For any backpacker who has travelled for any length of time they may have noticed that the way they travel changed over time. I travelled the world throughout my twenties, then my thirties, and had an amazing time doing it. But as I approach travelling the world in my forties I am starting to reflect more and more on how different my experiences were from when I first started travelling to now, how the way I travel has changed, and how that is okay!
When I first started backpacking it was a different world and I lived the gap year cliche; overstuffed backpack, the cheapest – sometimes even the grottiest – hostels, wide eyed excitement and a copy of Lonely Planet in my hand. And I loved it!
I embraced the extreme budget side of travel just so I could travel at all. I had to, I couldn’t afford to do it an other way! Everything was an adventure! Everything was new then.
I loved the hustle of Khao San Road – back when it was actually a backpacker ghetto of course – and haggling over the price of a hostel bed when I had nowhere else to stay. I loved roughing it and hopping from place to place with no plan and barely a clue. I loved following the itineraries in the backpacker bibles and making the most of those curated bucket list experiences. I made every mistake in the backpacker playbook and learned and grew as a person as a result.
I was living the dream and doing it in the stereotypical backpacker way.
But as I got older and continued to travel, things changed. I changed. I wanted more.
I wanted time to myself as well as time in crowded hostels. I had more money and wanted a bit more comfort from time to time. I wanted more time in one place instead of endlessly rushing through as many destinations as I could. I had seen many of the must see sites and attractions and I wanted to explore places more deeply, beyond the tourist snapshot. Not because there was anything wrong with that in the slightest, but because I had already done that.
I wanted to do things differently because I was becoming a different person. That was natural. We all grow, evolve and change over time. Your travel style has to evolve, because you evolve.
You change as you get older, your paradigms shift, your wants and needs and dreams change. You want different things out of your experiences, hell, you even want different experiences entirely. You become interested in different things and your ability to stay up all night in hostel bar crawls mysteriously disappears.
So your travel style changes alongside that.
As I grew older I stopped taking as many full on gap years and started taking shorter but more regular snap years instead. I started travelling more slowly and travelling through one city or country at a time rather than try and take in entire regions. My balance of growing my career and gaining my degrees in my twenties and early thirties in part necessitated that, but I also learned that I could have the best of both worlds and I could have everything I wanted.
By evolving from that initial backpacker urge to rush around the world at breakneck speed I learned that I could slow down, live a little more in one place and discover it in a far deeper way than ever before.
I am extremely grateful for those first few years of travel, where I perhaps didn’t spend as long in one place I particularly liked, or concentrated only on some of the major sites and attractions in a country before moving onto the next one, because that was a special backpacking experience unique to that time and that age, and it meant that in later years I could go back and discover those places all over again and see surrounding, off the beaten track destinations I missed the first time round.
Perhaps one of the biggest changes from travelling in my late teens and early twenties to the way I travel now is money.
Like most backpackers money was a big concern when I took my first trip. I was young, I had no established career, just a string of crappy minimum wage jobs. I had to scrimp and save to be able to afford it, I had to sacrifice things to be able to do that. I had to plan my daily budget carefully and watch where I was staying and what I was spending on a daily basis. I hustled and haggled hard to be able to follow my travel dreams.
But as time went on and my career in nursing in particular took off, I obviously earned more money and was able to travel a lot more, and almost two decades on from that initial trip I have stopped caring about the extreme budget side of things as much, which was a necessity when I started travelling because frankly I barely had any money, and now experience a wider range of experiences instead.
I don’t just stay in cheap hostels now, although when I do it is out of choice and because that hostel offers a specific experience I can’t get anywhere else, but I am no longer limited in my choice. I get to experience a wider range of accommodation, from hostels to guesthouses and even on occassion hotels.
My decisions are based on a wide range of experiences, not budget alone.
I can eat at nice restaurants from time to time, even though to be honest I still much prefer good street food! But with this extra budget my travel style has by definition become much wider in scope and I get to experience things that I couldn’t afford when I first started travelling.
I still love good value of course, I still travel on a relative budget and am far from considering myself as a luxury traveller, but as I climbed the career ladder and my business took off in the last five years or so I had access to a better travel budget and I didn’t need to scrimp and save as often or as much as I used to.
Does this mean I am no longer a backpacker? No, not in my mind. I still travel independently, I still travel the same way and still have to budget, I am just able to have a wider range of experiences now.
I am not a student with barely any money any more. I have had a good career and have built a successful business now. I can afford to travel more and choose to travel in a little more comfort from time to time.
During my thirties I started to switch styles from budget backpacker to flashpacker whenever I felt the need. I still stay in dorm rooms every now and then but I also enjoy private rooms in nicer guesthouses too. I no longer feel guilty about splurging on a relative bit of luxury in a nice hotel for a short period after I have spent a week or more trekking through a jungle or hiking over active volcanoes.
Hell, I make no apologies for wanting a little bit of rest and comfort from time to time either! I can still hold my own hiking through deserts and jungles, I just need a longer period of rest after it than I used to!
In my thirties I stopped enjoying sleeping on airport floors with my backpack as a pillow and started enjoying the benefits of lounges instead. I am getting older damnit, and yes I want a bit of comfort from time to time! Although to be fair that made economic sense too because the price was usually the same as a meal at any airport restaurant.
I actually can’t believe I dismissed lounges for so long when you can actually get some pretty good deals on them compared to eating at any of the airport restaurants or fast food places.
That doesn’t mean my spirit of adventure had gone, it doesn’t mean that the reasons I travel have changed or disappeared. Quite the opposite in fact.
