A 32-year-old friend recently asked me whether he was too old for extended travel, the kind you measure in months rather than days. "Backpacking is for kids, isn't it? I'll blow my career track! I don't think I could handle the hostel thing, groups of strangers and noise and all that. I don't like riding buses."
The conversation floored me and, yes, Mark, I do think you're too old for this. I do not think this is because of your biological age.
I was 43 by the time I decided to fulfil my lifelong dream to backpack across Africa and Asia for six months. No one was happy but I went anyway. I was gone well over three years and guess what? It was the best thing I ever did for myself. In a Durban hostel some years ago, I met an 80-year-old man on a mission to visit every country in the world. He had fewer than 20 left.
"I think I'll make it, don't you?" he asked.
"Of course," I said, and waved as he hoisted his small pack and sauntered out the door.
Leaving your comfortable life is not an easy decision and concerns about jobs and comfort and family are perfectly valid, as are fears of the unknown. It ultimately depends on what you want more, and how desperate you are to get it.
After university, while my peers headed for Kathmandu and Kabul in their VW vans, I slogged through Montreal snow to work each morning.
When it came time for me to travel, I didn't feel I had much choice.
10 Questions To Determine Your Travel Age
Are you too old for extended travel? Let's find out.
1. Are you curious?
Without curiosity you'll have little interest in the world around you. Why was it that you wanted to travel again?
2. Do you have a bit of time?
You don't need forever, just enough time to begin feeling like a local. Even a few days in the same place will steer you towards a regular café or breakfast spot. Notice that man with the cap at the fruit stall? And the old lady who always waves a flower at you?
3. Are you comfortable in your own company?
Inner serenity and being able to stand yourself are essential to travel. Even if you're with others you'll have time alone so you'd better learn to enjoy it. Not to mention those 14-hour bus rides...
4. Are you relatively self-confident?
Better pack a bit of that 'can-do' stuff or dust off that innate ability to figure things out when you have no idea what you're doing. That will probably happen often.
5. Do you like surprises and can you cope with the unexpected?
Things rarely unfold the way they should when you travel. Buses are late, planes are cancelled without notice, your room is given away to... someone who arrived five minutes before you. You'll need the ability to shrug hiccups off with a smile and quickly make alternative plans.
6. Do you enjoy communicating?
One of the greatest rewards of world travel is meeting new people and through them experiencing new cultures. You might miss all this if you don't push your boundaries a little and reach out.
7. Are you able to get beyond your fears?
Travel can be scary, both for what you're leaving behind and for what's ahead. Security standards are an issue in many countries, as can be road safety, health, outdated infrastructure, violence, wildlife and natural disasters. Remember these exist at home too. It's fine to have fears but it's better to jump through them.
8. Are you patient?
Unless you're visiting Central or Northern Europe, you'll discover a new notion of time which is significantly more elastic than the one you're used to. Take a deep breath and pull out a book.
9. Do you enjoy diversity?
Looking for similarities is a great opening gambit, but you'll need to feel comfortable discovering differences and uncovering the unfamiliar. If you wanted more of the same you would have stayed home, right?
10. Are you healthy enough to move around from place to place?
There's a lot of physical work involved in travel -- walking up and down subway and station stairs, dragging your luggage across terminals and airports or climbing several flights to your room. Unfortunately many countries have few facilities for anyone not fully mobile so you'll have to choose your itinerary accordingly.
Did you give yourself a point for every Yes answer? The closer to 10 you score, the easier you'll cope with long-term travel.
There really is no such thing as being too old to see the world. There's only being too fearful, too set in your ways, too impatient or too inflexible.
That can happen at any age.
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