I love highlighting reader stories. I want people to realize that they aren’t weird or crazy and that lots of people from all different walks of life spend time traveling the world. One of the most common questions I get from people older than me is “Do you ever see people my age do this?” Too many people think the kind of travel I encourage is only for young people. But I’ve seen a lot of older couples on the road, and today’s reader story is from Jeff, who at 50, along with his wife, sold everything and went on a trip around the world.
Nomadic Matt: Welcome Jeff! Tell everyone about yourself.
Jeff: I’m currently 53 years young, living in Houston, TX, and married to my lovely wife, Tamara. I was raised as a Navy brat, so I got used to traveling very young. Our two biggest moves took us to Hawaii for three years, and Athens, Greece, for two years. After settling in Alexandria, VA, I went to Virginia Tech before heading off to the world of corporate America for 27 years. My wife and I travel frequently (no kids) and enjoy seeing mostly different places each time. Our first “big” trip together was soon after Priceline was started. In early 2000 we bid $300 for round-trip tickets to Paris, France — and got them! A week later, we were engaged at the top of the Eiffel Tower.
What inspired your big trip?
For my 50th birthday in 2009, my wife planned a surprise trip for us to Easter Island and Torres del Paine in far southern Patagonia, Chile. That trip was in October 2009, and it triggered our RTW trip. Once back home in our normal lives in November, I came home from a run one evening and said, “lets do it.” We had NO plans for such a trip, but we knew we had the means. After some contemplative itinerary planning with a huge world map on our kitchen table, we made the call to the airline’s “special” RTW office to cash in our frequent flier miles.
It was mid-November, we’d just purchased two RTW plane tickets, and we were leaving on January 15, 2010. In two months. That was when the serious trip planning began, including the creation of our travel blog.
Where did you go on your trip?
We went around South America, Europe, China, Southeast Asia, and Egypt.
Did you feel that being 50 was a hindrance in any way?
No way! Age was never a concern. We might have used the age-old phrase “do it while we’re young” in talking about it (to encourage ourselves!), but it was not a hurdle in our planning or going or the experience. We’re both very active to begin with, and during our almost-year of traveling we had little more than one or two minor “stomach issues” for a few days.
Did your friends and family think you were crazy?
They didn’t seriously think we were “crazy,” but when we first told them they were shocked. I had been in my corporate job for 16 years and am clearly the more conservative of the two of us. Imagine saying (or hearing), “we’re quitting our jobs, putting all our ‘stuff’ in storage, renting out our house, giving our two cats away (for the trip), and cashing in all our frequent flier miles for two round-the-world plane tickets!” It’s a mouthful to just say, but almost everyone ended up shifting from thinking “crazy” to excited, thrilled, jealous, encouraging, and anxious to follow us along the way online.
How did you save money for your trip?
We both had good-paying jobs for years, we’re both rather averse to debt (none beyond our mortgage, which was paid by our renters), and we’ve always made sure to save. We’ve always traveled, but never consciously planned long-term for a big RTW trip. I think it was perhaps because I turned 50 that we sort of backed into making the decision to go round the world (kind of a “lets do it” revelation) after a spectacular two-week trip to South America.
What was your travel style? Were you staying in hostels, guesthouses, hotels?
All of the above, and more. With a lot of saved up frequent flier miles and consolidated credit card miles for the same airline, our six primary RTW flights were business class. Some were real sweet, while some ended up being little more than coach, but it was all good. That was the fanciest part of the whole trip, and we sometimes did look forward to the airport lounges. But we lived out of our backpacks the entire time. Sometimes I’m sure we looked out of place in the front of the plane with our hiking boots and t-shirts, but it was fun being up there at the time.
A lot of older couples and people feel that round-the-world trips and backpacking are for young people. What would you say to them?
