Globetrotting Older Adults and Couples

Long-term travel is not just for kids on a gap year or aimless career avoiders who just graduated from university. That’s the stereotype of vagabonding travelers circling the globe, but it’s not reality. My now-wife and I made our first round-the-world trip when I was already in my 30s and we were only the oldest people in the guesthouse about a third of the time. We shared a rental car with a couple in their mid-60s when we were in Jordan and as I hiked the Annapurna Trail in Nepal, a guy in his 70s passed me on the trail each day. (I’m not German, so I didn’t then race to beat him. ) Some say that the fastest-growing group of people buying round-the-world tickets is retirees. Plenty of older people don’t want to ride a tour bus and see 8 cities in 7 days, thankfully.

And as noted over at the Vagabonding blog, Vagabonding isn’t just for singles. Narrative travel writers don’t help very much with this stereotype, always out there braving new adventures on their own. Most magazine editors like it that way; some of them cringe at the words spouse, wife, or husband, as if somehow a travel adventure can’t be interesting if there’s someone else there to share it. For example there’s the tale of this editor who expunged all references to the writer’s wife in an article, like a Photoshop pro removing someone from a photo to make it look like the person never existed.

Couples do take lots of trips together of course. Next time you’re at a tourist resort or restaurant, count the number of couples then the number of people who are traveling alone. Even among the backpackers, loners are not in the majority. I traveled alone through India and Nepal for six weeks and was eating by myself far more than I would like. Everyone was coupled up but me in quite a few spots. It’s more common to see people like my friends Derek and Shanna who got married, quit their jobs, and are spending One Year on Earth.

They saved a bundle before they left and got lots of appropriate travel gear as presents. But after I got married, we left the country with just 2.5 grand and some plane tickets. It was no problem because we knew that after traveling through Morocco and the Middle East, we had an English Teaching contract waiting for us in Korea. We worked there for a year and saved a small fortune—enough to travel a whole other year and still come home to half our savings. As this writer noted in Transitions Abroad last year, there are plenty of options out there for adults who want to work or study abroad.

Six weeks after returning home and getting settled in, I was working in a new job at a tech company, almost like I’d never left. The salary was a tad less than I’d been earning before the travels, but six months later I got promoted and was earning more than before I left. Plus after vagabonding around the world, the two of us knew a thing or two about getting by on less anyway. Amazing clarity comes from escaping a consumer culture and realizing our obsession with new stuff and possessions isn’t normal in the rest of the world.

So once again, this is a terrific time to shed the stuff, simplify, and go see the world. Come back when the economy is on the upswing again. Especially if you’ve been laid off and got a severance check. Whether you are single or coupled, young or old, you won’t regret it. And if you do a good job of picking your destinations, you will spend far less each month than you do right now at home.

  1. Suz

    Hey Tim!
    Thanks for the post. My mom is so worried about traveling alone now that she’s retired, she’s worried she’ll be all alone (She won’t, trust me, she always has friends within 30 min of arriving somewhere) and that she can’t afford it. I’m going to send her your article and show her how she can think about using travel to make her money stretch now that she’s in retirement…

  2. Donna Hull

    Tim, great post.

    With baby boomers retiring early, many of them now have the time and money to see the world, something they put off while pursuing careers and raising children. Although I don’t personally know any who have taken year-long journeys, plenty of my friends travel in chunks of time (usually for a month or two). They mix it up between adventure travel, solo or group trips, cruises (usually to smaller ports with adventuresome excursions involved), family travel and pure relaxation. And, there are plenty of single boomers out there joining the crowd.

    Thanks for the travel encouragement. For those not ready to travel for a whole year, try a month-long trip to see where it takes you. But, be careful. That travel bug is sure to bite.


  3. Marilyn Terrell

    In the unlikely event that I might be able to retire someday, this is definitely the life I’d like to lead, as I have no interest in playing golf or living in an adult community.

  4. Tom

    Hey Tim,

    Another option for traveling the world is Contract Work. My wife and I are both past 40 and we work for a contractor in Antarctica. We spend anywhere from 5-12 months in Antarctica working and since we transit through New Zealand, we not only get to spend some great time with the Kiwis, we’re already halfway around the world and closer to places like Oceana and Asia. Plus,
    it’s great to get three months time off each year instead of 1-3 weeks.


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