OK, I’ll admit that those of us who have passed our 50th birthdays (and then some) can rarely stay up all night partying with rowdy strangers, crash on the floor for a few hours, then bounce up feeling fit, fabulous, and raring to go. But unless that sort of evening is essential to your itinerary, you’ll probably appreciate the advantages of traveling with a bit more age and experience (to say nothing of money) than you had during your roaring twenties.
1. Older people are happier, more content, and have a more positive outlook. Seriously! Just ask Laura Carstensen, director of the Stanford Center on Longevity.
2. It’s all about perspective. Even if you’re not entirely delighted with how life has turned out, you probably aren’t suffering the tortures of youthful angst. “Young people,” says author Margaret Atwood, “are worried because they don’t know the plot of their own story yet.” By 50, you’re likely to have at least some idea whether the story you’re starring in is high melodrama, low comedy, tragedy, science fiction, romance, PG Wodehouse farce, or (most likely) all of the above.
3. You don’t have to go to excruciating lengths to prove you’re cool. You aren’t. With a few notable exceptions, such as Iris Apfel and Mick Jaeger, people over 50 aren’t defined by their trendiness and wow factor. On the other hand, those of us who are into our second half-century don’t need to prove our coolness at every turn by, say, chugging three martinis, lecturing drunks about bad habits, or eating salads dripping with nasty bacteria, all of which I’ve observed young acquaintances doing, with predictably ghastly results.
4. Prioritizing and pacing your trips become easier. By now you have a pretty good idea whether you prefer glitzy nightclubs, group tours, museums, fancy restaurants, dive bars, gambling casinos, walks on the beach, or whole mornings spent sipping espresso in a sidewalk café.
5. Getting out of predicaments; it’s what you do. A lifetime of sizing up people and situations helps you apply common sense wherever you are. For instance, you’re less likely to believe (as a young relative once did) the cab driver who says, “Let me help you exchange some money so you don’t get ripped off.” If you do get into trouble, you have plenty of experience coming up with sensible solutions. Lost luggage, hotel reservations that didn’t take, or a rotten rental car will naturally make you crazy, but you’ve likely dealt with worse and will find a way to cope.
6. Forget carrying a backpack that’s equal to half your bodyweight. Many twentysomethings would rather go a year without Starbucks than be seen toting a sensible wheeled suitcase (see #3 above). You, however, can avoid the back strain and travel the world with practical luggage — or with no luggage at all, if you prefer.
7. It’s easier to relate to the life experiences of people you meet. By now, you’ve probably developed an extensive repertoire of stories to share about such universal topics as raising a family, gardening, dogs, cars, and food. Rich once drew a crowd dentists in the Republic of Georgia, holding them spellbound by describing and displaying his dental implants — something few youngsters have to brag about.
8. You’re seen (if at all) as non-threatening. There are times when you want the freedom to move around without a fuss, fading into the background and observing the passing scene as if you were an invisible traveler. This is harder for youthful backpackers, who tend to be watched closely by business owners, cops, and other kids, for varying reasons.
9. With luck, your budget isn’t quite so tight. My travel career started in the era of Europe on Five Dollars a Day, and I still enjoy dive bars, mom-and-pop eateries, and inexpensive lodgings with quirky character. But I also splurge on great meals and comfier lodgings occasionally. And when things go wrong, as they did when we tried to check into a too-funky-even-for-us apartment in Bulgaria, it’s great to have credit cards and a bit of financial flexibility to fall back on.
10. “To travel,” actor Danny Kaye once said, “is to take a journey into yourself.” With every passing year, that journey becomes longer and more interesting.
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I'm an American travel writer based in Spain and currently living in California.
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