Want to travel? Wait until you are old

On December 18th, 2015

old travel thumbAs I was sitting in Patan’s Durbar Square a few weeks ago, I noticed a couple elder tourists escorted by a guide: they were taking pictures, bending into unnatural shapes. The DSLR cameras they were shooting with looked like some sort of futuristic gear they could barely handle. They seemed quite clumsy and out of place, as they had been cut out from a lifestyle magazine and pasted into another wrong centerfold.

Instantly, I was reminded of the persistent, conservative way of thinking I was pushed to accept back home: before you may travel and enjoy your life, you will have to work a day job and bend your spine behind a desk for 30 years. Kow-tow to the Gods of corporate business. Enjoy the rat race. Then, maybe, you will be able to travel and see the world on a pension.

With a smack of teenage angst, I would promptly reply: “Cool. See the world, on a wheelchair?”

Seeing those tourists made me think that the way I travel in Asia now may not be replicable in about 30 years. Who would be able to take that umpteenth bone melting night bus ride after hitting the 50 years old line? Who would be able to enjoy the tastes and smells of an Indian public bus crammed to the roof with humans and sometimes cattle? And ultimately, who would have the strength to travel slow, soak into a culture or trying to fit into the holes left by mass tourism?

Certainly, not the average Old Joe.  Let’s face it: the older you get, the lesser you would be likely to travel hard, especially when you have not been used to it as a young man. And furthermore, when the kind of world we live in constantly conceives travelling as a recreational activity that cannot be taken as a lifestyle, or not even as a part-time occupation.

Me with two “Incredible Old Joes”: Ibrahim and Saida from Spain. (Picture by Kit Yeng Chan 2012)

Nevertheless, it is quite a contrast – and a funny one – to observe the travelling habits of many older people, some at their very first foray oversea. It appears that so many years spent leading organized, normal lives have not been able to gift these people with a natural inclination to feel relaxed in foreign places. It seems like their movements are harder, slower, filled with the atavist fear of the unknown. They attempt to do what they may have dreamed for many years, but they are doing it with a total regret of having left their comfort zones.

But let me say that I have also met some “Incredible Old Joes”: some were biking from Europe to South East Asia, or doing the same route by walking. Some decided to avoid taking any bus ride longer than 2 hours, to stress less, and see more of the countries they visited.  All of them, however, had a common feature: they had been travelling a lot in their younger days. You could clearly see how travelling had enriched their souls… these people may have also been grinding at the office, but oh boy, how freer they were than any of my friends’ –and my own – parents!! I could sit in awe for hours just listening to their life stories.

As much as the mode of travel we use will most likely change or evolve overtime, it appears that to do it with ease we better start young. It surely does not matter how young; but that attitude needs to be embraced early in life, in order not to appear lost in a foreign square taking a bunch of pictures later. In order to actually fit in the broader World, and not be forced to end up lonely on a couch, hypno-entertained by a flat Tv screen.

Planning a RTW trip?

Photo Credit: Bastian Sara