Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Traveling the Age Gap

I'm almost 40. I've traveled every year of my life, as the baby, the kid, the teen and the young adult. Then I became a traveling 30-something who still took risks but much more calculated ones than my 20 year-old counterpart; I still slept in cheap bamboo huts, took the bus and did most of my laundry by hand but splurged on a resort from time to time. My style of traveling changed through the years but I still hung out with the younger crowd as much as with a considerably older crowd and everything in between. The point seemed not to seek out people of my own age, but people who shared my passion.

But my world traveling view was shifted in Thailand two months ago. I'm still not sure if it's because I look older, act older or if travel style has changed radically in the younger generations, but for the first time I felt a sharp dividing line between myself and the gap year kids. Yes they have lots of tattoos and piercings but I think that's kind of cool. They drink a lot and so do I on occasion. Actually I don't care much what they do - if they're in Thailand and appreciating and enjoying the culture we should have something in common.

But the dividing line wasn't drawn by me. On a jungle path I pass a very young couple - we are the only people in any direction for maybe a kilometer but they avert their gaze to avoid saying hello. I say "hi," they don't answer. At a bus stop I'm surrounded by two or three converging groups of young travelers going to Krabi, they all chat with each other but I am invisible. I try to say something to join the conversation and they avoid answering. They're a clique that's never met and I'm already the geek. Soon I start noticing that the places I stay are mostly devoid of people under 30 and, although I hate to admit it, this makes me happy. When I do stay at places filled with 20 year-olds they bang doors and make noise all night keeping me awake; they avert eye-contact and make it impossible to make friends.

For a while I thought maybe I just looked like an extreme dork. It's true that a near-40 year-old woman traveling alone is culturally weird to lots of people but I'm gregarious enough to get past that. And these late-teens to early-twenties travelers aren't hanging out with anyone over 25, let alone the severely over the hill like me.

Luckily, my confidence issues were finally put to rest on Ko Phi Phi. I found this great place to stay (Phi Phi Hill) at the far end of Hat Yao. As my (28 year-old) friend and I were walking up the steps we passed a couple who were probably in their early 30s and I asked them how the place was.

"It's great!" the guy said. "No 20 year-olds."


  1. Hahaha weird... I'm a 20-year old sth and I don't avoid older people but maybe it's not the majority... Hopefully!

  2. And I thank you! No it's definitely not everyone, just this band of people who like they could be cast on Twilight and sort of act like they already have been. Maybe the attitude is location specific?

  3. Great post, Celeste! I, at 66, occasionally think of the age gap, and don't care to pay it much heed. I try to put myself in places and situations where the sharing of an experience trumps any self- consciousness about age. For me, travel's been a great way to do this. I'm seldom aware of being any different from those I travel with, even though I may be 20, 30 or more years older (or, for that matter, sometimes younger).

  4. Yes that's the attitude! I never really thought about the age gap before this trip either. The beauty of travel is that it is ageless and lets us meet so many different types of people we might not hang out with in everyday life. Barriers should be crumbled, not built.

  5. Yes, I realized that some parts of Phi Phi no longer had appeal when, late one night I found myself there enjoying a drink on the sands with friends but annoyed by the blasting techno music and irked by the sight of drunken Scandinavian teens vomiting in the sea. "Moving on!" I thought. So good tip on the 'no 20s' bungalow, thanks!

    Yes, it's all about the passion, not the age. Great post!

  6. Lana, yeah I think Ko Phi Phi is the place where the divide is the greatest and it's too bad. But, I agree: vomiting in the ocean isn't very appealing to watch or participate in, so let them have it!

  7. The topic of your post alone proves that you are at once young at heart, open, and have learned some things along your path! Very sweet post! Traveling is so great because it exposes everything about us. I love that, at the core, international travel has nothing to do with what we do for a living but only who we are.

  8. As a 20-something, I can vouch that you're super cool to hang out with, so those young'uns are missing out!

  9. Thanks Haley! I also doubt can't imagine you keeping me awake by vomiting Red Bull and whiskey at 3am next to my bungalow. In fact, traveling with you last week is the perfect example of how age doesn't matter at all!



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