Backpacking After Fifty? Sure!
By Oscar Davis
Grey nomads, baby boomers, 50+ travelers; whatever you call backpackers over fifty, one thing’s for sure, they’re having the time of their lives.
Travel over fifty is becoming the new normal!
Almost 10% of HostelBookers.com customers are over 50 and according to their annual survey, the number is growing every year. Four out of ten over-50s are visiting destinations they never dreamt of when they were younger, according to another travel survey.
Why Go Now?
Everyone is different and to warn you: I’m about to generalize, but I’m sure you can tick at least three of these statements.
• Your children have grown up and they can fend for themselves.
• You’re more financially stable than ever.
• You have a trade or a skill to come back to, as well as work contacts who could help you out on your return.
• You have the resourceful life skills you need to make it on the road – whether you’ve had kids or not you’re sure to have got yourself out of some pretty sticky situations.
• You know how to talk to people and communicate.
• You have much-needed skills you could offer in different countries.
• You have life experiences you can share with other people along the way.
• You’re in the prime of your life – maybe a few aches and pains here and there, but they can be settled with medication.
• It’s time for you to explore this beautiful world.
• Travel is much cheaper and more accessible than ever.
• You don’t have to please your parents and children anymore.
• You should never stop challenging yourself with new experiences.
50+ travel inspiration
Travel bloggers like Barbara Weibel, Wayne Dunlap, and Evelyn Hannon are lighting the way for anyone interested in traveling over 50. Barbara spent 35 years working in careers she never wanted; then she got ill and had a lot of time to think while on her sickbed.
Once diagnosed and recovered she left her job at 54 and started years of backpacking around the world, documenting it all on holeinthedonut.com.
Evelyn from journeywoman.com separated from her husband of 23 years and after some dark times of wondering what to do and nursing a broken heart, she decided to get out there and explore the world. That was 40 years ago and at 79 now, she’s never looked back.
Wayne from planyourescapenow.com and his wife Pat have traveled the world for 25 years. They’ve scuba dived in Egypt’s Red Sea, visited the great pyramids of Giza, rode an elephant in Thailand, hiked a glacier in New Zealand, and skied on the Alps in Switzerland. Sound good?
Where to go After 50
Plenty of parents choose their travels based on their children’s recommendations, but the world is literally your oyster. If you’re struggling to pin down a destination, think hard about somewhere you’ve always wanted to go. Read travel blogs and have a look at photo-sharing sites like Instagram and Flickr to see if anywhere calls out to you.
Don’t try to see too much at once, and if you’re going on a big trip don’t make rigid plans for every stage. It can be reassuring to plan the first few weeks out, but then loosen up and see where the people you meet and the places you hear about take you.
The actual traveling can be the tiring part of traveling, so make sure you count in a few recovery days at least when you reach a new destination. It’s better for everyone to travel slower: you, the environment, your finances, and the people you meet.
Make sure you do your research before you go–-how much depends on your personality, but at least know where you can get a decent night’s sleep when you get there. Print off a map and find out about what there is to do in each city, but again, don’t plan too much and don’t be scared to get off the tourist trail for a while. Your traveling style is sure to evolve the more you do it, but keep it simple to start.
Hostels and cheap hotels like the Lisbon Destination Hostel – which is housed in the beautiful Rossio Railway Station –have all the comforts you need. You can usually get private rooms with cable TV, Wi-Fi, and en-suite bathrooms if you want some privacy.
Most hostels also have fully equipped kitchens and chill out rooms so you can save money on food costs and relax after a hard day’s sightseeing.
At the LoLhostel Siracusa in Italy’s Siracusa, you can choose to stay in comfortable dorms, either female only or mixed, a private twin ensuite or a luxury private double ensuite.
The rooms have air-conditioning, a TV and a mini-fridge. You’ll also get a free breakfast of freshly baked croissants, free Wi-Fi, free linen and towels and security lockers in the dorms. There’s a fully equipped kitchen on-site and a supermarket just 50 meters away. Prices start from just €18.50pppn, ($23.43)
HI-Whistler Hostel is purpose-built to make the most of the skiing, mountain biking and white water rafting opportunities Canada has to offer. The private rooms are luxurious with flat-screen TVs and ensuites, or you can stay in a 4-bed dorm. There are on-site café, a TV lounge, and a pool table to help you meet your fellow travelers. Beds start at just €24.56pppn. ($31.11)
Another great example of a cool hostel is the Aventura Boutique Hostel in Budapest. It’s centrally located and is uniquely and vibrantly designed. The spacious themed loft dorms are quiet and comfortable or you could book into one of the twin/double private ensuites. There is an in-hostel massage service, Wi-Fi and a kitchen too. Beds start from just €11.90pppn. ($15.00)
When you arrive in a new place all the sights, smells and sounds can be overwhelming at first. The local traditions and way of life can be a bit of a culture shock. If you’re from the US, Europe, or Australasia places like India, Burma and Cambodia may seem scarily different to home. Just take your time to understand your surroundings and don’t write any destination off too soon.
If after a few chances you still feel really out of your depth don’t be afraid to call time and move on.’ Just take your time to assimilate into backpacking when you’re over 50 and with every problem and challenge you face you will become stronger next time around.
Travel is about getting out of your comfort zone – that’s kind of the whole point. Get chatting to people and embrace new ways of doing things. Open your mind and eyes to appreciate people and beliefs that are different from what you already know.
Accept your limits
Trekking up Kilimanjaro and walking around Mount Everest Base Camp may sound fun – but it is hard work. In the same vein, don’t be put off by doing something you’re capable of because you’re a little older.
Maybe join a tour group to start – there are plenty out there. But don’t stick with tour groups forever – part of the joy of travel is to explore a new city and to find your own way.
Travel over fifty doesn’t have to be 10 months or nothing. If you travel closer to home you can always come back every so often if you need to.
Just start slow with a fortnight away, then a month, and build up to see if you like it and feel capable of increasing it to a year.
Of course, it depends how long you plan to travel for as to what you do with your ‘stuff’. Some people decide they’ve had enough and just sell everything – including cars and home – and get off. Others enjoy the security of knowing whatever happens you have a home to go back to.
My suggestion is to do what feels right. If you’re not ready to sell all your worldly possessions, then don’t. You can always hire storage and rent out your home – this can give you extra cash and if you do it on a short contract you have the freedom to come back and claim it back again. Just take it slow, think carefully and do what’s right for you.
If money is an issue think about this when you’re deciding where to go. Obviously, Thailand is a lot cheaper than Australia, and you can get a lot more for your money in Asia than in Europe.
Stay in hostels, eat in hostels and relax at your hostel at night and you’ll save hundreds, or even thousands if you’re traveling long term.
Don’t let the fear of money, possessions and material things tie you down and stop you living your life. Travel is much easier and affordable than you might think.
Oscar Davis, a former musician and regular contributor to GoNOMAD.com, lives in Phoenix and flies his own plane–and took up flying after he turned 50.