Backpacking must surely be the most popular travel style for intrepid adventurers under 30. It provides freedom on a budget and the opportunity to explore the world. As backpacking often involves a fair bit of compromise when it comes to luxury, it is the perfect way for a young, broke adventurer to travel.
However, not all hostel hoppers fit into this limited box. As travel becomes more accessible socially, physically and financially for people of all ages, there is a new kind of backpacker gracing dorm rooms.
Here to tell us all about it is Geraldine Forster, the Backpacker Granny who refuses to “stay at home to gather dust”. At 75 years of age, Geraldine has been travelling the globe continuously, ever since she retired ten years ago. How is that for #travelgoals?!
After reading our article on whether you should go backpacking at 50, Geraldine reached out and offered us an insight into her life as a Backpacker Granny. We caught up with her to get the lowdown on everything from budget travel on a pension to life lessons learnt on the road.
Where did your love of travel stem from?
I would say that I was born a Nomad, most probably inherited from the genes of my prehistoric ancestors! I have always loved travel and am only happy when I am on the road visiting new places and experiencing new adventures.
What made you take the plunge and start travelling once you reached retirement age?
I started travelling when I was in my twenties. The only difference was that once I reached retirement, I was jobless and free to explore the world full time!
Where have your travels taken you so far?
I have been to over fifty countries all over Asia, Oceania, North America, Central America, Europe. Believe me when I say I have absolutely no intention of stopping yet!
How do your family and friends feel about your travels?
My family is in total agreement with the way I live my life and most of my good friends wish they could join me! Sometimes I organise group tours for my friends and other older ladies so they can accompany me on a trip to some exotic place.
What would you say are the biggest obstacles that you face as an older person travelling?
I haven’t found any obstacles as an older person travelling. On the contrary, I find being older a great advantage. People are more considerate, extremely respectful and generally very interested in chatting to me and finding out more about my life.
I spend a lot of time with the younger backpackers and sometimes I even join them to travel to another part of the world for a while. This is great fun as I love the backpacker kids and really enjoy their company.
How easy is it to manage your finances when you travel on a pension?
Fortunately, there are many countries that are much cheaper than the western world. What I save in these countries, I can then splash out a little in the more expensive places.
What type of resources do you use to help you stick to your budget?
I belong to Couchsurfing, but in all honesty, I haven’t used it. I have heard a few daunting stories, so I am a bit cautious. I do believe in safety at all costs.
I also use hostelworld or Booking.com, both of which have always worked out well for me. When it’s available, I stay in the female-specific dorms where I can make new friends easily. It works out much cheaper for a little old Backpacker Granny like me!
What are your favourite type of activities to do during your travels?
I enjoy interacting with the locals and learning about the culture and customs of the country I am in. Naturally, I go to visit the highlights of the destination too. Food is my passion so trying the local cuisine is a must for me!
I take many photos which I enjoy sharing with my friends and family back home on my blog. We live on a beautiful planet and for me to be able to explore, discover and live every day in a new place, I feel truly honoured and blessed.
What made you want to start a blog and what do you say to older people who are reluctant to embrace technology?
Gosh, I can’t even remember when I started writing my blog! I personally love technology and love to learn more and more. YouTube is one of my best teachers. I have created my WordPress blog with the help of videos and reading on Google. This helps me to install all the latest updates.
I don’t decry anyone who refuses to embrace technology though. At the end of the day, we are all different. I love it but that doesn’t mean to say that everyone else should too.
What is it about solo travel that you love?
This is the easiest of all the questions: freedom! Freedom to go where I want and when I want. Freedom to chat to who I want. Freedom to be me, always.
What kind of reaction do you get from the younger backpackers?
I meet many age groups backpacking. Age is not something that bothers me at all and I only ever get very positive vibes from the younger travellers.
Usually, they say, “I hope I am like you at your age,” to which I normally reply, “What do you mean at my age?! LOL!” We all have a great laugh and hey ho away we go.
How do you choose your destinations?
I read a lot about different places, and when somewhere calls my attention, I begin to start my research. If I think it is a must-visit destination, I say yes! So, I just book a train or a boat or a plane and off I go!
What is your favourite place in Asia and why?
Japan is my favourite place in all of Asia. The people are wonderful, the food is to die for, the culture is awesome and the scenery is beyond beautiful. It’s without a doubt, the cleanest and most organised country I have ever visited. Japan ticks every single box for me.
What is the biggest life lesson that travel has taught you?
I have learnt that I am very privileged to have been born in a world where I have never really wanted for anything. I have also realised how little I appreciate what I have compared to others who have practically nothing. I see children playing with a piece of paper in a puddle and the joy on their little faces is incredible, especially when compared to other children screaming because they don’t have the latest iPad!
I have learnt that because I have more, it doesn’t make me more important than others, and neither am I less important that those who have more than me. Above all, I have learnt that I should always be kind and respectful to every person I meet along my journey.
What would you tell other people who want to travel but are scared to make the leap, regardless of their age?
I would tell reluctant travellers that fear should never stop us from fulfilling our dreams. Nothing is ever a bad as our imagination leads us to believe. Just do it! Start with small steps, go to somewhere near your country and then gradually go further afield.
What is next for the Backpacker Granny?!
I am taking a group of ladies to Japan in November and after that, I am toying with the idea of backpacking South America. But who knows, I will go where the mood takes me when the time comes!
Sheree is the awkward British wanderluster behind Winging The World, a blog designed to show that even the most useless of us can travel. Follow Sheree’s adventures as she blunders around the globe, falling into squat toilets, getting into cars with machete men and running away from angry peacocks. In recent years, Sheree has also taken on the role of editor at South East Asia Backpacker.