My thirst for travel has only grown over the years. The more of the world I see the more of it I want to continue to see, and I am as adventurous as I ever was. Probably even more so.
In fact one thing that I have noticed is that backpackers today are perhaps far less adventurous than they used to be.
Thanks to the advances in technology and the growth of social media and aggregate sites I think a lot of the sense of discovery and adventure is gone now. Everything is curated to perfection, everyone knows the perfect spot for that Instagram pose in any given destination and travel just to recreate it, not discover things for themselves. Everything is pre booked in advance through a booking site and the package part of package holidays have infested even the gap year industry. Hell, there is even a gap year industry for crying out loud!
So maybe not everything gets better with age, but on the same token it is because of my age that I can see things for the way they are and choose to avoid them. I will still turn up, look for a room and barter a price instead of booking it online, I don’t research too much and still allow time in any trip for a lot of discovery and I’m staying as far away from Instagram as I can get!
I feel incredibly lucky that I experienced a gap year before smartphones were a thing and before Leonardo Di Caprio’s ‘The Beach’ was nostalgic. And I am glad that I have retained that sense of adventure and spontenaity in my travels.
My previous life as a young backpacker without a care in the world, and without any steady commitment to any particular job, meant I could change my mind and my plans at the drop of a hat and head to a brand new island I had just heard about.
I could arrive at that island and decide to stay for as long as I wanted. Or leave. It never mattered.
I thought all that would change when my career in nursing took off, but then I bought a last minute flight one day and rang in sick when I was already in Singapore. I have quit plenty of jobs to go travelling for a period of time knowing full well that they needed my skills more than I needed their offer of employment, and then picked up where I left off when I got back.
Yes I had a career, yes I had responsibilities and a mortgage and everything else everyone in society has, but that never impacted on my spirit of adventure or ability or compunction to travel.
In fact now that I am in my forties, age has laser tuned my focus and has shown me what is most important in my life and perhaps more importantly what isn’t.
My previous careers and degrees have certainly given me some financial security and have allowed me the financial freedom to travel, but I think thanks to my long history of travel and wanderlust I have never felt beholden to those careers, I have never felt like those careers should be my main priority, or all-encompassing to the point that they could stop me from following my passion to travel.
Far from it. So many people define themselves by their careers, and I do get that. A large part of me choosing public services when I was younger, first in the military and then as a nurse was about that identity, it was about doing something good with my life.
But I never allowed it to become the main priority in my life. That was and I suspect always will be, travel.
And that is partly why I have used this blog as a back up plan, because when those careers became untenable, when nursing revealed itself as a low paid, toxic career that was not beneficial to my mental or physical health and well being, a workplace that I could no longer justify staying in long term, I had a choice.
Not just a choice to balance my career with my travel dreams, but to take control completely and build my life around my love of travel instead of just trying to fit in in somewhere.
And thanks to travel, this blog, this business has taken off more than I ever thought it could. This has allowed me to leave my former career in nursing and retain that financial security and freedom, something I am extremely grateful for.
It has even evolved to the point where I can still be as spontaneous as I like and effectively work from anywhere, so hello last minute flights to some tropical destination any time the feeling takes me!
Now I am in my fourth decade of life I am extremely grateful that the lessons travel has given me over the years, the way it has shaped and moulded me, has given me the strength and the ability to take control in that way and build a life around what I want, rather than struggling for what I need.
My tolerance for bullshit has disappeared entirely and I am definitely embracing my inner grumpy old man.
But that has also fine tuned my instincts for what I want and more importantly what I don’t want in my life.
My travel style had definitely changed, but my travels themselves hadn’t.
But then came the recriminations and the dark side of labelling. As my travel style changed over the years so did the identity crisis, not just from my own internal justification but from external labels too.
Am I even a real backpacker if I don’t stay in hostels? Am I really travelling the world if I’m not a full time digital nomad? Am I even a travel blogger if I don’t have the essential must have uniform of a go pro and a selfie stick? I’m not on Instagram? Oh shock horror!
Don’t get me wrong, I get a kick out of stereotypes. I love how everyone thinks the British still wear top hats, say ‘tally ho chaps’ and know the Queen personally. I love that because I am a backpacker everyone assumes I have to always stay in dingy hostels and get those dreadlocks and the Tiger Beer vest top from Khao San Road. I think stereotypes are pretty good for a laugh for the most part, until you start taking them too seriously that is.
Because although there is always a kernel of truth in there they are only one ingredient in a very complicated recipe.
I stay in comfortable private rooms as much as I stay in hostel dorms.
I eat at local restaurants and food joints unique to any given place as much as I do street stalls and food courts.
I will still take long distance buses from time to time, but if it is too long a journey or the only option is a local, jam packed chicken bus, I may choose to fly instead and do the journey in an hour instead of a day.
So yes my travel style has definitely changed, but that is okay. I am still an independent backpacker and proud of it!
But the biggest lesson I have learned now that I am 40 is that none of those labels really matter anyway. I stopped caring. Travel is travel. Travel became much less about trying to experience as much as I could and learn and grow from it, and experience things just for the new experience, because I knew who I had become and was more comfortable with that.
The most important thing was that I was still travelling at all. I was still doing what I loved.
I may stay in private rooms more often. I may enjoy different things and do things slightly differently than I used to, but I am still travelling. I am travelling on my terms and on my definitions, no one else’s, and I am loving it!
Travelling in my twenties was an epic voyage of discovery about myself. It helped forge me into the person I am today. Travel in my thirties was about discovering the world and everything in it.
I have no idea what travel in my forties will bring, but I am excited to find out!
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