38 and Travelling — an honest look at ageing, perceptions and personal insights
I recently read an article by NME announcing that the ‘official’ age it was deemed too embarrassing to go clubbing is 37. At 38, it got me thinking…
You see, what society deems as the life of a 38-year-old woman and how I — and many other 38 year olds — choose to live life, has changed. The average backpacker today is just as likely to be an ex-trader or lawyer following burn-out or choosing to design a life on his or her own terms, as it is the recent graduate looking to go on a jolly for 12 months. I have never been one to pay too much attention to my age and certainly not let age dictate what I do — until recently!
It seems the way we carry ourselves and live our lives gives more of an indication as to our years than how we look. It is because I don’t live the life society believes I should be living, that most people don’t realise my age at all. You may think this is a good thing, right? But it’s not entirely. Recently, I sat sipping cocktails at the marina in Port Douglas, Australia. A couple at the table had recently taken early retirement and embarked on a tour of Australia. Their travel companions were on holiday for a few weeks. I replied to their question, one I get often: “Are you on holiday and how long are you here for?” with my usual response: “I left London 13 months ago and I’ll be here until I feel I should be somewhere else.” I went on to say that many people seem uncomfortable with my current view of life and living in the moment; that I am often asked questions I don’t have answers to: How long? When? Where? What next? “Well, how old are you?” someone asked in a tone that suggested “yeah, yeah, you’re still young enough to not have commitments”. When I responded “38,” they were stunned into silence. From the look on their faces, I read their minds: I was too old to have such a relaxed look on life and far too young to enjoy such freedom and location independence that only a retirement should reward me with. The conversation ended rather awkwardly.
Travelling around Australia was the first time I became really conscious of my age. I started to become uncomfortable about being 38. Mainly because people always think I am younger and when they find out, their perception changes. When fellow travellers asked, “Are you travelling on a working visa?” it was a constant reminder that I am way passed the age to qualify. My lifestyle and mind-set suggest a younger woman so an awkward encounter often ensued when I was asked my age. I began to dread the question. Not because a younger age would mean I am more fun, more open, more energetic, less serious, more capable of living a life on my own terms. Hell, I could out-party a lot of twenty-somethings I know. But because I am a woman nearing 40 not complying with the lifestyle, mind-set, and way of being that society says I should.
I started to become more and more conscious of age. I watched tour groups on Fraser Island and realised I didn’t fit in with the rowdy 18 year olds nor the bland groups of older couples and retirees. I avoided hostels because I didn’t want to be judged as too old to be there. I never felt almost 40 or any of the pressures that entailed, until now. I started using terms like ‘more age appropriate’ until a friend asked “Errrr… when have you ever worried about being age appropriate?” She was right, I hadn’t!
I always thought I didn’t factor age into my day to day life. I didn’t worry about a biological clock ticking, retirement, being single at 38, or having the next 30 years mapped out. I certainly didn’t consider whether I was an age deemed too embarrassing to go clubbing. So, why now?
It suddenly dawned on me — I too believed the conditioning of society. My internal dialogue was telling me that at 38, I was supposed to be behaving in a certain way. With this realisation I had one response — I chose to think otherwise. While many have assumptions about how we should behave at different ages and stages of life, that doesn’t mean we have to lose who we are. One of the benefits of growing older is giving less of a shit about what people think about us. Whilst I’m not suggesting casting off all responsibilities and growing old disgracefully, life choices should not be defined by the number of years you have been on the planet. I have never done things when I was expected to do them — I did things in my own time, when I felt like it.
Time is a concept many of us feel threatened by. We’re worried that we haven’t got enough or bored by having too much. Age is merely time and whether we are old is relative to how much time we have here — something most of us don’t know — so fuck it, go clubbing! If you’re not embarrassed, who cares what everyone else thinks and people will probably think you are younger for it anyway.
If this post resonates, I’d love to hear! I am currently on a mission to create inspiring group travel experiences for solo women — www.wanderah.com