Too old to stay in hostels?

March 31, 2014

Although I remain blissfully free of practically all the physical limitations some people in their 30s experience – lack of energy, back or neck pain, to name a few – I’m not completely immune to feeling the effects of growing older. I’m sure I’m in better health than many people in their 20s (and in most cases, wiser – sorry people born after 1990) but occasionally, there are still reminders that I’m not what I used to be. Most of them positive, such as when as a sex-crazed, stupid, immature, 20-something American living in Thailand had the audacity to measure me on the same level as someone in his mid-40s. I hold the opinion of someone fresh off the plane teaching English in Thailand (with a Thai “girlfriend”, no less) with the same respect as that of a crazy man yelling in the streets of San Francisco.

However, in terms of travel, I rarely see examples where age is really a factor. Before you go spouting off about how teenagers and university graduates can handle backpacking whereas a couple in their 60s is more likely to be spotted in a five-star hotel in a major city, I would add I’ve seen just as many situations in which the opposite is true. And while the argument can be made that different types of travel are more suited to different kinds of travelers, meaning you have more money in your later years or you’re more open to all-nighters drinking on foreign shores in your 20s, I’m not really addressing that. The issue here is: how does aging, physically aging, affect one’s travel experience?

I’ve stayed in dozens of hostels across the world. Some in the US were refuges for people clearly down on their luck in the working world. I saw plenty in Asia filled to the brim with nothing but university students on holiday. Most recently, I booked a bed in a 4-male dorm at HI Fisherman’s Wharf (really in Fort Mason). There was a wide assortment, as is typical: newbie backpackers, graduates, and even a small delegation from a school for the blind. But one thing that struck me as I stood out in front of the building with a cup of green tea to my lips was the perspective of passersby.

A tourist group of 50-somethings were walking between the fort and Fisherman’s Wharf and noticed the hostel. Apparently, a hostel is a fresh topic of conversation among the older crowd, and what I heard made me stop and think:

“This looks a little out of my price range.”
“I think it’s a little out of your age range.”

A simple enough joke, but was there any truth in it?

Traveling is not just for the young, whether that means 18-20 or 20-35. Whenever I talk to friends in their mid-twenties, it seems like they always lament being “so old”. Whenever I tell someone in their 50s or 60s my age, the general sentiment is “ah, to be that young again.” Maybe I will change my travel habits in the next ten years, but when someone remarks that he’s too old to do something travel related, I can’t help but think that’s more closely related to their fitness or state of mind rather than strictly the number of years he’s been on the planet.

For instance, I like to carry my bags most of the time. Up the stairs, across a city (within reason). I like to walk rather than hailing a taxi; this also prevents any language misunderstandings in a new country. I walked from the Marina Mall to Mactan Cebu International Airport with two bags just so I could have the experience of walking right up to an international terminal from the main road, something that’s next to impossible to do in the US without a car. I stay in hostels when I want to, hotels when I want to and have the cash.

Maybe being so young gives me that kind of choice, maybe I don’t even realize just how much freedom I have with my youth and strength. But I don’t think so.

There’s no rule you can’t be a backpacker in your 60s or even 70s. No one is going to stop you from booking a bed in a 10-person dorm at Hosteling International if you were born just after World War II (though I have heard some random hostels only accept people between 18-30 years old). You’re a traveler with different experiences, just as every guest at a hostel, even if they consist of only 20-somethings, is likely to be. Some have been on the road for years and have stories to tell. Others are just starting a journey and might like some guidance.

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2 Responses to Too old to stay in hostels?

  1. Gordon Moss on April 10, 2014 at 6:13 am

    Hello Turner,

    First of all, I want to thank you, again, for letting me (along with Patrick and Mini) crash at your pad for the night. And the restaurant you took us to, featuring a great Bul Go Gi, was my favorite Korean meal of my trip!

    I totally agree with your column.

    I certainly qualify as an “older traveler”, so I can comment from my first hand experiences.

    The first time I hauled my butt over to Europe I was just 18. Then I hit it again in my early 20’s, along with a nice long trek through the mountains and jungles and crazy towns of India, Nepal, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Afganistan, the Middle East.

    I wholeheartedly recommend to everyone to go to Europe, and the rest of the world, in their 20’s!! And again in their 30’s! And again in their 40’s! And again in their 50’s! Etc. It’s wonderful and different at each station of your life. I am critical of my friends who wait until they are in their 40’s, or whatever, to make their first big trip overseas. What a waste!

    I am now in my 60’s. To date, I do not hesitate to travel in the same mode as I did in my 20’s. Backpack on. (It’s practical.) I love a good hostel. It is the best. Why? Because I have a kitchen to use. I have people to talk to. I have new friends to make. You might be surprised by the great moments I have. Yes, some of my fellow travelers don’t have time for me. (Or maybe I don’t have time for them? I’m not sure.) But inevitably I will make new friends. If I am travelling alone, I will choose a dorm bed. In the communal areas we will talk about the usual stuff: “Where have you been? Where are you from? Where are you going? Do you have any good advice on a hostel, a hotel, an adventure tour, or a restaurant?”

    Not all hostels are great. We all know that. Some are too dirty too noisy too quiet too boring or too far out of town. And sometimes it is too much of a Lonely-Planet-recommended party palace. I ran into one like that last month in Mendoza, Argentina. The solution? I moved a few blocks away to another hostel that was delightful. I met people from all over the world!

    It is my belief that I will stop going to hostels because of my internal feelings about it, and not because I get bad-vibed by the people staying there. Physically I can still hack it. And mentally I can still enjoy it. I don’t travel just to see the sights. I travel to meet the locals, and I travel to meet other world travelers. That’s why I stay in hostels.

  2. Turner on April 16, 2014 at 2:36 pm

    Good to hear from you! Thanks for reading!

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