanced age, your days of dorms and fleapit hotels are over (or not?!) and you require a little more comfort. There are plenty of alternatives. You can housesit, stay in mid-range hotels (which in many countries are ultra-cheap) or cabins and apartments, which are often excellent value. Many hostels have en-suite rooms these days too.
Normally, we mix it up between all of those options and we also like to camp every now and again to stay in touch with nature!
You become more aware of your mortality. When you are in your twenties, the years stretch ahead of you like a blank canvas. You have all the time in the world. When you hit your forties and more so your fifties, you become aware that time is limited. If you are really lucky, you may be one of the lucky ones and be white water river rafting down the Zambezi when you are seventy five. Realistically, you may not want to, or be physically able to be adventuring in quite the same style at that age as you were when you were younger. That is why it is vital to get out there while you are reasonably physically fit - you don't know what the future may bring. We still have an abundance of travel dreams to realise, and we are determined to make them come true before arthritis sets in!
Lastly, if you are travelling in India and admit to being unmarried or childless at thirty, expect much pity. At forty, the reaction will be disbelief and horror! It is easier to be ready for the inevitable questions and invent a spouse and at least a couple of kids!
Whatever your age, making the decision to purchase a brand new state-of-the-art backpack or dig out the trusty and dusty old backpack from the attic is one of the best decisions you will ever make!
"Anyone who needs more than one suitcase is a tourist, not a traveller" Ira Levin
Having been on a few trips, one of the most valuable lessons that we have learned is to travel light!
On all our trips including our round the world trip back in 2000, we carried full sized backpacks. We started experimenting with taking only thirty litre day packs a couple of years ago when we took a ten day trip to Turkey. We were hooked! Next, we tried a month in Cambodia and Laos and followed that trip with five months in Sri Lanka, Nepal and India. Now, it would be difficult to go back to hauling a huge backpack on our travels.
Sometimes of course, you have to take more. We are presently spending a winter in Toronto, so have had to bring boots, winter jackets and fleeces, and consequently, a large pack. Most of the time, however, when you are travelling somewhere warm or even somewhere with a moderate climate, a day pack is the way to go.
When we travelled in Asia, we washed whatever we had worn during the day and it dried easily overnight. In India we bought tiny packets of washing powder for two rupees each they and were really convenient to carry.
It's great not having to check a bag and subsequently wait at the airport carousel, hoping that your backpack hasn't been lost! Travelling on buses too is so much easier. You don't have to worry about the security of your backpack because you have it with you. In fact, travelling on local buses in Sri Lanka would have been almost impossible with full size packs, as the buses don't have storage spaces.
When carrying a full size backpack, just getting around can be an effort, especially in hotter climes. With a day pack you feel unencumbered, free and you can move more quickly. Imagine the scenario.....You have just got off a bus in India after a long and arduous journey and you are waiting for the luggage to be unpacked from the hold. As you wait, you are besieged by touts and beggars all trying to get your attention. If you were just carrying a small pack, you could have walked straight through them all and be checking into your guest house by now!
To give you an idea about what we stuffed into our thirty litre packs, here is a list of what we took on our five month trip:
passport/cash/cards/documents kindle/battery charger/adapter
three sets of underwear I-pod/mini-speaker
two pairs of combats guidebook/s
four T-shirts journal/pens
one long-sleeved cotton top camera
one fleece basic toiletries
one pac-a-mac mini pack of cards
three pairs of socks sunglasses/glasses
travel towel travel sewing kit
flip-flops travel hairbrush
all terrain shoes travel hairdryer
head torch foldaway backpack