The unexpected advantages of being an old tourist

·6-min read
People are nicer to us, and we generally have more free time and more money
People are nicer to us, and we generally have more free time and more money

Good news for young people: getting old isn’t so bad. You can look forward to it. I’m not saying there aren’t downsides. Seniors fall over if we turn too quickly, are foxed by TikTok and, while easily remembering the name of the lead singer of the Troggs’ (Reg Presley), may forget what we had for lunch yesterday.

But travel-wise, which is what concerns us here, the benefits are manifold. They start right now, in spring. Those of us in the late-summer of our lives may go on holiday straight away. School holidays are no longer a concern, work possibly less of a constraint and it’s conceivable we have a bob or two to spare, thus taking double advantage of spring’s cheaper prices – all that, without being driven crazy by someone else’s tots or frying in the foreign summer sun.

Of course, we’ll likely get called back for funerals – but that’s simply an opportunity to thank our lucky stars it’s not our own. We may set off back to Umbria directly after the buffet.

Maturity has other advantages. These include:

1. Ignoring the more thrusting sort of adventure holidays – the clambering through rainforests, running across deserts or pretending you give a tuppenny damn about the cycle of life in Mongolia. “Go ahead,” you will say to younger people. “I’d only hold you back.” Then you make for Florence or Lisbon or somewhere else with decent seating.

2. In the same vein, being able legitimately to refuse leisure activities favoured by people under 40. Backing out previously meant you were a wuss. Now it’s the wisdom of age – and hip bones you’ve already replaced once – which stop you bungee-jumping, cycling down cliffs or racing camels in Saudi Arabia.

3. The possibility of being silly in the company of grand-children because their proper parents will sort out the consequences. This might include running about, say, the streets of a holiday town, hiding round corners and jumping out at passers-by. It is an enormously rewarding activity. It will certainly include eating at McDonalds – which you are meant to disdain, sundaes and all, but absolutely don’t – at least once, and perhaps twice a day, on the assumption that real parents will get the kids’ diet back on track at some later stage.

4. So your grandchildren think you're great, a most gratifying holiday feeling you haven’t experienced since your own kids turned nine.

5. Being a mature traveller also means you may care less, indeed not at all, about doing the correct thing. You may sleep through the ballet, side-step the archaeological museum and tell the fellows re-enacting the Civil War what they can do with their pike-staffs.

6. We may also, unashamedly, cut up spaghetti with a knife and eat Chinese dishes with a fork. It’s a privilege of being old and having evolved to serenity. The Italian insistence on twirling lengths on a spoon, and the Chinese requirement that rice be eaten with straight sticks, are stabs at recapturing former cultural superiority. Humouring them on cutlery use is patronising to great nations. It also leads to extravagantly stained shirts in the senior diner.

7. Older travellers have had time to pick up trace elements of culture. We might dither about base-jumping but can be relied on to know that, if we’re swimming in the sea off Bulgaria, we’re not in the Mediterranean (an eye-opener for a fellow I worked with in Preston). Also to reply with confidence when a young American lady sharing our tour through the Belgian Ardennes asks: “So who was this Hitler guy?”

8. Nor do we complain so much. We have more distant points of reference. Airline food is poor? Really? You’re flying at 500mph, 35,000 feet up, and you’re upset about lasagne? Budget airlines treat passengers like cattle? Come off it. Back in the 1970s, Manchester to Marseille was half-a-year’s salary – not, as today, double the price of a cheese sandwich. And, anyway, it’s the passengers who behave like cattle. In my experience, Ryanair personnel have all taken vows of limitless patience. Entertainment is lousy in your chosen holiday spot? Count yourselves lucky that you never saw Mike and Bernie Winters at the end of a pier. There are too many tourists in Marbella, Cancun, Langkawi? Oh, please. Fifty years ago, aspirations topped out at Bangor and Bognor. Brilliant places, both, but if we now go exotic, it’s because the country is better off. You want to bring back poverty to clear these places of visitors for your convenience? (Anyway, if you’re in Marbella, Cancun or Langkawi, you’re part of the problem, not of the solution.)

Langkawi - Getty
Langkawi - Getty

9. In the same vein, the older traveller retains a sense of wonder: that he no longer has to wait a week for 24 photos; that he may – from his home in Rotherham – know all there is to know about a hotel room in Adelaide and that there’s a woman behind his dashboard who will lead him to any hamlet anywhere on the planet. Until, of course, she screws up – directing him to London, Ontario when he wants Golders Green. In this instance, our mature person is also advantaged for he knows not only how to read a paper map but also how to fold it when finished.

10. The older person need never sleep in a tent, or share hostel accommodation, ever again. Such things ill-become anyone over 50. He or she may also snap selfie-sticks in an ongoing bid to educate young fools.

11. That said, he or she is also often more welcome, because perceived as less menacing. Compare the greeting for a single middle-aged lady – or a decent couple – with that extended to eight young fellows falling into a bar in Spain, harmonising on: “Ernie, the fastest milkman in the West”. It happens. It has happened. The owner’s delight was well disguised. Another fine thing about being old: you’ve been through the rites of passage and come out the other side. By quite a long way.

12. One other reason that the single middle-aged person or ageing couple are more welcome is that we’ve worked longer, so may have more money. We’ll go for the à la carte rather than the panini. Nor does it make any kind of sense that we get museums, galleries and trains cheap when 30-year-olds with two kids and a mortgage pay full whack. I always pay the proper price. “Is sir a senior citizen?” they ask. “No, sir damned well isn’t,” I reply.

13. Finally, the older person isn’t called upon to respect older people, because he or she is one. Thus, when someone met on travels says: “Malawi nourishes my inner being”, one may justifiably punch them.

Are holidays better when you’re young or when you’re old? Comment below to join the conversation

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