Over the Hill at 30? Advice on Gap Years for Older Travelers
The buzz phrase on the backpacking circuit at the moment is ‘Gap Year'. Whether it's pre-uni or post-graduate thousands of young Brits are taking time out before committing to years of study or embarking on that first crucial step on the career ladder. But it's not just youngsters that are jumping on the Gap Year bandwagon, there is a new wave of backpacker taking to the open road and they are overseas, over 30 and proving it's never too late to go backpacking .
And how do I know that this rapidly expanding group exists? Well I am proud to say that I am one of them. Having gone straight from university to full-time work I had spent years satiating my wanderlust by saving up annual leave and cramming in a few precious weeks abroad once a year. But the older I got, the less satisfied I became with a season sojourn to Spain and the more jealous I became of the Aussie and Kiwi temps flooding my London office with tales of lost cities, golden temples and sandy beaches they had encountered on their way round the world.
With the big 3-0 looming I suddenly realised I wasn't ready to commit to a life of brand strategy meetings and Frappuccino's so with the itchiest feet in the Northern hemisphere, I walked into the nearest Trailfinders and did the most spontaneous thing in my life. I booked a ‘Round the World' airline ticket. That was two and a half years ago and I have been travelling ever since.
I have experienced so much since I started travelling and could not recommend it highly enough to my post-30 peers. There have been highpoints (watching the sunset behind the Angkor Wat Temples in Cambodia) and low points (being mugged in Brazil), I've seen jaw-dropping natural beauty alongside spine-chilling historical landmarks, I have met some truly amazing people and some truly obnoxious ones, but the one thing I have realised from my backpacking years is that everyday can be an adventure at any age.
If you're thinking of following in my ‘mature' footsteps, here are a few points for you to consider before swapping the boardroom for a bunk bed.
Be realistic – Yes there is a great big world out there waiting to be discovered but extended travel can be expensive so unless you have copious savings, be prepared for a drastic lifestyle change. It may seem empowering to quit your job, pack a rucksack and head for the open road, but depending on your chosen destination, the reality can be cramped hostels, smelly clothes and long drop loo's!
Encourage Friends – If solo travel seems a little daunting, plan your route in advance and try to encourage friends to come and meet you at various stages along the way. This worked perfectly for me in Central America when a couple of friends came to Honduras for a diving holiday and a separate friend planned her annual leave around the Mexico leg of my trip.
Group Travel – If you're lacking in like-minded friends, don't despair. Travel companies have been quick to identify the growth in our post-30 market and have tailored trips for people looking for independent adventure but wanting the security of group travel. Again this worked well for me in when I embarked on an 8-week overland trip in South America with a company called Dragoman.
Hostels – They may not be 5 Star, but when you first arrive in a strange country, hostels are a good source of local information and a great way to meet people. In places like Australia and New Zealand particularly the notice boards in hostels are full of adverts from fellow travellers offering lifts.
Working – Unfortunately there is a bit of an ageist policy in place when it comes to working holiday Visa's and once you hit 30 you will find that working in some countries is not possible. The Internet is the best place to find current visa restrictions but if you do get a work visa I would thoroughly recommend you to use it. Working in a ski resort in New Zealand may not have been the best paid job of my life but it was certainly one of the most entertaining.
I am proud to be a card-carrying member of the Overseas Over-thirty Club and hope that my experience proves you're never to young to backpack. The only thing I would warn you about are possible language problems (and by this I don't mean foreign languages, I mean the Language of the Young). Despite travelling and living with groups younger than myself for a good few years now, it still took a very embarrassing situation in a hostel to make me realise that a Party Poke wasn't, as I had expected, a cocktail after all!