Can You Be To Old To Backpack?

Today’s guest post is by Ross Cameron from New Adventures In Backpacking. Over the last 5 years Ross has travelled extensively through Australia, South East Asia, and South America. During his most recent venture to New Zealand however, he begins to question whether you can still be a backpacker in your late 20’s. In my mind the answer is yes (you can backpack for as long as you want), here is his take on the subject:

Today I celebrate my 28th birthday. Not too old in the grand old scheme of things I am sure you would agree. I think I have achieved a lot in terms of travel in this short spell on this planet so far and I am lucky enough to get better looking and wiser, and indeed more deluded each year. However, in terms of being a backpacker in New Zealand I feel like I will be registering for a free bus pass sometime soon. Therefore begging the question, am I starting to get too old for this?

For me, age always has been and hopefully always will be a number. It’s more about how you live your life rather than the amount of candles on your cake. Some of the best people I have met on my travels have been well above forty plus, the two people who inspired me to write about my travels are both in their late thirties. It first came to my attention that NZ was going to be a bit of a wake-up call when a friend whom I met in Cambodia, who had just turned 30, warned me that I should be aware that I will never feel so old as when I stay in a hostel in NZ. I scoffed at such a notion but she is correct. Backpacking in New Zealand makes me feel old.

I have now spent three months here, the majority of it spent staying at the Worldwide Backpackers in Wellington. I had a wonderful time and met many fantastic people but the entire time I was there, I was the oldest person in the hostel at twenty seven. It seems that the hostels in NZ are fully of people who are nineteen and twenty. I shared a room with a girl who was nine years younger than me. Shared beers with a guy who was fourteen the first time I went travelling and had dinner every night with people the exact same age as my youngest sister. The idea of being at home and hanging out with people my youngest sister’s age feels ever so slightly weird. Don’t imagine my sister would be too pleased about it either!

While they do make me feel old. I am full of admiration for people so young travelling to the other side of the world. Especially those who have English as their second language. In fact it make’s me rather embarrassed as I could barely tie my shoe laces when I was 19 year old, and when. It has also been nice to take on the role of hostel big brother passing on my years of wisdom to those at the start of the travels but also a reminder of naive I was when I started my travels and shown how far I have come in the past five years. I look back at some of the mistakes I made in Australia and cringe. Travel certainly makes you grow up fast.

So I have found myself asking is it me? Have I become too old to be hanging around backpacker hostels? Should I read this as a sign that it’s time to move on and consider the world of flashpacking? I have met many people who have lived in hostels because it suited them at the time but would never go back. Should I have moved on to? It did get me thinking about where have all the twenty something’s gone?

This is my forth major trip in five years. My first trip to Australia for a year was taken as a fresh faced twenty three year old in 2006. In that year I found myself just below the average age of twenty five / twenty six, being the majority of people I met. Whilst I did meet a few really young people it was not uncommon to stay in a hostel with quite a lot of people around the age I am now.

The reduction of people at my age travelling I presume is a direct result of the global financial down turn. People now seem reluctant to take a gamble on a year out. People will no longer take their last opportunity before turning 30 and having the working holiday visa option slam shut on them. Companies can no longer afford to offer staff members a gap year. The surplus cash that is meant to be swirling around twenty something’s pockets seem to be no longer here.

Of course there is also the basic reality that everyone grows up and settles down at some point. There will always be the people you know from home who you know will settle early in life but you don’t’ think it will happen to your fellow travellers, the people you partied till the sun comes up on a beach, shared a bucket of booze with in Bangkok sadly stop being travellers and fade into the real world. The majority of my facebook friends are people I have met on the road and my news page seems to be updated with wedding plans and people uploading pictures of their kids.

Perhaps there could be a more simple explanation. New Zealand just appeals to the younger and adventurous crowd. It markets itself, quite rightly very well as the adventure capital of the world whereas Australia is all about sun and fun and the working holiday visa crowd over in Australia are more similar to a club 18-30 holiday than the sorts that want to jump out of a plane or climb a mountain. It’s probably no coincidence the large amounts of British and Irish backpackers who populate the Australian backpacker scene are largely missing and replaced by a heavy amount of young adventurous Germans with a healthy mix of the new emerging Eastern European countries.

Whilst they may make me feel very old, the average New Zealand backpacker crowd is a much friendlier, fun and interesting crowd to mix with than there Australian counterparts.

Perhaps getting old isn’t so bad after all but it has still left me wondering if I am getting too old for this?

12 Responses to “Can You Be To Old To Backpack?”

  1. Leigh says:

    In my 50’s I’m too old for hostels but I’ll never be too old to slip on a backpack and head out on an adventure.

  2. Anil says:

    There’s not too old until well, you’re physically too very old. The alternative to getting old is being dead so it’s a blessing to get older not a curse!

  3. This is so funny – I followed a Twitter link to this thinking I might be too old at 60+! I stayed in NZ youth hostels in my late 50s and I’ll be heading out, with my Eagle Creek backpack, on my third round the world trip in September.

    • jane says:

      I’m with you Kathy! Late 20’s is not even the prime of a travellers life! 🙂
      I do think some hostels can make people feel old though!

  4. jane – agreed – it can depend on the hostel, and even more on the people there (for some reason I found young travelers in Malaysia particularly given to ignoring older people). I definitely avoid hostels advertising themselves as party places. And I suspect my expectations are different from Ross Cameron’s – I’m just looking for a cheap place to sleep and some friendly chat – perhaps someone to share a ride or a tour. Maybe Ross is looking for something livelier…

  5. GetRealGirl says:

    Kathy I think you are right, Ross is looking for something a bit livelier…

  6. jane says:

    Having known Ross for 4 years now, I think the last thing he needs is some punani! 😛

  7. Kat says:

    I think it may depend on the destination. Spent six months last year at the age of 29 in South America, and most of the other travellers I met were my age give or take a couple of years. Went to Oz at 22 and felt old! Was surrounded by 18 year olds. I figured out that Oz and Western Europe are “starter destinations” . . . so the people staying in hostels in Asia, Africa, South America etc. may be a bit older.

  8. Traci says:

    How do you all do it? Pack up and just leave. At 23 it’s my dream to travel the world with nothing but what I can carry on my back. I guess a good start would be to find some courage and upgrade my Jansport to one of those Eagle Creek back packs?

  9. Rose says:

    In my twenties i went backpacking, so many times it was ridiculous. My last trip 2 years and 3 months ended when i was 30. I am now 33 and i am itching to go again. With no fantastic qualifications, the “working holiday visa option slam shut” on me. I am now seriously contemplating ridiculous ways to fun a trip.

    Too old for backpacking – NO
    Too old to work for the money needed – YES

  10. James demidoff says:

    I have been travelling for 9 years now and was 25 when I first travelled. I at the time didnt feel too old but now going to hostels in australia (in my experience the 18-21 backpacker capital) and south east Asia, I feel really old and find it difficult to relate/mix with the younger travellers due to their interests. I also find the mannerisms of others towards me have changed over the years and I often get asked how old I am…with a long WOW.

    I travel a lot still but cant stand hostels that much because of how young the rest of the crowd is and their mannerisms (sex on the same bunk/drunken wrecked at 4am with no comsideration for others). I thought at first hosteling would last me for years to come but by late 20s I was feeling past my sell by date. The actual travel is still good for most parts 🙂

    P.s. New Zealand wasn’t too bad experience for me last year, except for auckland and Wellington.!


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