Age and the Female Traveler

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Age and the female traveler

Age and the Female Traveler

Age is a sensitive topic for many women. Why? Well, society loves to tell women what we can and can’t do depending on our age. We get so used to hearing that we’re too young for this and too old for that.

Travel is a topic where society still tries to impose its rules upon women, but miraculously, travelers stay travelers no matter what their age may be. Here is a conversation about age and the female traveler.

 Two awesome selfies of me at The Cliffs of Moher in Ireland...

Two awesome selfies of me at The Cliffs of Moher in Ireland...

 
 ... when I was 21 years old and clearly adept at photography.

... when I was 21 years old and clearly adept at photography.

The Young Female Traveler

The first time I went to another country I was 19 years old. I traveled with another female friend to Montreal, Canada. We were staying with a family friend and were chaperoned the entire time, so it felt safe.

The first time I ever traveled to Europe was on a solo trip when I was 20. Looking back, this was a brave decision for me, because at that age I was inhibited by social anxiety and lack of self-esteem.

I had always dreamt of going to France, so I just bought a ticket and went by myself. I had some negative experiences, such as when I had a panic attack after being flirted with by an aggressive Frenchmen and the times when I got tricked into multiple scams on the streets of Paris.

All in all, this trip was life-changing for me. It created the living, breathing traveler in me. I was a tourist no more. The hunger to travel was born.

When I moved to France to do my study-abroad for a year, I was 21, soon to be 22. I remember feeling so old in my program because most of the kids were 19 and 20 years old (I know, the difference doesn’t sound like a lot, but remember when you were that age and how years meant something different then). I thought, “Wow, these kids are only in their second year of college and they’re already doing their study abroad.”

Because I was older, I found it difficult to make friends with a lot of those people. I wasn’t the oldest in the program, however. There were a few people who were 22 and 23. We bonded because we had a more docile energy than the literal teenagers in the program. They would go out drinking every single night while I’d be snuggled up in bed watching Netflix (yes, I was living in Europe and still watching Netflix, crazy).

Through my 19 countries of travel that year, I met many fantastic people in hostels. The average age of the travelers that I met ranged from 20-28. There were always some younger and some older. Most of the time I wouldn’t ask ages right away. It didn’t matter. The camaraderie of getting to know people mattered more to me. Although, there is a pretty habitual question-system that people follow when meeting each other in hostels. Something like this:

“Hi, I’m Heather, what’s your name? Where are you from? Where have you been traveling, and where are you traveling to? Are you traveling alone? How old are you?”

At least one of those questions needs to resonate mutually in order for you guys to hit it off. You get so used to asking those same questions that if there’s nothing interesting in one of the answers the conversation will probably just die right there! It’s okay if you didn’t click with that person, because hostels have plenty more people to talk to.

 Your run-of-the-mill generic photo of young people bonding in a hostel. Photo by  Helena Lopes  on  Unsplash

Your run-of-the-mill generic photo of young people bonding in a hostel. Photo by Helena Lopes on Unsplash

The Older Female Traveler

Now, writing this at 24, I can’t yet call myself an older female traveler. Sure, I’m older than a lot of young women who travel the world at 18 and 19, fresh out of high school, but that was never my personal path. I needed to do a lot of growing up and maturing before I was ready to live in a foreign country. Living abroad helped me to grow up way more than I expected it to. I came back to the States a different person than when I left, in the best possible way.

 On my most recent trip to Paris, taking it easy instead of obsessing to do as much as possible.

On my most recent trip to Paris, taking it easy instead of obsessing to do as much as possible.

On my travels, staying predominantly in hostels as aforementioned, I met plenty of older people as well. The average age was twenty-somethings, but I met people in their thirties, forties, fifties, and even older. Some of them were backpacking. One awesome couple I met from New Zealand, in their early-forties, was traveling Europe for an entire year, to fulfill the dream they’d had before having kids delayed it.

