I used to backpack because the only other options – i.e. organized tours – I couldn't afford. Also because I wanted to spend months overseas – not weeks (or days). My only option was independent travel – the stuff that backpackers do.
But now, as I get ready to hit the road again – I consider – why don't I just organize a river cruise in Europe, a nice resort in southern Thailand and have done with it?
Because I don't have to. You see I'm not too old to backpack. I'm not too old to carry a small pack (I could in fact carry a large one – but I'm too lazy).
I am old enough to know that this gives me the freedom to hop on and off buses, boats, tuk-tuk's, motorbikes and airplanes without needing porters or luggage trolleys.
I don't want to miss out on the randomness of arriving at a Thai Island and then figuring out where to stay.
I know I may hate the place that others loved and find the beach that I looked forward too washed away by last week's storm.
Or I may fall in love with the cut-price cocktails late at night and the breakfast bakery and fail to make the 10 am boat (every day, for a week). But that's OK cause I don't have any reservations to miss.
I can still get travel insurance – well for most of my body anyway (they haven't covered the knees since the Himalayan incident ).
I don't need oxygen or an extra bag to carry my medications. If I get too hot, too cold, bitten by insects and even bounced off the back of a motorbike – it won't kill me.
I know how to recognize a scam from several paces, and I know never to leave my pack several paces away from my body. I know my new found friend wants to sell me something – but sometimes its fun to find out what.
I can afford to backpack – because I don't have to. I can afford the comfortable 4-star hotel for a few nights stop-over when I will be jet-lagged and on the way home.
If I get sick I will check into a nice place with large beds, functioning air con and room service.
I know if the taxi driver won't bargain with me I can walk away. I know how not to get myself stranded in a remote location with a taxi driver who wants to up the price.
I know that I will have a better time traveling in a random manner. Choosing when to go and when to stay.
I know I won't miss the Louvre because on the day the tour group was organized to go there I had to replace a stolen passport.
I know that if I get sick I can stop and get well. I know that getting ill hardly ever lasts for more than a day or two and then I can just pick up my itinerary where I left off with it.
I know that a backpacker, or as they are called now, flashpackers, has the ultimate freedom. We can choose to tour or not tour, to stay or go, to spend more money or less.
I know that I can travel for several months for the same price that most people my age would spend on 3 weeks travel. And have a better time. And see more than they will ever see.
So when are we too old to backpack?
When we can't handle uncertainty, change, different food, and unusual hotels. When we need to know what the day will bring, and when we will have lunch.
When we are worried about mixing with people who don't look like us, don't speak English and will probably stare at our odd, pale skin.
I have friends who were too old to backpack at 20, and one who was still traveling independently in her 80s. Backpacking is a state of mind – and has nothing at all to do with age.
About the Author: This is a guest post by Lis Sowerbutts who is suddenly closer to 50 than 20 but still hasn't figured out what she's going to do when she grows up. Lis writes about independent travel at her site for the older backpacker: midlifetravel.com. Lis has been traveling independently for the last 25 years.