Don’t know about you, but months before a trip abroad, I feverishly scour travel books and websites for places to go, where to stay, what I’m going to see, and what I can do to scare myself.
As excited as I get, I can’t help but wonder if I’ll be able to do it with the same gusto as I did the year prior. Will I hear bones creaking as I climb a mountain? Will I throw my back out sleeping on a paper thin mattress with a flimsy pillow? I certainly hope not, but I’m starting to question….when will age catch up to me on the road? I say when as it’s bound to happen sooner or later, despite what I like to think of as my zest for life rivalling those 20 years younger.
I’m certainly not old by any stretch. I’m only thirty-fricken-eight, but in the backpacking world, I’m ancient. Back when I started, there was no social media to document it all and no travel bloggers to guide you. Hostels were one-size-fits-all party hubs and postcards were always your first purchase in a new country. We used maps, journals, bulky guidebooks, and luck. However, I still managed to wander the globe with great abandon and allow a passion for travel to be cemented in my psyche that hasn’t waned one iota.
So since I don’t have a time machine and cannot fight the inevitability of gravity, I’ve got to look at the bright side of backpacking as I age. Here are a few golden nuggets that I’ve experienced or am banking on experiencing in the years to come….
1) While some of my friends are fighting the crowds and screams at Disneyland, I’m climbing mountains and walking ancient ruins in solace and silence.
2) Getting called Madame or Ma’am right before some little whipper snipper gives up his seat to me.
3) People sometimes letting me go ahead of them in a queue to pee at a tourist attraction.
4) Having a guide who’s taking extra good care of the ‘slightly older woman’, which inadvertently means I have a guide to myself.
5) Seeing the evolution of backpacking over 15 years.
6) Increasing my street cred because I can physically do the same activities as said whipper snipper in #2.
7) Telling the younger travellers about the hassles of European travel before the Euro.
8) Having someone help hoist the 50+lb house onto my back, which after weeks on the road, feels like 500.
9) Not having parents to check in with.
10) My limited knowledge of technology means I have fewer things to post, update, download, and ping…or something like that.
11) Realizing the bucket list just gets longer with time, not shorter.
12) Knowing I can say things like…”Back when I started…”
13) Shocking my friends and family that I’m still backpacking the world.
14) No longer caring about how I look while travelling (as long as my teeth are clean, of course).
15) Being mistaken for a mom…which always garners respect.
16) Rarely being hungover so I beat the younger crowd to the attractions.
17) Surprising Gen Yers that I hate fanny packs.
18) Having life experience which has taught me to put down my camera and just watch, smell, taste, touch, listen and sometimes record nothing of the experience….because it’s only for me.
19) Seeing how solo female travel is now celebrated and common!!
20) Knowing it only gets better with age.
I may not be over the hill yet. Hell, I haven’t even started the ascent, but I can see it in the distance (a blessing in and of itself because I don’t need glasses yet), which has me pondering what travel will look like for me in 5, 10 or 15 years.
Where I am in life now makes me think that aging isn’t so bad when you’ve measured your life in experiences as opposed to birthday cakes. I may be pushing forty, but I’m not pushing up daisies yet, so as I start to plan for my next extended backpacking bonanza, I tell myself and anyone who will listen that the benefits of travel will always outweigh any aches and pains you experience along the way. Whatever your age.