Backpacking when you're older

As I surf around to different blogs, sites and forums I notice that the realm of backpacking is taken up mainly by people aged from 20 to 40. I did that too. However, there is one thing that you cannot change. We all get older, like it or not, then we die. In between we live our lives and at some stage reach a point where we are "older". Join the club.

I'm in my mid-late sixties. A broken neck, broken back (neither severed my spinal cord) and two wrecked knees give me a bit of trouble occasionally. I've had two cataract operations, wear dentures, can no longer launch myself over 6 foot fences/walls with one hand and like my afternoon nap. But I have a backpack and I travel. Some blogs and forums say you are never too old. That is not totally true, you will arrive at a point where you will probably have to stop. There is one time, you will have no choice. Until then....

So, you think you may be too old to hit the road?
Think again. Let's take a look at what you have.
  • No work schedule—you have the time.
  • Funds (be it a little or a lot)—your pension.
  • Wisdom (hopefully) and experience.
  • And, maybe, a little thing inside you that is saying, "I would like to get out there".

Have a good read of the posts and pages on my site and others. I too sat down and thought, "I would not be able to sling a pack on my back and go a travellin'." Yet, here I am going out places and writing about them as well. Some of the destinations are boring beyond belief, others not. Then there's the people I've met. The times of sitting and watching from a table outside a bistro or the like and just taking it all in. Helping someone who's lost—the list goes on.

There's an old poem with a line like this: "What is this life so full of care, than you have no time to stand and stare?" You can do that too and it suddenly dawns on you, that you could go to that place you're staring at.

Guess what? You have the time. Like me: you just have to get up off that lazy butt, stop playing roulette with the TV remote, cease making excuses about what you can't do—and discover the things you can.
You do not need to carry a lot of weight
To be honest (in most cases), if you are over 60, you will not be able to walk 30 miles with a 70 pound pack—you probably couldn't even manage 10 with a 25 pounder. You don't need to.

My pack is small, has five outside pockets in addition to the main hold and is around 30 liters on a good day. I have been selective about what goes inside. I might be able to handle a bit more weight, but my spine will yell at me if I go too far, so I travel ultra light.

You do have to spend some thought on this, plus running all over God's green acre to get this and that, because of the stupid way stuff is marketed in the UK (where I currently live), can be a time consuming pain. I learned to keep my eyes open when out doing the normal things. That way I found several items that would be seriously expensive in "outdoor" stores—the backpack for one (in a gas station for about 5 dollars). I saved quite a lot of money by doing this.

Also, once you do get out, you will run across all kinds of kids doing this as well and think, "they won't be interested in me." Rubbish. I found it was the other way around. Those under 40 are great, it's people my age (who aren't backpacking) that tend to be a pain. Add to all this you may well have the results of age. Illnesses, those creaky old knees, grumpiness and the like.

Well, first off, stop being so grumpy—that's your fault. The rest, learn your limitations and work around them. So you have boxes of pills, count them as part of your kit and just take one pair of trousers instead of two.

Pace yourself
Regardless of age, this is important for everyone. Run around like a lunatic and all you'll do is drive yourself crazy and get exhausted. There is no rush. If you missed that train, well, wait for another one. You have the time. Work your pace into your journey and planning. Allow extra time. That way, you get to the airport or station well before departure and are relaxed (just don't nod off and miss your flight).

Do not over-plan
If everything is worked out to the tiniest detail, you will miss out on life. Keep it simple—stupid. Once I pay attention to that, things can get quite interesting (and fun too). Plus, it doesn't wear me out.

You do not need a lot of money
Some items it does pay to get the really good stuff. Like boots and shoes (they MUST be good—cheap, bad, footwear can cripple you). My current laptop cost me less than my hiking shoes. The rest of the stuff has been selected to do the job with as low a cost as possible—even to the point of making my own stove burner for when I'm on a hike. You can do all this too.

When you stay somewhere: you have bed and breakfasts, hostels and cheap hotels if you don't want to sleep outside. You could even get a super cheap package vacation (cancellation or the like) and use where you stay as a base to go out and say cover a whole island/region—let the rest of 'em lay on the beach, you got better things to do. The big downside if you travel solo, is finding a place to stay that doesn't charge for two.

You could be in a large city and like many people start to get fed up with the crowds (we do tire more easily at our age, plain fact of life). There may be more in the suburbs, go have a look.

There is a lot on the Internet about this subject and age is quite irrelevant for the tips and tricks needed. As long as you realize that you are no longer 20 years old and adapt accordingly, the possibilities are probably endless, the only barrier is how we think.

So it is time to break out of the box, tear down the walls, sling some stuff in a little backpack, get out there and enjoy yourself.
July 20, 2012

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Greg Rodgers
Great post and so true! 37 years old now, hope I can claim the same experience and wisdom if/when I hit your age. Glad you're still out there keeping at it despite the injuries. [Raises glass] Here's to another decade on the road!
Jul 14, 2012 at 1320