I understand and have heard that, but age is just a number. There are ALL ranges of ages traveling all over and around the world. We’ve seen several people older than us hiking up and down the mountains of New Zealand, there were all ages climbing up Mt. Sinai to see that sunrise, and there were all types carrying just backpacks through airports and bus and train stations. It’s a cliché, but you’re not getting any younger, so just go for it. You don’t have to plan to go all the way around the world in one trip either. Start your adventure small and let it grow from there. My wife got a t-shirt somewhere on the road that says, “If you don’t go, you won’t have a story.”
Did you have any fears about your trip?
We didn’t plan much in advance to go round the world, even though we had verbalized it from time to time, so there wasn’t too much time for fear. Besides, for years now we’ve tried to abide by a “No Fear” rule, which we reminded ourselves of as we were booking the tickets. My wife is better at this than me, but we’re pretty good overall. We just needed to get plans in place for all the logistics of the way we were taking our trip: furniture storage, house renting, what to do with two cats, stopping and redirecting mail, how to file taxes, and other generally mindless stuff that you don’t think about. Oh, and quitting our jobs! The not-so-mindless stuff like “what will you put in a backpack to live with for the next year?” was actually a bit easy. We had to get some shots, and visas too (and some medicines just in case), but in those two months of real planning, the excitement and countdown far outweighed any fear.
What was the biggest thing you learned from your trip?
Take your time. Go slower. Become more immersed in the new and different. We saw parts of 65+ cities in 22 countries in just nine months. There are no regrets about what we experienced, but we moved too much. We did get a little tired near the end, and came home earlier than we planned in our original itinerary. Our coming home early was an intended surprise to some at the time, and we were happy to be back when we got here, but it was not long after we got back that we wished we had stayed on the road!
Another lesson is that there’s a huge traveler network all over that is generally very willing to share their dos and don’ts and their experiences.
What did you do when you got back? Was it a big adjustment?
Not living out of a backpack or catching a plane/train/bus in the next week was an adjustment. After about four months home, my wife returned to her consulting work, but I have not returned to corporate work (by our choice). I did get a part-time job for about six months last year, but we’re fortunate enough to be able to live off one salary. My not working gives us the highly desirable flexibility to do things more easily for long weekends, or a week here and there as we wish. One of those things high on our list is traveling again, sometime in 2014. We’ve got our bucket list of places we’ve not yet seen, so now we just need to pack up again, and go!
What advice would you give to people looking to do something similar?
The three pieces of advice I would give would be:
- Don’t worry about language — Even if someone doesn’t speak your language, in the end it’s not terribly difficult to get by with just pointing.
- Don’t be afraid of staying in hostels — Most have the option of private rooms, the prices are almost always cheaper — and the employees are generally very friendly and knowledgeable travelers.
- Don’t be afraid of change — If you have to, or just want to, doing something you hadn’t originally planned could very well end up being a highlight of your travels.
Jeff and his wife show that long-term travel is not just for the young but also for the young at heart. The tips and advice on this website are ageless. It doesn’t matter how old you are, once you get to Paris, we all face the same costs. And I like how Jeff and his wife stayed in hostels too. I love seeing older travelers in hostels — they have such wonderful travel tales, and I like seeing people push back against the belief that hostels are just for the young.
So if you are thinking to yourself “I’d love to travel the world but I’m too old for that budget/backpacker thing,” let this story convince you otherwise and inspire you to travel.
Become the Next Success Story
One of my favorite parts about this job is hearing people’s travel stories. They inspire me, but more importantly, they also inspire you. I travel a certain way but there are many ways to fund your trips and travel the world. I hope these stories show you that there is more than one way to travel, and that it is within your grasp to reach your travel goals. Here’s another example of people who made traveling the world a priority a little later in life:
We all come from different places, but we all have one thing in common: we all want to travel more.
Make today the day you take one step closer to traveling — whether it is buying a guidebook, booking a hostel, creating an itinerary, or going all the way and buying a plane ticket.
Remember, tomorrow may never come, so don’t wait.