I recently read an article on travel website about the advantages of traveling when you’re older. It had some good points, but overall I found it disturbing. The “older” author was 28. Twenty-eight! I’m not in my twenties…or thirties. But I still go schlepping around with a backpack whenever I get the chance. Here’s what I’ve learned about following the wanderlust into middle-age:
1. You can do it (but start somewhere easy)! If you haven’t been a vagabond traveler before, or if its been a decade or two, start by going somewhere easy. Freshly divorced and thirty-six years old, I dug my backpack out of the basement and escaped to New Zealand. It was the perfect destination for someone who had been bogged down by “real life” and hadn’t traveled for fifteen years. Every town had a public restroom that was so clean you could eat off the floor, one or more well-marked hiking trails, and an information kiosk which could tell you where to go, how to get there and even book your accommodation. New Zealand is so easy to travel in that if you bring your brain, you’ve over-packed! The combination of no language barrier, easy travel arrangements and accessible outdoor adventures make it the ideal destination for getting your feet wet and building your confidence.
2. It’s the antidote to cynicism. What with climate change, war, global economic meltdown- it’s easy to be pessimistic about the future. You’d have to really have buried your head in the sand to not be cynical by the time you reach middle-age. Traveling restores your faith in human-kind. Cluelessly wandering the other side of the planet, I am totally at the mercy of strangers and they always take care of me. Sure, once in a while someone will rip you off, but everyone could do this, and only a few do. Other travelers are inspiring and the fact that most of them are younger makes it better. When you are surrounded with young people you enjoy, respect and admire, it gives you a sense faith in the future. That alone is worth the price of the ticket.
3. Travel is richer when you’re older and wiser. You have the perspective that comes with more life experience. Sometimes you even get to show off your wisdom. For instance, I’ve noticed that a lot of young people haven’t been sick enough to know their meds the way we old farts do. I heard one girl describing Pepto, Tums, and Imodium as different strength cures for the same symptoms. Indeed, I’ve gained notoriety among my younger friends for spreading the gospel of Gas X. I’ve also had more time to study the places I visit, met more people from there, accumulated more background information and more interests. (Yes, I now engage in bird-watching. No, I don’t knit.)
4. Even if you’re still poor, you’re probably not as poor as you used to be. When you’re 20 you really haven’t had a chance to earn any money yet. At 40 you have. You’ve also had a chance to pay down those student loans, and accumulate more stuff than you’ll ever need. I’m still a shoestring traveler, but I don’t skip a cool sight because the admission is $10. And when I’m feeling crabby for no reason I splurge and get the room with hot water and television.
5. Okay, some things are harder than they were when you were twenty, but that’s even more reason to do them. Of course I felt old and fat climbing pyramids with all those healthy youth, but extending yourself is the only way to improve (or at least maintain) your physical fitness. What’s the alternative – sit in the office eight or ten hours per day as your butt slowly spreads to overflow the seat of the chair? Unfortunately, the extra challenge is not limited to physical activity. Sitting in Spanish classes I often lament the fact that try as I do, I just can’t pick it up as quickly as most of the younger students. Here again, this is even more reason to do it. Must exercise the gray matter. I do have the advantage having all those hours that I can’t sleep at night (bienvenida a menapausia!) to study.
Bottom line: don’t let age stop you. People will even yield seats on the bus to you once those gray hairs start to show.