Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Back to backpacking - get up and go backpacking

Backpacking and working holidays: Not just for the youngsters

Can you ever be too old to be a backpacker? If you identify the word ‘backpacker’ with all-night parties and drunken blurs then you probably identify backpacking with gap year students - orperhaps your crazt youth! However, backpacking and working holidays are not just for the young or the young-at-heart. Would you enjoy backpacking around the world? If you are more concerned with reaching your destination rather than enjoying the journey, it may be that backpacking is not for you. If you don’t like unusual foods or you require a daily routine, you are also probably not cut out to be a backpacker. However, if your ideal trip involves the freedom to travel independently, avoiding package holidays, and keeping away from tourist trails and trips, then you are never too old to be a backpacker. With jobs becoming scarcer for people from all walks of life, it’s no surprise that backpacking or working holidays are no longer considered to be exclusively for the 18-30 age group. More and more people are opting to leave the ‘rat race’ and take some time out to (re)discover themselves. An ever-increasing number of working (and retired) professionals are ignoring the stereotypes and the package holidays and planning something a bit more adventurous. In 2004, The Wall Street Journal estimated that up to 15% of backpackers that visit Thailand were over the age of 55. Three years ago a friend of mine and his partner (both in their 30’s) were working for the same multi-national corporation. When the company decided to seek cheaper labour elsewhere, they were both left unemployed but with a relatively healthy redundancy payoff. Rather than joining the seemingly endless social security queues they decided to consider this setback as an opportunity to see the world. However, it wasn’t a Caribbean Cruise that was on the agenda. Starting in Toronto, they made their way across Canada and the Rocky Mountains to Vancouver. From there it was down to Lima, Peru, for three months of bus journeys across South America, encountering Argentinian glaciers, spectacular waterfalls and the Machu Picchu on their way. They then crossed the Pacific Ocean to Australia and worked in a truck-stop restaurant outside of Perth for six months to save up for a car and a road-trip across the Australian Desert to Sydney. Following stop-offs in New Zealand, Vietnam, and Thailand, they returned home poorer but fulfilled by their experiences. Since their return, they have married and both secured full-time jobs and have settled down... for now. Although many consider backpacking to be for the young because they tend to have no responsibilities, if the children are educated and the mortgage is paid-off, why not make up for lost time. Also, there are advantages available that will not be there for the kids.

Seniors' discounts
From obtaining discounts on public transportation, the older you are, the easier it will be to maintain your finances (and you are less likely to drink your rent money) and you can therefore, in theory, travel for as long as your heart desires. The older you are the more likely it is that you will be the oldest person in the hostel, but don’t let that worry you. The relative financial security that comes with age should allow you to achieve some of the levels of comfort denied to your younger counterparts, and if you decide that the hostel experience is not for you, plenty of alternatives are available. Some of the hardcore backpackers will deride anybody that doesn’t stay in a hostel as it is considered not to be ‘real’ backpacking; but with maturity also comes the realisation that it is not always necessary to fit in with the crowd. If you are looking to travel to a specific destination, the best way is to ask people who have been there. There are plenty of online forums that provide the relevant information for mature travellers, even if the topics are more likely to be about the nearest pharmacy rather than the nearest party. Although many of the more popular countries limit the ages to which they offer working visas, there are alternative options available for the intrepid traveller. Many organisations seek volunteers of any age and background to help out and would greatly appreciate the experience that age brings. Whether it’s lending your expertise to a developing country or simply exchanging your skills for food and shelter, there are opportunities available for everybody. If you are retired or unable to find work, what could be better than offering your services to an area of the world that will really appreciate it? It shows initiative and may be the boost that your CV needs. So can you ever to be too old to be a backpacker? If you seek adventure and new cultures then there is no such thing as being too old, no matter what your passport says.
Guest Author Bio: Sarah Kelly, Experienced Backpacker and feature travel writer for Sharing experiences and tips with the avid traveller, including working holiday tax returns to the benefits of travelling on a budget.

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