I loved listening to the life stories of older travelers. I remember a few of them sharing with me that they felt uncomfortable traveling at their age because everybody else was so young. Others were confident and carefree. I met this eccentric lady at a hostel in Ireland who was turning 50-something that week and celebrating by casually partying in Dublin. She was such a ball of energy!

I won’t lie, on a few occasions there were elderly people staying in the hostels I was in, which wasn’t always a positive experience for anyone involved. I always prefer to stay in female-dorms, but on some occasions I stayed in mix-dorms.

I remember one of the mix-dorms had an old man who must’ve been in his 70’s. The rest of us were younger than 25. He was grouchy during the daytime and sound asleep, snoring through the night, to everyone’s discomfort. I couldn’t help but wonder how he could be comfortable at his age sleeping in a springy, hostel bunk-bed. The worst part about that situation was that he seemed to really have disdain for us as young people. 

In Poland I stayed in a hostel that was run out of someone’s house in some random neighborhood, and most people in the house did not speak English. It was elderly Polish women predominantly, and then other travelers like me, all in different rooms of this two-story house. Those women, even though they didn’t speak English, showed kindness through their actions. They made breakfast in the morning and poured juice and coffee for everyone. And no, they did not work at the hostel. They lived there long-term and treated the passing travelers like family.

How Do You Feel About Your Age as a Traveler?

As I said before, I’ve heard so often from older women that they feel too old to travel even though they’ve always wanted to. They feel embarrassed about staying in hostels with a bunch of kids. Here is the reality crackdown: yes, you may have some limitations on your travel experience because of your age, but you are never too old to travel.

These limitations are mostly physical. For myself, as a plus-size woman, I would often skip out on mile-long walks up to the top of a hill to see the view, and I’d have to go back to the hostel to rest in the middle of the day because of hypothyroidism and low-energy levels. Other kids were out all day and night until 6am partying, while I’d been at the hostel since 8pm reading a book and relaxing.

 Classic Heather here in Spain: climbs stairs enough to take a picture, then casually heads back down.

Classic Heather here in Spain: climbs stairs enough to take a picture, then casually heads back down.

The emotional (or mental) limitation of thinking you are too old to travel is bondage that you allow to hold you back from doing what you really want. Ultimately, who cares if people in your hostel think you’re too old to be there? Who cares if they judge you? You aren’t traveling for them. Will you really let their opinion keep you from something you dream about? You don’t even know them! Find the confidence to know you deserve everything you want in life, and then go out and do it.

I’ve also heard of very young travelers being nervous to travel alone as young women. My opinion is that you need to be sure in your decision. If you’re scared or nervous about traveling, it doesn’t sound like it’s coming from the right place. Be prepared. Be confident. Be sure that yes, you are young, and you’re a woman, which already puts you in hotter water than if you were a man, but you’re not going to let fear of what could happen keep you from going for it.

Be aware when you’re traveling. Don’t take everything at face-value. Question peoples’ intentions. I’m not saying you should be paranoid and fearful. Just be certain in your strength and worth as a person. You’re young, but you know yourself and what you’re capable of. If you feel ready to go do an epic solo-trip in a random country where you don’t even speak the language, then do it. If you’re doubting, or your intuition tells you otherwise, listen, and be patient.

As I said, travelers are travelers for life. Sometimes you need to wait for the right timing before your dreams can come true. But don’t wait forever. You have to pursue what’s important to you in this life, regardless of what other people say you can and can’t do. Travel is an experience that every person should have, no matter what. Especially, no matter how old you are.

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We are a team of four feminist travelers coming together from different parts of the world to share with you what we have learned from traveling, living, loving, and exploring all over the world. Join us and tell your story about female solo travel, relationships, mental health, city guides, or whatever else comes to your mind.

 Writer of this article is Heather, 24, co-founder of the Female Travel Collective.  She used to live in California, NYC, and Hawaii, and is currently traveling. Follow her along on her  Instagram !

Writer of this article is Heather, 24, co-founder of the Female Travel Collective.  She used to live in California, NYC, and Hawaii, and is currently traveling. Follow her along on her Instagram!

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