The new gap year generation

Posted on September 17, 2014 by Eleanor McKenzie
Hiking, travelling

Don’t you love it when you read about a person who’s roughly in your age group and they’re doing something that says: “my age is not going to get in my way.” Recently I came across an interview with an adventurous chap called Steve Whitty, who lives in Sutton Coldfield. He’s just about to turn 50 and has taken up backpacking his way around the world and writing about it.

Travel for a life-changing experience

Steve doesn’t come from the gap year generation that says hello to Thailand or South America the moment they’ve said goodbye to school. Steve started backpacking because he had a health crisis in 2011 that turned into a life-changing moment. He’d always enjoyed travelling and often stayed in hostels. He saw travel as a solution to his stress-related heart condition, and so he followed his passion and started sharing his experience via a blog.

The new globetrotters

He’s not the only person who thinks that travelling is not just for the young. There’s a growing band of globetrotters who are using early retirement as their moment to have a somewhat belated gap year. Of course, these over 50s are not planning on drinking themselves comatose at a full-moon party in Phuket, or taking precarious bus rides through Colombia. When we talk about having a gap year, we tend to mean that we’re taking time out to travel. Some over 50s are taking up the challenge of backpacking, but others prefer to travel in a bit more comfort.


Travelling is more than a holiday

Travelling is significantly different to going on holiday. The latter means two to three weeks away, often at a resort-type location. But travel is much less one-destination based and usually requires you to be your own travel agent. It may mean going to exotic and far-flung destinations or it could be a walking or cycling holiday closer to home. It is important for many because it fulfils a long-held dream.

The best thing about becoming a traveller—including a backpacking one—in your 50s and 60s is that you can afford to splash out a little. School-age backpackers tend to survive on bread and water (more likely some kind of rotgut alcohol) and nights sleeping on beaches rather than in a bed. The older backpacker can afford a variety of accommodation types and to explore an area’s eateries as recommended by top restaurant guides.

Additionally, the cheapest way of getting from A to B for backpackers typically involves endless waits at bus stations before being packed into an ancient bus and possibly sharing the journey with goats and chickens. The over 50s traveller can avoid all these experiences: we can have transport with air conditioning.

Backpacking training

But if you want fresh air rather than aircon and you plan to do some serious backpacking on a wilderness trail, then Backpacker magazine suggests that you take a bit more time preparing for the adventure. Its experts say that older backpackers don’t necessarily face any greater probability of getting injured than younger people. However, we are more susceptible to medical conditions that potentially might be exacerbated by a trail hike, so always have a medical check before going on a physically strenuous vacation.

Backpacker magazine also recommends that you build up your physical strength by following a hiking workout put together by professionals. They have a four-week programme for those aged 50 – 65 and for the over 65. This is definitely territory for the fit and hardy. I salute you from my sun bed!

Create your travel story

Here’s another inspirational travel story about the over 50s via Nomadic Matt’s blog. He tells the story of Jeff and Tamara who decided to take a round the world (RTW) trip after Jeff’s 50th birthday. They left their jobs, put their belongings in storage, rented out their home and cashed in their frequent flier miles for two RTW tickets. Tamara got a T-shirt saying: “If you don’t go, you won’t have a story.” I guess that sums it up. Plan, prepare and then hit the road.


Eleanor McKenzie

by Eleanor McKenzie

Eleanor McKenzie is a Northern Irish writer with a passion for art, literature, and red wine. She's worked at advertising agency JWT, edited a journal for a European social policy think tank and tried to teach teenagers the difference between "there" and "their". Being 50+ has not significantly changed Eleanor's life, although she finds it a handy excuse when she wants to avoid anything too energetic.