Travel and the things that change with age
I’m very lucky to say that my scientifically named ‘dromomania’ spans over three decades. Travel, work, save, repeat. That’s my uncomplicated life including an amazing mum who still lets me store all my belongings in her loft when I’m off on yet another Globetrot. Not only has travel changed over time due to technology (which you can read my blog about that here) but it’s also changed due to my age.
I’m on my travels now currently in Malawi which certainly lives up to its reputation of being ‘the warm heart of Africa’. Inevitably, I’ve bumped into the same Israeli guy a couple of times and last night he informed me that, “I’m leaving tomorrow, I’m bored, all the people have gone. There’s more backpackers in Cape Maclear”. I, on the other hand, had already planned to extend my stay for a further week. I nearly spat out my warm beer in this utopia thinking, ‘are you mad? Look at this place, it’s like Keanu Reeves (if Keanu was a place)’. However, I smiled to myself as he reminded me of my travelling days in my teens. To be fair, I would have thought exactly the same thing.
My Teenage years-
As an alternative, stripy tight wearing teenager, my travel addiction started in South East Asia which you can read about here. In the early ’90’s, South East Asia was where every crusty, ‘Levellers’ listening hippie was hanging out. For me, travelling was like the best Christmas you’ve ever had every day. It was completely hedonistic, voyeuristic, with absolutely no substance, other than adventure, lots of fun and getting trashed at any opportunity. I chased dreams and full moon parties, ate lobster for a £1 and drank a lot of bhang lassi. I only ever spoke English albeit it being very loud and slow, not even attempting a common phrase, such as “hello” in another language.
Of course, I suffered severe culture shock on arrival at the sights, smells and poverty but I didn’t dig much deeper than that. For example, I was slap bang in the middle of some riots in Delhi, spilling over from the Bombay Riots of 1992. It was terrifying being chased by fifty policemen, floundering one-metre bamboo poles behind us. Then witnessing a man being beaten by seven police officers, three feet away from me. I will forever be haunted by his excruciating screams. However, the riots were related to religion that I knew nothing about or even cared, so I didn’t pay much attention to the whys and buts, it had nothing to do with me. Nevertheless, it’s still a story I retell to this day. Back then, I never questioned religion, corruption or politics. I was like “President who now? Pass me the chillum and can someone punch that ‘poi spinning’ twirler in the face”. In Nepal, where there’s a shed load of massive mountains, I didn’t go trekking because I hated exercise back then.
I followed the same trail through Asia as everyone else, god forbid going somewhere off-piste. The packs of Israelis who’d just completed their military service even had a nickname for it; ‘The Hummus route’. The advantage being- I was unexpectedly reunited with my now, new long-lost traveller friends, a month further down the line, no WhatsApps or socials back then. And what a celebration it was, any excuse to drink another burning plastic tasting ‘Fenny’ which blows your head off (or makes your friend think he can fly and luckily caught by his ankles, in the nick of time).
That was the joy of travelling back then; meeting likeminded people from far flung parts of the globe with outlandish, unbelievable travelling tales. Every conversation started with “where have you been? How long for? Where are you going?” It was like a travel competition, there was an element of one-upmanship, comparing score sheets in how many countries you’d been to. Town hopping was critical, ticking off as many places as humanly possible and bragging to all and sundry. If you didn’t like the place even better, you could move on quicker the following day.
Backpacking during my was utterly different because I swapped continents, from Asia to Central and South America. It felt more familiar due to Christianity but that’s where the similarity ended. After studying for a semester in ‘The States’ with a load of sorority girls and frat boys chugging on kegs, thinking what the hell am I doing here? I travelled through Mexico and Guatemala for two months. On discovering the Teotihuacan Pyramids my fascination grew regarding Mayan and Aztec civilisations. Furthermore, the day I arrived in Mexico in 1997, forty-five indigenous women and children were killed, in Chiapas, by anti-Zapatistas militia with connections to the Government and I thought the Tories were bad. These executions were difficult to ignore as the political tensions grew and the general election loomed.
Then, after being held up by Zapatistas in balaclavas, carrying AK47’s on an overnight bus two weeks later, I was defiantly sitting up and listening to the political unrest throughout the country. There were increasing numbers of ‘gringas’ getting raped which is something us solo female travellers try to avoid at all costs. So I became awakened to the perils of global politics. I was also studying cultural studies at the time. I couldn’t wait to inhale Cuba after completing one of my dissertations on the ‘Pearl of the Antilles’ and dance Cuban salsa. When I eventually arrived there several years later speaking in whispers became the norm, locals terrified of being snitched on.
