How old is too old for travel?
When do you give up your passion for new adventures, new sights and meeting new friends from all over the world, sharing the same wander lust?
Do you give up that passion when your body weakens and you are no longer capable of withstanding rigorous road trips and hikes and plane travels? Or do you ultimately stop when life happens and priorities keep piling up?
Do you stop when you reach middle age, when all your hunger for exploration and spontaneity have supposedly faded away?
I normally avoid being philosophical and do not ponder on such heavy stuff but in the darkness of a Songserm overnight bus from Surat Thani to Bangkok, among packs of travelers mostly in their early twenties, I couldn’t help but contemplate if I’m about to hit my age roadblock and eventually stop by usual wanderings.
In my early 30’s, I was definitely the oldest one in this bus traveling at full speed to Bangkok.
Most of my fellow passengers are in Southeast Asia spending their gap year, trying to ‘find themselves’.
If you travel enough, and talk to fellow travelers during those episodes, you might have probably heard about this. When I started traveling in 2005, I exhausted the same excuse to meet new friends and just bum around, before the real world starts demanding things from me.
Hendrik, 21, from Aachen Germany, a friend I’ve met in Surat Thani (we actually saw each other for the first time at the trailer truck that took us from Haad Rin beach in Koh Pangan but started talking in Surat Thani) has a different view on this self-discovery theory.
Most people, Hendrik says, start traveling when they are young not only for exploration per se, but to actually leave a little of themselves in the places they visit. It’s like leaving a footprint or a graffiti which they can always remember and reminisce about when they’re older, when the corporate jungle or family life in suburban America or the European countryside finally restrict them from exploring.
He believes that the more countries you visit, the more memories you can think back on when you’re actually older because whether we like it or not, there will always come a time when you actually have to give it up.
Speaking as an example, Hendrik is now backpacking around Asia in his early twenties and his family allowed him, provided that he earn his travel money on his own.
And probably just like all the early 20’s travelers inside our bus, Hendrik saved up his travel money working odd jobs, including becoming a part-time grocer at a supermarket back in Germany. It wasn’t a dream job, he admitted, but it allowed him to earn enough money for his foreign excursions. And when he graduates from the university, there is an unwritten understanding that he shall start providing for the family.
“I did this now because this is the only time I could do this,” he shares.
In retrospect, Hendrik’s burden is actually, the same burden shared by people in the 25-40 bracket most of whom usually give up their dreams of seeing the world in order to provide food on the table. Some just stop, in order to focus on climbing up the corporate ladder.
And even if they wanted to just bum around, the world does not think highly of people in their late 20’s who just drop everything and travel.
I was a late bloomer and started traveling aggressively when I turned 22 and back then there was already great pressure from family and friends to just fit in to the usual stereotypes of landing a decent job and saving up for family life. So I understand perfectly this predicament.
Hendrik likewise observed that when they get to their 50’s or 60’s, people are just too weak to pursue spontaneous trips and just longs for the comfort and certainty of their routines. If they haven’t lost the travel bug completely, some just contend with restricted package tours in the usual tourist places in Europe and Asia. But that’s just it, they already became part of the tourist crowd, and they still do not become the travelers, wanderers and explorers that they’ve always wanted to be.
My father, who was never able to travel outside of the Philippines, was a self-confessed travel junkie. He explored most of the provinces in the country but was never able to use his passport. But he never gave up hope. One day, my mom got pregnant with my eldest sister and his dream was put to the back burner indefinitely. He never let go of such dream but the demands of raising four children took its toll on his dreams.
In his 50’s, he expressed regret that he never pursued it, and that it was already too late to start.
My father’s story was a cautionary tale of shoulda, woulda, coulda’s that some other people share, Hendrik said. It is the tale of those who didn’t take their first opportunity.
The songserm bus kept on rolling the Thai highway and as the hours flew by, I kept pondering on how long I should keep going.
This year, I intend to visit three new countries and just like what Hendrik said, I wanted to make memories in those countries. When I reach a greater age, I will look back my 20’s in that particular country and tell myself that I had a good life and I met these wonderful people and saw these amazing places during those times.
When I started traveling, I never really thought of how long I wanted it to keep up and there never was a deadline.
In recent years, though, some of my colleagues frowned on the idea of spontaneous travel and thought that I was getting too old for that. I was acting like I was in my early 20’s, they said. As I’ve shared, my family wasn’t particularly warm on the idea of spending more money traveling.
I was already 5am and once again, I was denied of precious sleep, partly because of my pondering and because of the British passengers who kept on roaring as they watched replays of Manchester United at the small TV screen onboard.
We arrived in Bangkok with me sporting puffy eyes from lack of sleep and yes, still undecided on my traveling future.
I was scheduled to travel to Siem Reap and later to Kuala Lumpur but I have planned several other trips throughout the year. I am not quite sure what the future holds and how far my travel budget will bring me.
The overnight bus slowly parked and I was about to part ways with Hendrik who’s traveling straight to Phnom Penh. We took our bags from the side compartment and started walking towards the heart of Khao San.
Suddenly, Hendrik patted my shoulder’s and pointed at the direction of Soi Rambuttri at an old couple walking hand in hand towards the same direction as us. Judging from the big, and seemingly heavy backpacks they carry on their pags, with used rubber shoes tied at the sides, they are definitely backpackers.
They didn’t seem to mind their heavy bags as they talk to each other animatedly, perhaps of some recent adventures.
How old is too old for travel? Hendrik repeated my question.
He glanced at the old couple happily walking towards Khao San Road, turned to me and said, “I guess there’s really no age limit for traveling so long as you’re still happy being on the road, with someone special in hand, and both of you feel young at heart,”
“The heart wants what the heart wants,” he added.
I couldn’t agree more.