No regrets: advice on adventure from older travellers

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“Dreams don’t work unless you do.” John C Maxwell probably didn’t realise quite how Instagrammable his quote would be when he said this, but the 71-year-old American author has a point. You have to work at it to make things happen. Trips don’t happen unless you carve out time for them, and flights don’t happen unless you save up some money.

It’s easy to put things off, especially the big goals that take some time to organise. Bucket list items like sleeping in an ice hotel in Scandinavia, diving the Great Barrier Reef, or climbing to Machu Picchu aren’t the kind of thing you do on a spontaneous weekend. These are the things that require planning, and ideally before life gets in the way. Time easily slips away and the money is spent elsewhere; maybe retirement will finally be the day?

Right now, we all have plenty of time at home in isolation to put to good use. Perhaps time that could be well spent making a plan for how you realise your dream adventure after all, in 2021.

Coronavirus aside, if you’re still on the fence, we sought out some advice from older people who, indeed, put off travel — and who regret not jumping sooner, now they’ve finally got a taste of adventure. Here’s why you should seize the moment, whenever you possibly can.

Experiences are more valuable than stuff

Louise and Roy in Vietnam

Two years ago, Louise and her husband Joe (above) decided to quit their jobs and sell their house in New York and hit the road. “Yes! We absolutely wish we’d done it sooner,” says Louise. They’d always loved to travel and used to wish they could do more than the typical two-week trip, but it wasn’t until they were in their 50s they hit that now-or-never point.

Read more: 18 moments of adventure travel you don’t want to miss

“We were tired of working too hard to pay for stuff we didn’t really need, so we set a date, made a plan, sold our house and the majority of our stuff. It’s been a spectacular two years,” says Louise, who chronicles the adventure at Two Lost Americans.  The couple have since lived in everywhere from Italy and Thailand to Vietnam, Malaysia and Singapore.

Children playing in Philippines

Helen, a 59-year-old from London who travels with her husband Roy, started 2018 with two months in the Philippines, followed by shorter breaks around Europe and six weeks in Madagascar, before finishing the year off with two months in Thailand.

“We mainly choose countries that are far-flung and make people ask, ‘Why are you going there?’” says Helen. She highly recommends keeping a journal: “When we’re old and unable to get far, we can relive our travels by reading my journals and looking through photographs.”

Your work will still be there (and you may be able to do it remotely)

Suzanne spent 25 years in the “crash and burn lane” working ten-hour days as a lawyer before she decided to swap it in for a life on the road, as a 60-something. Soon, though, she realised she was in too deep to give up work entirely: “I found that too much of my identity was invested in my legal career for me to quit lawyering cold turkey,” Suzanne writes on her blog Boomeresque. She’s kept her law licence active and now has a flexible workload that she can do anywhere, as she travels the world with her husband Steve.

Read more: What I learnt from my mum’s gap year

You don’t have to travel permanently like Suzanne does to enjoy a working holiday, though. Remote work is easy now and a year or even a month of living in a foreign city is likely to bring new energy to your work. You might even enjoy this kind of travel more than a vacation, as being part of the working population makes you more a part of the everyday fabric of a place.

“I’m glad that I didn’t really travel until I was 28. It would be a waste of money, I think, to travel just to party overseas,” says traveller Julie, also in her 60s.

Julie favours “slow” travel. “Instead I partied at home and travelled when I was interested in experiencing other things.”

Use those knees while you’ve got’em

beautiful sunset

“Bad back, bad knees! Until we age we don’t appreciate how restrictive ageing can be,” says Julie, who’s travelled all over the world from Zimbabwe to Nepal, New Zealand to Jordan.

Of course, many people continue to enjoy travel into old age.

But if you want to climb the 1,001 steps up Chamundi Hill in Mysore in India, there are no guarantees that you’ll always be able to. Michael and his wife Debbie were 68 and 58 respectively when they sold everything to become nomads, and what started as a six-month trial run is still going strong.

Five years later, they’ve visited well over 200 cities. “We only go round once in life, so summon up all your courage and go for it,” Michael said to the AirBnB blog. “Why wait?”

It’s the things you don’t do that you regret the most

Life happens: you get a new job, maybe you get married, maybe you get divorced, people around you get sick. There’s always something, so if the time seems good to take three months to backpack around South America, you might want to grab the chance before that window closes.

Waiting until “someday” may lead to disappointment: when he asked 1,000 seniors about their advice for life, Karl Pillemer, a gerontologist at Cornell University, found that travelling “early and often” was a common refrain.

Read more: Why I’ll never travel with checked baggage again

Often people put it off because of cost, or kids, or because it would be easier in retirement: “We always thought we’d do a lot of travelling when we retired, you know? But then Lynne passed away and it was too late,” one 81-year-old told Pillemer, before eventually deciding to travel solo through the Canadian Rockies

When 50-somethings Louise and her husband decided to go travelling, both had okay jobs; but neither of them was headed to the CEO’s chair. This prompted them to consider living life differently: “We could imagine continuing to do the same thing for another 20 years and regretting it,” says Louise.

person holding globe in field

Travelling when you’re younger, perhaps with kids in tow, will be different than when you’re older and relatively unencumbered. Steve, a 60-year-old from Essex reached out to us via the Silver Travel Advisor forum to point out that travel is not necessarily an either-or situation:

“Sure, we’ve all learned that life is short and that dramatic change to your circumstances can happen unexpectedly at any time. But we did travel prior to our senior years and had lots of fun,” says Steve. “To have done something different would have deprived our family of the other experiences we had with them.”

Read more: Going it alone or joining a group? These are the best places to travel solo

Still, Steve’s message to younger travellers is to get your most ambitious trips done while you are still able: “We travel far and wide with as much variety as possible [in terms of] mode of transport, the cultures we see, and the food we sample. Our philosophy is that at some point, the long haul may become a chore, and we may prefer to travel closer to these shores.”

So take a look at that bucket list and start ticking off the wildest rides first.

Images: Flash Pack, Unsplash, Shutterstock, Two Lost Americans

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