I recently entered the wonderful, wandering world of travel blogging. Over the past six months, I’ve immersed myself in hundreds of travel blogs – many of them authored by adventurous young people who have thrown in the towel on their conventional American lives, and hit the road.
I applaud them! I love to read about their travels and their enthusiastic attitudes. There’s really nothing like traveling when you’re young. That feeling of invincibility! That sense of awe on your first international trip. That youthful stamina that allows you to sleep on a train overnight and then hit the ground running the next morning in Rome, Athens, Lisbon …
Still, I sometimes wonder about the blogs’ subtle message that you must travel in your 20s, or you’ll become so bogged down in the grind that you’ll never have the opportunity again. I know from experience that it just isn’t so.
As a 50-something who has loved to travel all of my life, I know that you can fit travel into your life, regardless of age, income, or circumstance.
Like many of the young bloggers, my wanderlust began in my late teens and early 20s – as a college student backpacking my way through Europe. For two consecutive summers in the 1980s, I Eurailed my way through every country and capital city this side of the Iron Curtain (how’s that for a dated reference?)
Then, as a young mom, I road-tripped and camped with my son through Mexico, Canada, and all over the American West.
Later, when he was a young adult, we headed to Europe and Taiwan. Meanwhile, I’ve also taken a number of trips with friends and as a solo traveler – to Panama, Hong Kong, and through numerous national parks of the Southwest.
All of the blogs I’ve been reading got me wondering about the advantages of travel as a 20-something vs. a 50-something. So, here goes: 10 reasons travel is better when you’re old(er)!
• No more pressure to find the best, most outrageous, deal. In my earlier travels, everyone seemed in a competition to get the best bargains on hostels, meals, travel. On trains heading to the next destination, groups of young people would compare stories: Sleep outdoors on the rooftop of an Athens hotel? Check. Go days on end eating only bread and cheese? Check. Hitchhike along the winding roads of Corfu? Check. Certainly, I still like getting a travel bargain, but it no longer dominates my travel decisions.
• A realization there’s no such thing as “once in a lifetime.” Of course, there will be places that you will see once, and never return. But as an older traveler, I know that returning to the places I love is doable and enjoyable. In 2007, I returned to Amsterdam after having visited in the early 1980s. The lovely canals, flower markets, and brown cafés charmed me even more than they had back then.
• The beauty of slowing down. I have to say the pace of my travels as a backpacker in the 1980s was frenetic. We wanted to get the most out of our Eurail passes, and really did sometimes live the three-countries-in-three-days cliché. Now, if I want to take an extra day or two in a destination, I do it, guilt-free.
• More honed priorities. As a young traveler in the Europe, I would say that my travel companions and I had three primary motivators: Beaches, boys, and beer. Our destinations reflected those priorities. Don’t get me wrong; we had some great times in Corfu, Munich, and Interlaken, and I wouldn’t trade those experiences for the world. But as an older traveler, I feel like I have a better understanding of what I like. Beautiful city centers, good hiking, and – still! – beaches now guide my travel choices.
• A more flexible attitude. Sometimes, the best travel finds are in the most unexpected places. When my son and I traveled to Italy’s Cinque Terre several years ago, we initially were set on staying in one of the five picturesque towns perched on the coast of the Italian Riviera. But, not having booked ahead, we soon realized that finding accommodations in Monterosso or Vernazza was simply not going to happen. So, we got back on the train and traveled a few miles southeast to La Spezia, where we found an affordable and clean hotel near the train station. We used it as our base to explore the stunning trails and alleyways of Cinque Terre. An added bonus: the less-touristy La Spezia offered some wonderful pizzerias, and a nice evening street scene. As a young traveler, I remember walking miles in the pouring rain to get to a youth hostel in the heart of Vienna, when something a little less central would probably have served our purposes just as well.
• C’est la vie on travel roadblocks. Sometimes life intervenes on your so-called travel ‘bucket list.’ I remember being devastated when the Sistine Chapel was being restored, with scaffolding marring the view, during my 1980s trip to Rome. Years later, my son and I faced a similar situation in Amsterdam, when the famous Rijksmuseum was closed for restoration. A disappointment, yes, but a visit to the smaller Vincent Van Gogh Museum was a lovely substitute.
- The realization that some travel discomforts are worth it. While my sister and I were staying at a youth hostel in Sagres, Portugal in the ‘80s, we had the opportunity to join a group of backpackers heading to Morocco. Even though we had the time, and the Eurail pass covered the ferry trip, we declined – mainly because of the uncertainty and discomfort involved. I still regret it. I have yet to make it to Morocco, or anywhere in Africa, for that matter. So, when I traveled to Panama recently to visit a friend’s daughter in the Peace Corps there, I didn’t hesitate when the opportunity arose to travel to the San Blas Islands in the Caribbean. I had done enough research to know that the accommodations offered by the Kuna Yala native people would be a little out of my comfort zone. Still, the stay in the huts on the tiny Isla Diablo turned out to be an all-time travel highlight.
- A better sense for my personal safety. I must admit that as a young traveler, I did some pretty stupid things. Arriving at the French port of Calais at 1 a.m., and sleeping outside on the ship dock after mistakenly taking a late-night ferry across the English Channel was one of them. Thankfully, a group of young men from Finland had made the same mistake, and offered us some protection. It could have had a much more dire outcome. I try to research and plan a little better on my travels now. Of course, the Internet helps. (This WAS the ‘80s, after all!).
- Traveling with your kids. This is a pleasure unlike any other. If you’ve raised them as travelers, then really, you’ve created the perfect travel companions. A mother and son traveling together raised a few eyebrows in Europe, but once we got past that, my son and I made an awesome team – taking in many sights together, and splitting up when our interests diverged. While we both loved walking the streets of Rome, he opted to snowboard while I hiked at the Matterhorn in Zermatt, Switzerland. More recently, I traveled with my son and his fiancée (now wife) to Taiwan, and found it equally enjoyable.
- More living in the moment. Sometimes, on an extended trip, I think travelers can begin to take their surroundings for granted. I remember, while in Sagres – the final leg of our two-month backpacking trip in the ‘80s – I began longing for home, and ignoring the stunning Atlantic coastline spread before me. Granted, my trips as an older adult are shorter, but I really focus on appreciating each day. I also make a conscious effort not to play the comparison game. Sure, things are different, and sometimes uncomfortable, on an international trip. But I try to remind myself that that is why I travel!