In my twenties I became an adrenalin junky. Travelling through South America was like an adventure playground. Climbing volcanoes was ten-a-penny, white water rafting which severely lacked any kind of health and safety regulations in Peru. Three-day treks were in vogue: Machu Pichu, Uyuni salt flats, and the Bolivian Pampas- where I swam in the Yacuma river home to pink river dolphins, alligators, anacondas, caiman and piranhas. My romanticised ‘swimming with dolphin’s experience’ ruined in those terrifying murky waters as dolphins bigger than me leapt over my head, wide-eyed whilst I scanned for alligators.
Visiting San Pedro prison in La Paz and cycling down ‘the most dangerous road in South America’ was probably a little irresponsible but I lived to tell the tale. Venturing down the Potosi mines in Bolivia coming face to face with bloodshot-eyed children with their dads, digging for 12 hours straight, completely off their nuts on methylated spirits and constantly chewing on coca leaves. Whereas, I clambered out for air only after one hour’s suffocating tour. Going to my first ever Rio carnival, beginning my love affair with my adopted motherland.
Another major difference in my twenties is that I started travelling solo. Read my blog on travelling solo here. It was also the start of a very long line of breaking hearts as well as my own, ending different relationships to travel or continuing them which was even harder. This was my first time of experiencing dorm life which was a bit of a shag fest. It was traveller Tinder heaven, as long as I was safe who cared? What goes on tour stays on tour.
I remember seeing an Ozzie guy across a crowded, border-town, bus station knowing as soon as I laid eyes on him that we would hook up that night- even if it meant delaying my bus journey by 24 hours and ending upside down on a pole in the middle of a strip club. I might have been into politics but I didn’t say I wasn’t still having fun and behaving like a juvenile twat. There was Herzeus, the local ‘Enrique Iglesias’ heartthrob musician on Isla Mujares, posh Tom in San Pedro Guatamala, Swedish Par in Peru, OCD Nick in Chile. I’ll stop now or we’ll be here all day.
Travelling in my thirties completely changed again because this was when I started to live in different countries not just travel them. Aged 32 my dad died, I split from my alcoholic ‘one true love’ and I wanted a career change. Rather than have a nervous breakdown I did what I do best- runaway. But this time I didn’t want to return to the UK for as long as possible. I was fed-up with observing a culture I wanted to experience it. I craved for something more than staring at locals like monkeys at a zoo waiting for them to perform. So I moved to Thailand to complete my intense CELTA course. I never underestimate how lucky I am that English is my mother-tongue and can work pretty much anywhere in the world. Plus, my big brother was living there so it was an easy, safe move.
During this time, I became a bit of a snob about superficial, shallow backpacking, the biggest irony being that my entire circle of friends were all ex-pats. Yep, I was really blending in. But after a sexual assault I fled to China and Tibet to run away once again. I discovered so much on that trip, Tibet had been on my radar for years. Grasping the destruction of an entire society was heart-breaking. However, I soon realised how up my own arse I was about ‘insubstantial’ backpacking when being bugged in a restaurant, then followed by the secret police for hanging out with a Tibetan monk. Learning about different cultures just depends on your thirst for knowledge not if you live there or not.
I landed a teaching job in Quito, Ecuador where my hatred of panpipes doubled. This was when I first encountered living in a dangerous city, where people were killed for less than $10, the price of a life, apparently. On my second day of arrival my camera was stolen by kids with fingers as guns. Read more about this robbery and another involving an actual gun here. I learned to run in the face of danger and I’ve avoided a lot of near misses that way.
This of course was all good preparation for moving to Rio which was equally as dangerous but had the advantage of being a million times more beautiful, all year sunshine, situated on the best beaches, with the hottest men alive. Yes, obviously I had my obligatory favela, skateboarding, ‘ex-drug-dealer’ boyfriend at that time, who’d also been shot by the police. I met the most amazing strong, independent, nut-job, ex-pat women who will be my friends for life. Ensuring that I will never be able to cut that Rio umbilical cord, returning to live there at any given opportunity. Which I did after my masters degree and again aged 39 having yet another mid-life crisis about not being married or having kids. I didn’t find my husband but instead fell for a 23-year old and discovered that kids were way too much commitment for a travel addicted inflicted soul as myself.
In my forties, after three years in Rio and witnessing too many gun-point robberies I mixed it up and moved to the safest country in the world, Japan. This is like the Yin and Yang of travel. You couldn’t get two more polar opposite cultures both as extreme as the other. I also travelled to The Philippines and I’m currently exploring East Africa. This is what I’ve discovered about travelling in this decade. I still believe I’m down with the kids. However, my laughter lines are deeper than the Mariana Trench in the Pacific Ocean which gives my age away. Yet, I still have the brain of a 27-year-old so I’m quite perplexed when a twenty-something traveller bypasses me for a younger version. They’re not so willing to chat to me anymore, even when I inflict myself on them.
