It’s 3am on Kao Tao, Thailand. The island is asleep. Except in my dorm.
The door smashes into the wall and I’m being hijacked from the lovely, deep recesses of my slumber. The human stampede trooping through the room tracks down every, single light switch and turns them all on. My eyes open into slits. The effects of the sleeping pills I’d popped – in pre-emption of this very moment – recede against the human squash balls of alcohol and testosterone bouncing around the room.
“I hope you’ve washed your fanny, mate!”
The situation played out to dismal depths which I’m sure you can predict but I’ll spare you the details.
Backpacking at a more ‘mature’ age can certainly come with challenges. Traveling – and I’m talking grotty hostels and 18-hour bus journeys, rather than full board at the Four Seasons with a private car around the city – is often the domain of the young. Students get long holidays which accommodate for extended stays overseas, whereas those of us pushing 30 or above often have other commitments.
Career, relationships, property. It’s not so easy to cut loose when the whim takes us.
Personally, I took off at the age of 28. My first taste of backpacking life was Ko San Road, Bangkok and for the first time in my entire life, I felt like a prude. I cast my eye around the apocalyptic scene of dry humping, beer towers and groups of predatory ‘lads, lads, lads!’ and I felt certain I had passed out on the plane and ended up in Magaluf, not Thailand.
When so many people are young, finding common ground with new friends can also be difficult. I’ve met some wonderful 21 year olds on the road but inevitably conversation hits an impasse when they want to talk about their Anatomy re-sit in September and I want to talk about the identify crisis of being a 29-year old without the slightest inclination for babies, settling down or a mortgage.
There were many occasions when I wished that I’d just done the whole travel thing when I’d been a bit younger.
However. There’s a giant BUT.
I’ve found that there are many, many ways in which hitting the road at an older age can bring fantastic advantages. Here are a handful.
1. You’ll have more money.
If you’re a little older, chances are that you’ll have been working awhile and saved up a nice wadge of cash for your trip.
This means that you can avoid bedbug-ridden $1 a night dorms and treat yourself to a nice pizza when you’re feeling homesick.
2. Independent thinking.
Sometimes, when you’re younger, it’s tempting to follow the crowd, rather than doing your own thing. I know I did.
When you’re older, you won’t care about being the one who goes off alone to do their own thing. In fact, you’ll probably like it.
If you rely on Facebook to gain an insight into the travelling lifestyle, you’d think it’s around the clock joy, enlightenment and adventure.
As someone who cried to a waitress because I felt like my guts were falling out and all I wanted was a hug, I can tell you that is categorically not the case.
When you’re a bit older, you’ll have been through enough ups and downs in life to know that crap times pass and that you won’t feel lonely/homesick/sad forever.
4. Good decision making.
Staying safe while traveling is fundamental, particularly if you’ve gone solo.
At a riper age, you’re more likely to be able to sniff out the situations which could turn sour and avoid them.
5. Lots to think about.
Crossroads and life choices can befall us at any age but when you’re ploughing rapidly through your 20s, you may find yourself grappling with more serious existential dilemmas, like ‘who am I?’, ‘why am I here?’ and ‘why does my friend own a car and I don’t?’
Travel gives you the quiet and stillness that is perfect for this kind of soul searching.
If you’re in the more mature age range and are thinking about travel – do it. I wouldn’t change a thing about my experience (apart from the night in Kao Tao) and believe that it is precisely my age that made it such an important and life-changing experience.