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’.
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!