Is This Kind of Travel Just for Young People?

By  Lola Reid Allin May 18, 2011

How to keep the spirit of backpacking alive, at any age.

The best travel gear for any adult – whether 20-something or 65 – is determined by destinations, activities and personal preferences. For gear or otherwise, each individual's unique process of journeying through a lifetime renders a single recommendation for any group impossible, including the over-50 crowd.

Just as a plethora of websites, books and travel companies feature adventure, volunteer and educational experiences targeting the under-30 crowd, an abundance of similar opportunities exist for the over-50 crowd (or the senior/elder crowd) that feature fabulous itineraries: camel safaris in Africa, kayaking Haida Gwaii, hiking the Andes, whitewater rafting in Costa Rica, summiting Kili and bow-and-arrow hunting with Tanzanian Bushmen. Sound familiar to you, under-50s? 

But here remains the nagging doubt hovering over us all: as my body ages, will it allow me to enjoy the same pursuits with the same fervour? Intellectually, the older traveller benefits from accumulated experiential wisdom – the successes and the failures. Yet, ultimately, most will encounter physical limitations, incipient and subtle or developed and debilitating. Here are a few suggestions to help minimize this eventuality:

Challenge yourself: Acknowledge your age but refuse to let it impose limits. At 38, I became a SCUBA dive-master, then I moved to Mexico. At 47, I trekked the Inca Trail and kayaked white water. At 48, I bumped along a five-day camel safari in Tanzania. At 53, I zip-lined.

Exercise daily. Hike in nearby conservation parklands. Walk (anywhere). If you're watching TV, work out on a stationary bike.

Maintain positive emotional health. Focus on dreams, not regrets. Delete emails from well-meaning friends commiserating the plight of old age. Choose to admire those fulfilling their passions, regardless of age. My personal favourites: my flight student who raised four children then, at the age of 53, successfully pursued a university education, obtained her private pilot licence and became a published author; or my 85-year-old father-in-law who skis more than 75 days a year, zipping gracefully down steep mountain slopes.

So what gear does this over-50 traveller select? Updated versions of longtime favourites. Must-haves include a collapsible hiking pole, a sarong (which transforms into a beach skirt or towel) and a pashmina (for headgear in culturally sensitive regions, warmth and to glamorize my hiking skirt at dinnertime). I emphasize layering and colour coordination, selecting taupe and black that don't reveal every indiscretion. Swayed by the ergonomics of recent designs, I'm searching for my fourth backpack. The purchase is imminent, yet I can't seem to discard my durable, 13-year-old Kelty, covered with dozens of country badges, any more than I could abandon a lover I still loved.

At 19, I admired the alluring beauty of a friend, hoping-against-hope that I would look as good when I became "old like her" – almost 30! Today, at 56, I'm healthier, happier and planning my next adventure to Asia.

Lola Reid Allin is a traveller, freelance photographer and author currently based in Hastings County, Canada. She is a commercial pilot, PADI DiveMaster and Maya ethnographer who has lived in Mexico's Yucatan, Belize, British Columbia interior and almost everywhere in Ontario. Her travels include exploration of Kenya, Morocco, Tanzania, Portugal, Spain, Germany, France, India, Australia, Peru, Cuba and the Maya Lands of Mexico, Belize and Guatemala. Her volunteer experience includes translation, photography and teaching in Kenya, Honduras and Guatemala.

This article is the winning submission for the Verge Storyboard for the week of May 16, 2011. Click here to submit your own story.

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