Holiday Safe: Backpacking not just for the young

Published: 18th February 2011
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Once upon a time, backpacking was the sole preserve of the young: students who wanted to find themselves, experience other cultures and seek spirituality (translation: drink their way around Australia but have a good time doing it) before finding a job and settling down. Either way, this is not the case anymore. Make way for the Golden Gappers!

With the population living longer and more healthily, older people are choosing backpacking, or independent travel, as a way to enjoy their retirement, made easier with the advantages of senior discounts and the luxury of time and money. A survey carried out by the Telegraph revealed that older backpackers were leaving their younger counterparts far behind, visiting an average of 12.8 countries as opposed to 5.8 managed by 18 to 25 year olds.

Norm says: "at 71 years old, I continue to backpack around America and South East Asia. [It is] a way of life that has kept me in top physical condition and seen as being much younger."

The economic power of the 'grey pound' has not gone unnoticed by the travel industry. In fact, mature travel is a growing and specialist travel agencies have sprung up to cater exclusively for this market. Additionally, many companies have extended their specific backpackers travel insurance to cover those up to 65.

In a poll carried out by Intune, a financial products and services provider set up by Age UK, of over 60 years olds, found that 33% or respondents were 'adrenalin junkies' who went on activity holidays. The results go some way to help dispel the stereotype of older people as snoozing retirees and highlighted how many of the over 60s are reluctant to spend their days quietly. A third of all people taking a gap year are over 50.

There is still some prejudice when it comes to the older backpacker; ageism flares its ugly head at some international hostels, who will only allow the under 35s to stay. Savvy Golden Gappers do their research and can probably afford to stay at somewhere much nicer. Other travellers might wonder why the old timers are here, but they ought to remember that one day, they will be the 'Golden Gappers,' if they're lucky.

Travelling is one of the most incredible experiences, it opens the mind, broadens horizons and keeps you alive, as is evidenced by the growing numbers of older travellers. Groo sums it up nicely: "I'm over 60, have backpacked since 1960 and am still at it. Until you're too bloody old to perform, keep doing it. Age only heightens the experience."

Elizabeth Smythe is a self published author and insurance expert. He writes on winter sports travel insurance. To know more visit

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