Many thanks to blogger Cecile Laguardia for this guest post.
I won’t beat around the bush and will get down fast to the jugular: here are my five top reasons for traveling while aging.
1. Traveling helps you forget how old you are
And it’s not because you have Alzheimer’s. You feel younger in every place you visit, like age is in a rollback. You embrace the world at your feet and realize nothing is impossible. Nothing.
I was 52 traveling alone for the first time in Istanbul and braved the winter chill for my most-awaited Bhosphorus Boat Tour in exchange for the amazing view. In between the buzzing Spice Bazaar and countless trips to Sultanamet, I capped my week with a tour to Troy. Maximizing my five-day break, I proceeded to Amman and spent a day in Petra and another day in Jerash. That’s not counting a sunset-watch with a friend in the Citadel on my first day and tasting Arak, a local liquor in Books@cafe, a should-not-be-missed hang-out in downtown Amman. This is where I found and bought Jen Sincero’s book You’re a Badass, and it was just perfect as a year-long challenge.
Age is a number but you have to travel to make sure it remains just a number.
2. When you’re older, you can dance like crazy and nobody will mind
If they do mind, then who cares?
On my way to the Zambezi Boat Tour in Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, a group was playing and dancing while tourists in a restaurant were passively watching. I thought, that’s a waste and joined them to the delight of the dancers. I had my one-minute-of-fame dance (that I immensely enjoyed) with the group and prompted the other tourists to stand up and watch. I am no dancer, but I am a trying-hard who won’t pass up something fun. We capped it with a round of laughter . It was unforgettable and made an unexpected highlight to my sunset tour. That moment still makes me smile.
Every moment in a trip is an opportunity to have fun. Long faces not allowed, please.
3. As you age, every trip is your last chance to do what you want
When I went to Freiburg (one of my favorite cities) in Germany, I tried Europa Park’s most chilling rides, ignoring a lot of negative buzz in my head. The park is one of Europe’s most popular and touted as its “happiest place.” I agree. I did seven rides in a 12-hour screaming frenzy. That’s probably all of it in my lifetime. At 53, I survived Gasprom’s Blue Fire and Mercedes Benz’s Silver Star. But the one that almost made me hang up my towel was the Euro-Sat, a crazy ride in the Milky way where you spin down fast in pitch black free-fall. I did not notice the stars and the planets even if my eyes were wide open. All I thought was if I get out of the ride alive. But truly, I am glad I did it! That day was among my bravest adventures.
We only live once. We either spend it in languid, glassy eye-roll or make it an exciting adventure. Which one is yours?
4. If you’re aging, you can leave the noise and talk to yourself
You’re in the midst of the buzz and alone? You pay attention to yourself. After years, even decades, of taking care of others, you listen to yourself and get to know what you really, really want.
Walking alone in Yerevan’s Republic Square, I learned the art of people watching: a lovely woman in red shoes on her way to the office, another who looked she had all the time in the world sat in a park puffing a cigarette to ward off the chill and one more enjoying her mojito in a pub across where I sat. It was relaxing, make it all caps. Yes, you talk to yourself. The entire all-alone day wasn’t melodramatic, it was like a spool-unwinding, ready to be winded again. Ellen Burstyn said “What a lovely surprise to finally discover how unlonely being alone can be.” I totally agree.
Traveling solo and alone most of the time, you find yourself, the part that you lost chasing the world.
5. When you are older, you learn new skills and new ways to approach strangers
Tired of taking photos of the scenery without me in it, I set up a whole new adventure: asking strangers to take my photo. It’s quite a skill identifying who won’t run away with my phone or refuse my request (so far 100 percent of the people said yes).
The reaction has been a mix of surprise and hilarity. I walked straight up to a group of Singapore Airlines pilots waiting to board a flight in Frankfurt Airport and asked one to take my picture. He gladly ok’ed and even shared the laugh of finding a better angle. That’s why SIA is one of my favorite airlines. In Istanbul, I asked a couple from Tunisia. In Yerevan, I approached a lady from Estonia. In Switzerland, I asked a couple strolling along the Rhine. In all, I gained friendly acquaintances. Every time, I was bubbling inside like a mischievous teen.
Life is what we make it. Either you do things that make you smile (as well as others) or get depressed. The choice, my friend, is totally ours.
Looking back at more than 16 years of frenzied traveling both for work and for holidays, I learned that traveling is something you decide you must do. It does not come to you on a silver platter. You have to find the chance. The “necessities” such as budget, time and opportunity will just open up.
“When we least expect it, life sets us a challenge to test our courage and willingness to change; at such a moment, there is no point in pretending that nothing has happened or in saying that we are not yet ready. The challenge will not wait. Life does not look back. A week is more than enough time for us to decide whether or not we accept our destiny.” — Paulo Coelho
Cecile Laguardia is a wanderer, blogger and aid worker for 16 years in Asia, the Middle East and Africa, in hot pursuit of people’s stories from everyday life. Visit her blog at istoryya.com. A version of this story appeared on Medium.