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Can you ever be too old for backpacking?

Kim Wildman
Wednesday, September 3, 2014
Can you ever too old for backpacking?

Backpacking around the globe is a great adventure, especially when you are young and don't have any strings to tie you down. But with so many people putting off having families and travelling later in life, should there be an age limit on backpacking?

I was 27 years old when I set out on my first backpacking holiday — a month-long overland trip taking in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Zambia.

But it wasn't until a few years later, after I'd turned 30, when I finally felt secure enough in myself to take off on my first real extended solo backpacking adventure. That time I bused and trained my way around the lesser-known parts of Eastern Europe. So as a bit of a late-backpacking bloomer, I've usually always been the oldest person in the dorm room.

Yet some 10 years on as I pack my bags for my next backpacking adventure in Cambodia I'm wondering if, at the ripe old age of 41 years, I'm starting to get a little too old for this?

I've already traded in my traditional rucksack for a far more practical and convenient (and might I add less backbreaking) trolley backpack, so perhaps it's time I hung up my hiking boots and signed up for a seniors-only bus tour of Europe?

For me, age always has been, and hopefully will always be, a number. It's more about how you live your life rather than how many candles are on your cake. At the same time, as the years have marched on I've noticed the gap between myself and younger travellers at hostels is indeed widening.

While they revel in all-night drinking parties and only crawl into their bunks just before dawn, I'd much rather find a hole-in-the-wall restaurant where I can enjoy a local meal along with a glass of wine (or two) and be in bed well before midnight. I also appreciate a few more luxuries, such as hygienic bathrooms and clean bed sheets, than I did when I was younger. But does this mean I should give hostels a wide berth?

Hostels of course offer a great budget alternative form of accommodation and they are excellent places to meet like-minded travellers. Yet while they were once the domain of drifters and students, today's hostels cater to the young and the young at heart with many dropping the "youth" tag and opening their doors to families and mature-age travellers.

Granted I'd find screaming children as annoying as drunken teenagers and late-night snorers, but no matter whether my dorm mates belong to gen Y, gen X or the baby boomers, as long as they share my independent travelling spirit then, as far as I'm concerned, they can only make my hostelling experience richer.

Perhaps in the end it's all just a matter of definition. That is, if to you the word "backpacker" means the party all night, sleep all day gap-year student whose round-world trip drifts by in a drunken blur, then by all accounts my backpacking years are well behind me.

But if, like me, you believe backpackers are in fact independent travellers who don't go in much for set itineraries, who avoid package tours and who relish the opportunity to get off the well-beaten tourist trail, then you can never be too old to be a backpacker.

So while I may end up being the oldest person at the hostel yet again when I touch down in Phnom Penh, as long as I continue to enjoy the challenges and complexities of independent travel, I can't see myself giving up backpacking anytime soon.

User comments
glad i came across this article, am off to europe for my first OE at 40 something! and on a budget-backpacking with wheels of course. Am inspired by what I have read in here, Big Thanks, Stayed in Backpackers in Carins AUS, loved it, could mix with others or keep to yourself Europe would be different tho' I guess as english is secondary language? hmmm age scchmage - If the body is willing go for it...
Too old to backpack ?? I'm over 60 and in the past 4 years have ben out on 3 hard travel adventures, travelling in exactly the same way i did back when I was a hippy on th road 40-odd years ago- months thru Iran, Armenia Syria and Lebanon, Yemen and Pakistan - and I mean HARD travel, no tourist hotels, no internal flights, right in th dust with th locals, cheap and exhilarating and recieving the most wonderful treatment and respect all the way and getting into many locations and adventures that you wouldnt believe ! Go for it I say, what have you got to lose at this stage of your life but the fear of terminal boredom !
I've been backpacking off and on for over 30 years now. Current age 51. OK so sometimes I get a private room at a hostel or backpackers but I love meeting all those wonderful like minded people. I hate staying in hotels when travelling by myself, you can go days without having much interaction with other people. When time is short I also use a company call Intrepid Travel which I always think of backpacking in comfort with a small group of strangers who within days become friends. I too have upgraded my backpack to one with wheels on, great for those long walks from the bus or rail stations but it still goes on the back for stair. My mother was backpacking until the age of 65 with a friend so I'm sure I still have a few more years to go yet.
A hotel is a hotel no matter where you are. I love to meet fellow travellers, not close the door and turn on the TV. I have had some amazing evenings in hostel dorms where there were several guys from different countries - no common language, just a desire to learn about each others countries.. I will confess to some concessions - once my pack represented freedom..... now it just seems to represent weight!!!!!!!!!! However there are great suitcases these days. I have much more travelling to do and I fully intend to do most of my wandering evenings in hostels meeting like-minded people
How old are you? Well age has nothing to do with it. I started out at age 45 in Argentina. I have been to 28 countries and only stayed at 2 hotels, the rest of the time it has been hostels. They are the best place to stay and other travellers are a great source of information on where to go and what really isnt worth seeing. I have made some wonderful friends in so many countries and on my second trip around the world got to see some places the other backpackers dont as I stayed with my friends. I tend to get on with people of all ages and backgrounds and will even have the odd drunken night myself. If you are thinking of doing it, dont think about it anymore, just go do it. The rewards are immense.

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