I really should title this post “What it feels like to be the Old Fart in the room” because in some of the hostels where we stayed in South America, that’s what I felt I was: the Old Fart. It was such a shock to feel that way.
Age is a tricky thing. I feel young and fit but there are definitely crow’s feet around my eyes and yes, I color my hair – highlights only, I swear. My boobs and belly show signs of having carried and fed two children. I’m carrying a little more post-40 weight on my hips than I like. But none of this was a problem before I left Seattle. In fact, then I was was feeling pretty good for 40.
The disdain with which a 20-something backpacker regarded me across the living room in our hostel in Peru was humbling. It was pretty clear that the presence of 40-somethings-with-kids was decidedly not OK in her worldview of a backpacking trip. Even though she likely didn’t even realize it, her eyes glowered: “Oh God! It’s like having my parents here!”. I can’t fault her. I’m not sure if I, at 20, would have been any different.
The age profile of backpackers we met in South America was early twenties to mid thirties. I think we met one other person who had cracked the 40 barrier. In some places we were older than the hostel-owners.
Before our trip, I had thought that hosteling with kids could be difficult – because of the kids. We prepared our boys by staying in hostels on a family trip to Ireland. It turns out that once my boys have a bed, a space to lounge in and internet/wifi they don’t really care whether we’re in a hotel, a hostel or a tree-house. Curiously, the younger backpackers didn’t seem to mind our kids at all. I think they didn’t notice they were there unless, of course, CAM or BigB was hogging a shared computer.
It took me a while to process the feeling (guilt?) that I was raining on someone else’s parade. We met so many other great people – older and younger – who found the novelty of a family traveling as we are too intriguing to dismiss. We met teachers from Australia, couples from the US, the UK, Holland and solo travelers such as a cyclist from Spain who was making his way around Argentina. The staff in hostels all over South America – and now in South East Asia – found the way our kids casually dropped their packs and made themselves at home a hoot. If a younger backpacker has a problem with us being in “their” space, I’m now comfortable to call that their baggage, not mine.
Hosteling at 40 is different. We avoid the “great atmosphere” (aka party central) hostels. We prefer to be a little out of the main tourist area for peace and quiet. We need either a four-bed dorm or a hostel with plenty of lounging space – in gardens, courtyards of living rooms – to give us some modicum of personal space. I’m OK with shared bathrooms but seriously, who would choose to argue with a tween boy in a public corridor about why he needs to take a shower if a room with a private bath is available for only a few extra dollars?
Coming up soon: Five Survival Tips For Hosteling At 40 – With Kids!