Age doesn’t diminish wanderlust, but it sure affects the way we travel. For a start, as I get older and travel a lot more, I am wishing more and more that I could follow google maps as easily as the young travelers I meet these days. They just seem to know where to go – never stop by to ask for directions, not wasting time or money and so secure unto themselves. It sometimes makes me wonder – what if I could back to that age but with the experience I have? Would things have been easier?
And then I realise that I like getting lost – or asking people. I like the struggle that ensues when two people speaking a completely alien language try to make each other understand through gestures, because when that interaction happens, I get to see a completely different side of human nature. Reliance on gadgets and apps do not have room for human interactions.
But despite the argument with myself, I have come to the conclusion that while a few lessons from the young, tech savvy traveler does help save on costs and such like, I also like the spontaneity of doing things. Well, I suppose I am no more the “young traveler” in early twenties nor at the age where the term Silver Fox applies to me – I am in the “middle age” with enough experience but find it hard to make the transition from being technology-independent to reluctantly embracing it.
I took to traveling long term quite recently – like over a hundred days at a stretch- and as I travel from country to country, meeting travelers of different age groups, sometimes revisiting places I have been a decade ago, I am noticing changes – both in the pattern and style of travelers of different age groups, including myself. Which leads me to a question – who travels better? The young or the old? Or why? How?
There is definitely a difference between in the young and the older traveler – so is there something we can learn from each other?
Table of Contents
Learning from the younger generation
There is no perfect age nor a perfect traveler and I am happy to admit there is a lot to learn from the younger generation of travelers, namely the Gap Year students or Millennial’s – who may not equal to the older generation in experience, but certainly make up in confidence and understanding of travel-related technology better. They think outside the box and are often the cause of innovation and change. Many times I have relied on them to show me the use of something as simple as Google maps (yes, I can never arrive anywhere with that, I prefer to ask) – they just seem to know how things work, in any country. They always know the cheapest place for beer and food, free wifi, best sunset points and deals. You have to give it to them – they scour the internet with passion (for me it’s a task best avoided) and in a time where the travel industry itself is set for an unprecedented change, it is them who are bringing the much-needed change by constantly pushing boundaries and demanding things. Yes, I happily share a drink or experiences with them – about places I have been to and they hope to go someday, but I don’t mind learning the occasional trick or two from them either. I also tend to look at them and think – “if they can, so can I.” They bring out the competitive spirit in me!
On the other hand, if I am going to spend an evening with anyone at all, it would rather be with someone older – because they like to talk, share their day, sometimes their life and experiences…I find this comforting, especially when traveling long term and I need to wind down after the constant pressure of being on the “go”. I get to learn more about the world I live in through these experiences. While the young inspire confidence and make you feel alive, the old show me why I should do what I do – and NOW. But to be fair, I rely on both kinds equally – one for the energy and zest and the other for their experience, which often gets me out of situations.
Traveling takes us into the unknown, challenges our beliefs, exposes our vulnerabilities and forces us to think differently. Taking the first step into the unknown can be scary but there are priceless lessons you can learn along the way – if you keep an open mind. I have known of travelers “look down” upon the younger and the old, discarding them off-handedly as “those who know nothing,” which I find extremely limiting.
Life lessons and the power of Now
Youngsters are often heard saying – “we had a long summer break and thought we’d travel. It gets boring at home.” Travel, to them, is a way of enriching their lives and see new things, perhaps add another layer of perspective to their student life, thus becoming more aware. They rarely take things lying down and challenge everything and knowing what to do when things go wrong.
But for the older generation of travelers, it is about living their lives – or whatever is left of it. A retired Australian couple I met in Myanmar who sold everything they had and took to the roads told me their reason to travel. “We couldn’t travel while we were young or working. But now we cannot say we’ll do it another time, because we may not have it.” This has made them more tolerant of every situation.
Terrible accommodation? It’s okay. Let it be.
A paid for tourist attraction closed: Oh but these things happen.
I am at that stage in life where I tend to agree with them more than the youth – because it makes sense somehow. I spent 12 hours in their company on a slow train – and at the end of the journey, I had a completely different view of life, which even made me wonder if google was necessary at all. But that is another story.
While my staying in hostels brought me in touch with young, raring-to-go travelers sure of their future and info on their fingertips that I am learning to strike a balance between the two.
Young Vs Old
What the young traveler perhaps lacks in experience (or expertise), they make up for in fearlessness. Not for them to dwell over “bad experiences” – for they have none. The world is theirs for the taking – head on. They embody the essence of travel – something we all aim to be, right? Perhaps the lack of fear comes from lack of experience, which can even be a good thing really, for they are not limiting themselves to a safe “environment,” going off like firecrackers in all directions, springing out of bed at odd hours, racing along as if that magical sunrise is going out of fashion, et all. Well, you really have to love them for this, too. They also bring a “buzz” to the destination.
At the same time, the older, uh, experienced traveler is thorough and wise in their way they approach travel, preparedness being their watchword – and that is the fundamental difference between the two.
Convenience or cost
That is easily answered. Cost for the younger, convenience for the older. The older ones will happily pay for direct flights, nicer beds, shorter queues, comfortable transport while the young will add up the monies before committing to anything. Older travelers are more open to escorted tours rather than deal with the complicated logistics of independent travel.
The older you get, the more important a bucket list becomes because you don’t know how long you have. But for the younger generation who believe they will “live on forever” a bucket list is hardly a thing of importance. They are on the road for experiences, in between jobs or going back to university.
Lessons learnt from older traveler
- Slow down. Take a stroll, don’t always run.
- Avoid taking risks or last-minute surprises
- Talk to people. Get personal
- Be more adaptable to situations.
- Life is about NOW. Tomorrow may never come
Lessons from the young traveler
- Self-confidence and assurance
- Determination to push boundaries
- Positive use of technology
- Openness to try new things
- Rediscovering life
Getting older definitely influences the way of traveling, never mind that you have started off young. I started young, but I have become a different traveler to what I used to be. I no longer feel the need to see or photograph everything. I like lingering on at a place for weeks or days and find no excitement in dashing from one place to another.
But despite these changes, I agree that both kinds of travelers have contributed heavily to my long-term travel goals and because travel is unpredictable, I am glad for the lessons I have learnt.