Travel has always been my passion. My teenage years were spent dreaming of distant lands. I worked, saved money, took off on an adventure and then returned home to repeat the cycle.
By the time I was 30, I had slept rough on a beach in Mexico, danced with Indigenous Australians and stayed with a family of firewalkers in Fiji. People told me it was great that I was travelling when I was young. “Get it out of your system,” they said. What they didn’t realize was that I would never get it out of my system. Here I am at 55, still backpacking and loving it as much as ever!
When I met my partner (who, luckily, loves to travel as much as I do), I reluctantly joined the rat-race for a while. We took jobs, rented an apartment, watched TV every night and went to the pub on the weekends. We soon became disillusioned, however, and started planning a year-long round-the-world adventure.
So, what is different about the way I travel now and the way I travelled when I was a young? Not as much as you may think.
I don’t tend to stay in hostels as frequently as I did when I was younger, but that is more out of personal choice. I know of many older travellers who take advantage of hostel accommodation and enjoy the social aspect of them. Generally, I stay in basic but pleasant budget accommodation. These days, I prefer to avoid flea-ridden hotels and dorms, if possible! I have also discovered housesitting, which is a cost-effective, comfortable and enjoyable way to see the world. If I am on a hiking trip, I am quite happy to camp as I love connecting with nature and don’t mind a few nights under canvas.
One of the most valuable lessons I have learned is not to carry too much stuff. My backpack is now half the size it was when I was a novice backpacker all those years ago. When I see travellers schlepping around monster packs, I wonder what could possibly be inside them that is so necessary.
A few years ago, when I was planning a trip to Laos and Cambodia, I decided to see how it would work out if I only carried a daypack. I just took essential items and washed any clothing I wore on a daily basis. Since then, I haven’t looked back and wouldn’t even contemplate the inconvenience of carrying a full-size backpack.
The essence of backpacking is travelling on the cheap. I still choose buses over planes, buy street food rather than eating at tourist restaurants and use local transport. That aspect of my travel style has not changed. If it did, I wouldn’t be able to afford to travel full-time.
One of the great advantages of travelling now that I am older is that I have grown to know myself and what I like. There are certain things I wouldn’t waste my time doing now. For example, I wouldn’t stand in line for a popular tourist attraction just because it is something that you are supposed to see in a specific destination. Sure, some tourist attractions are worthwhile, but I prefer off-the-beaten-track travel and more authentic experiences.
Not only do I have a clearer idea of my preferences, but maturity can bring with it a different perspective. When I was in my twenties, I visited New Zealand. At that time, I found it a little dull. A couple of years ago, I returned and loved it! When I was younger, I hadn’t been able to appreciate the beautiful hikes, the amazing wildlife and tranquility that I did the second time around.
Becoming aware of my own mortality and making the most of the time I have left is a great incentive for me to see as much of the world as possible. When I was young, the years were stretching ahead, but realizing time is limited is a great motivator. It may be that I will be white-water river-rafting down the Zambezi when I am in my seventies. I hope so, but I am not taking any chances – I am making the most of every day right now.
Nothing inspires me more than meeting a senior backpacker with as much enthusiasm and passion for life as someone in their twenties. Whilst in the Indian Himalayas, I had an encounter with a teacher in her late fifties. She and her husband had taken a year off work and completed a road trip through New Zealand, motor-biked in Cambodia and were next headed to Africa. They were having the time of their lives!
Five years ago, I cashed in my very small pension prematurely, my partner took a redundancy package and we booked a flight to India. Since then, the longest amount of time (by far) we have spent anywhere was when we undertook a five-month housesit in Toronto. We have explored Sri Lanka, India, Nepal, Thailand, Myanmar, Vietnam, New Zealand, Mexico and island hopped through Hawaii.
In India, we took a hair-raising overnight bus journey in the driving rain through the Himalayas. The pot-smoking driver did nothing to allay our fears as we sped around hairpin bends. When day broke and the snow-capped Himalayas came into view, it all became worthwhile.
In New Zealand, we hiked the four-day Abel Tasman Trail. With camping gear and food on our backs, we traversed one of the most beautiful coastlines in the world, sleeping under the stars on the soft sand of stunning beaches.
In Myanmar, we cycled along dusty tracks discovering the exquisite temples of Bagan and then watched the sun go down on one of the most exotic scenes we had ever witnessed.
At the moment, we are back in Mexico and will be heading to Guatemala next week. I write a few travel articles to help keep us going and we travel in more affordable countries in order not to stretch our budget too much. Although there are minor differences in the way I travel now compared to how I used to, my appetite for travel has never waned. I think my nomadic ways will continue as long as I am physically able to make it to the airport!
Some countries require a little more resilience to travel in when you are older, but it doesn’t stop the many mature adventurers you come across trekking in the jungles of Peru or taking an overnight train through Vietnam. Backpacking is no longer the domain of the young. People of all ages are creating their own unique adventures around the planet.