A few days ago, I was telling a friend about the worst birthday of my life. The year I turned 23, I travelled alone to an oasis in Egypt. A local offered to drive me out to the desert which I really, really wanted to do. So I said yes. I then spent the evening in the middle of nowhere fighting off his advances and was lucky to be dumped back at my hotel with him incredibly angry at me, but otherwise unscathed.
Needless to say, this wouldn’t happen if I travelled now. Which is a good thing. But as I’ve gotten less naïve/stupid, I guess I’ve also turned into the kind of traveller I never thought I’d become – namely, an older one. Here’s a few things I no longer do (much to the relief of my mother).
Sleep in dorms
After practically living in rooms full of people for years, I have no idea how I slept through the cacophony of snores and comings and goings. And the drinking – dear god, the drinking. The last time I stayed in a dorm I was in my late 20s and broke in Paris. There were about 30 beds stacked in triple bunks in a room and a shower in the corner with no curtain. I asked the receptionist to fix it – and he replied that if I wanted a shower curtain, I should stay somewhere else. Out of spite (and desperation), I didn’t pay for a night, got kicked out of my bed at 3am and slept in the kitchen downstairs.
Stay in hostels
But it’s not just dorms I’ve grown out of, I don’t even stay in hostels anymore. I was chatting with a young backpacker in Byron Bay recently… When he asked where I was staying, I found myself apologising for my AirBnB and assuring him I really was once like him. “But you’ll change too! Some day, you’ll be travelling for one week instead of one year, and you’ll have enough money for an AirBnb. You’ll book it because you can.” He looked at me in disgust. Oh how I remember being the giver and not the receiver of that look – and that’s when I realised I was OLD.
The fact is, I’m much more afraid of people now than I was when I was 20. That’s the terrible disadvantage of reading the news (which I didn’t while I was travelling for 10 years). It’s why I no longer get in cars with strangers or accept invitations to meals and offers of a place to sleep. Nothing awful ever happened (luckily). But there was one time when the driver in Syria who I couldn’t communicate with veered off the road and I panicked. Turned out he just wanted to get some money from his house to give me because he thought I must be really poor.
See also: sleeping rough.
When I was young, months and years stretched out before ad infinitum (well, until the money ran out). I travelled on as little as possible for as long as possible and then I got a job, saved up and travelled some more. I was never in a rush and I didn’t measure my trips in days. I looked down on the people who were on “holiday” and had two weeks to see a country. Now those people are me, and I’ll probably never have months and years up my sleeve to travel again.
But there’s a downside…
Yes, my travel these days is more likely to involve renting cars than riding on the back of a truck through the desert. I’m much more comfortable, I’m definitely safer but… I’m far less likely to actually meet locals.
And when I get home after two weeks (because adult responsibilities), people ask “How was it?” and I say “Nice” instead of having all these stories to tell them.