Similarly, they are starting to speak gobbledegook to me as well. I was sitting with a load of Gen Z’s the other night who were talking about AI and software coding but they might as well have been speaking Klingon, so I left feeling prehistoric. I was really anxious about volunteering in Kenya with four other gap year kids, realising I was the same age as their mothers. It was all ‘BeReal’ this and ‘Maps.me’ that. Their attachment to their phones was something that astounded me. Luckily, it didn’t take long for them to accept me once they saw me doing shots of tequila and slut dropping on the dance floor, then coming to their rescue by punching the grinding men behind them.
I can no longer say I’m a backpacker
because I literally can’t carry one due to a herniated disc and a back operation. Nothing screams louder than OAP than a wheelie suitcase. Let me tell you, suitcases are only practical in Europe- it’s incredibly embarrassing and sweaty dragging a wheelie case in mud/sand, up rock roads or mountains, in the rest of the world. Consequently, I always feel the need to explain myself by telling the universe that I’ve had a spine operation which makes me sound even more like a geriatric, it’s a lose/lose situation.
In my forties, I’m more scared of flying- law of averages and all that. I jump a little more at creepy crawlies. I think twice about any airborne activities or travelling on the roof of a train. I can’t stay in the sun too long because I had skin cancer (not the scary kind). Watching drunk 19-year-olds singing ‘high school musical’ during Karaoke makes me want to kill. I don’t drink or party as much because my hangovers are from hell. I refused to climb Mt Kilimanjaro because after climbing Mt Fuji I said no more mountains. Although, like childbirth I forgot the pain and just completed Mt Mulange in Malawi and now seriously there will be no more mountains!
I still use backpacker hostels to meet people but I am always the oldest one there. I stay in a single room more often than not and I’ll only stay in dorms if I have an inkling there might not be anyone else in them. I wear ear plugs at night and try to get an en-suite as my bladder never lasts the duration. If there’s no en-suite, peeing in front of my room in the wilderness is always a gamble as my bum is florescent white. I will pay extra for a tour guide. I like to go hiking more. I prefer to travel to less places with more time. I always try to learn a bit of the lingo. And I’m more concerned with getting fat so don’t indulge as much.
Now at 47 I’ve started to disappear from sight to the average man which is a good thing in terms of sexual harassment but a bad thing in terms of my ego taking four rounds with Tyson Fury. I noticed this when walking with the gap year volunteers who were getting a lot more attention than I when I walked alone along same street everyday. Don’t even get me started on going clubbing with these beautiful, nubile, 19-year-old hotties. I’ve always wanted the superpower of being invisible but now I have it, it’s a double edged sword. A far cry from my twenties.
So there I was not pulling in Kenya and in comes an even older volunteer in her late fifties. I was so happy she’d arrived because it meant I had a ‘compadre’ whilst out clubbing and wouldn’t feel like such a Quasimodo. Do you know what happened? She was surrounded by young hot men all night, queuing they were. Dancing all night, she was. I’m clearly in that awkward age where 19-year-old babes are far more appealing than little old me but I’m not quite the age of a sex tourist yet. Sixty-year-old+ women with their young 20-year-old boyfriends are a common sight in Eastern Africa and just as wrong as their male counterparts. The other awful thing about this scenario is that I still travel solo, so sitting in a restaurant alone has taken a sinister twist. I literally want to write ‘I’m not a sex tourist’ on my forehead.
Now that my fifties are imminent with no pension, mortgage or a toy boy, I feel another impending midlife crisis emerging, consequently I’ve already booked my tickets to Rio. At least I know I’ll definitely get laid there. But some things never change with age: I’m still solar powered; I always want to try new things; I still love snorkelling (with ear plugs); I will always wear polka-dots; I’m still terrified of cockroaches; I still love killing mosquitos (not very buddhist I know), I will always hike in Nike high-tops; I still hate coriander; I still have a passion for exploration and seeking out adventure; there are still hundreds of countries on my bucket list and I will always runaway to another country when another age decade approaches.
Buy the book here https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B0BDG97KTQ
Or you can read excerpts from my book ‘Samba, sex and self-loathing’
If you want to read more of my travel blogs links below
Map of Asia- Nothing Ahead
Teotihuacan Pyramids- Viajante Dibujero
Bolivian Uyuni salt flats Leonardo Rossatti