From Sixties girl to ‘silver traveller’: I’m getting my gap year at last

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I AM a Silver Traveller. Let me explain: born and raised in the North East then living in London for more than 20 years, I missed out on the era of ‘gap years’.

When I was young in the Sixties, the nearest we came to those pre- and après-degree trips to the Far East or Australia would be charity work abroad through VSO, or Voluntary Service Overseas.

So, having arrived somewhat surprisingly at retirement all these years later (reasonably) fit and with enough time and resources to travel, I am taking those missed gap years now, trying hard to work through my geographical ‘bucket list’.

Is this the world's oldest backpacker? Aussie Keith Wright, 95, is about to take off on his eighth backpacking  trip around Europe.  The no-frills traveller from Queensland started backpacking and staying in hostels when his wife died ten years ago and has no plans to stop travelling anytime soon. “I’ve had itchy feet all my life,” said the WW2 veteran. “I'd  always wanted to go to Gallipoli on Anzac Day, so I decided to sell our house and put the extra money towards a holiday. If you are fit and able to travel independently, it is the best way to see as much as of the world as you want.”
Is this the world’s oldest backpacker?
Aussie Keith Wright, 95, is about to take off on his eighth backpacking trip around Europe. The no-frills traveller from Queensland started backpacking and staying in hostels when his wife died ten years ago and has no plans to stop travelling anytime soon. “I’ve had itchy feet all my life,” said the WW2 veteran. “I’d always wanted to go to Gallipoli on Anzac Day, so I decided to sell our house and put the extra money towards a holiday. If you are fit and able to travel independently, it is the best way to see as much as of the world as you want.”

In the Sixties, visiting other countries was not as simple as it is now. Only the rich travelled by air; budget airlines were unknown. A foreign holiday was likely to mean a week in Spain, or a train journey and ferry crossing to France. Even Scotland was adventurous for some of us!

My bucket list includes places which my young self could only dream of visiting. Freedom of time now allows me to access last-minute deals which are too good to miss. “It’s as cheap as staying at home,” a friend said recently, Well, maybe not quite, but certainly not much more expensive.

Years ago, Brits abroad had a reputation for speaking only English – loudly – and behaving like homing pigeons as far as food was concerned, seeking out cafes where English meals were served. Those lucky enough to fly dressed smartly, elegant ladies even wearing hats and gloves to complement their ‘posh frocks’.

Today, things are very different. My fellow travellers display a great variety of ages and dress codes, filing onto planes already dressed for the weather in the country they are visiting. Youthfully exposed bare shoulders and shorts (and that’s just the men!) sit amid family groups and grandparents all sharing the excitement of discovering new places and new faces.

A recent cruise, taking in the Greek Islands and Montenegro, offered not just a week of delicious food and interesting entertainment but the opportunity to visit places I had only ever seen on the atlas. And, best of all, at the end of the holiday, I exchanged email addresses with not only other Silver Travellers but also younger people, from other countries. Invitations to Australia, New Zealand, America and Manchester! Who would have thought, 50 years ago, that new connections and friendships could have been made so easily?

My next trip is to China and Japan, where I will be staying with people I met three years ago. They came to England and stayed with me last year so now it’s time for me to visit them. I’ve been brushing up on Japanese culture and customs and I’m learning such a lot (for instance, I certainly don’t intend to point my chopsticks at anyone or use a tissue more than once).

Am I excited? You bet!

Follow the Galloping Granny’s tales and travels regularly at Voice of the North and get regular updates by subscribing free on our Home page.

Or reply below if you have a gap year story to tell – at ANY age!

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