The Backpacking Granny

Posted on April 20, 2017 by Eleanor McKenzie
Backpacking granny

I first came across Geraldine Forster via a friend’s Facebook post. Said friend, Nicola Erlich, happens to be pretty hot in digital marketing and PR for the travel industry and when she highlights something of interest, I take note. The fact that Geraldine Ann Forster, aka The Backpacking Granny, was definitely what I would call a ‘Positively 50+ Person’ made me want to know more. I set off in search of more information about this 72-year-old Essex woman’s intriguing adventures and her rise to fame within the travel industry.

Geraldine is a grandmother of four and for the last seven years she has been backpacking solo around the globe. So far she has managed to notch up 50 countries on her ‘visited’ checklist, which is a pretty impressive average of seven countries for each year of travel. But, what prompted her to become the poster girl for over-50s backpackers? Retirement at the age of 65 from running her own hair salon is the answer. Geraldine had been managing her business for over 30 years and when she closed shop, she simply decided it was the perfect time to satisfy her wanderlust. Indeed, when you visit Backpacker Granny, you’ll notice that the ‘About Me’ section has a subtitle of “Passionately embrace your sacred existence” and she is also known to have written: “I will not sit at home and gather dust.” She certainly isn’t doing that!

Her first trip was to Bangkok and she admits that she had a few small misgivings about what she was embarking on, but as she told Lonely Planet, she is a believer in Susan Jeffers’ book Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway, so she went right ahead and did it. And hasn’t stopped doing it since.

Geraldine’s blog on her website has many intriguing entries and from the moment you land on her home page, you get the sense that this is a woman who lives in a blaze of colour, packed with energy and an inexhaustible curiosity about people, wildlife and the world. Her preference is for exotic Asia, with Thailand and India holding special places in her heart. But, she also adores Japan, of which she said: “I honestly have never seen such a clean country, and the people were so polite, respectful and kind. The food is just delicious, and I’m not only referring to sushi, as everything edible, even down to a simple potato, is a banquet.”

And, if you are looking for a country that can still be described as ‘different’ then she considers that Myanmar (Burma) is the ‘must visit’ destination to fulfil that, if only because it is still fairly unspoiled and she compares it to Thailand of 30 years ago.  She is also a fan of Australia, because of “the Australian sense of humour and Fraser Island.” This is the world’s largest sand island, it is off the coast of Queensland and it is World Heritage Listed.

The ‘Grandpackers’

One of Geraldine’s blogs that caught my attention was about “New Breeds of Backpackers”. In it, she very humorously describes the different types of travellers she has met, from the ‘Original’ backpacker; a little dusty and in need of a good scrub but with great tales to tell, to the ‘Designerpacker’; model looks and usually either working for Apple or carrying as many of its products as possible. Finally, there’s the “Grandpacker”, a category she places herself in. They are, she says, “People who are nearing or have reached and passed retirement age. Instead of staying at home with only a rocking chair, aches and pains, dull days followed by dark lonely nights to look forward to, they are out seeing the world, meeting new people of all ages, living an exciting life and making the very best of the last stage of their existence.”

Geraldine’s tips for Grandpackers

If you’re considering becoming a Grandpacker, Geraldine has some advice for you. She manages to do all her travelling while living on her pension so she recommends being open minded and giving hostels a try. She maintains her fitness levels needed for this style of travelling by telling her body she can do it and by enjoying a diet high in vegetables, salads and tropical fruits. And, her overall advice to any potential Grandpackers is this: “Don’t let fear or insecurity stop you from trying new things. Believe in yourself. Do what you love, and more importantly, be kind to others even if you don’t like them.”  Do you have any backpacker stories you’d like to share with us? We’d love to hear them.

If you’re following in Geraldine’s steps, consider Staysure as your travel insurance provider.

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.