The Unexpected Benefits of Being an Old Tourist

Good news for young people: getting old isn’t so bad. You can expect it. I’m not saying there are no cons. Seniors fall off if spinning too fast, get foxed by TikTok and, while easily remembering the name of the Troggs singer (Reg Presley), can forget what we had lunch yesterday.

But on the travel side, which interests us here, the advantages are multiple. They start now, in the spring. Those of us at the end of the summer of our lives can go on vacation right now. School holidays are no longer a hassle, work maybe less of a strain and it’s conceivable that we’ve got a bob or two to spare, taking advantage of spring’s cheaper prices twice over – all without being driven crazy by the someone else’s tots or fry in the foreign summer sun.

Of course, we’ll probably be called back for the funeral – but it’s just a chance to thank our lucky stars, it’s not ours. We can go back to Umbria directly after the buffet.

Maturity has other advantages. These include:

1. Skipping the most advanced kind of adventure vacation – climbing through rainforests, running through deserts, or pretending you care about the cycle of life in Mongolia. “Go ahead”, you will say to the youngest. “I would only hold you back. “Then you do for Florence or Lisbon or anywhere else with decent seating.

2. In the same vein, being able to legitimately refuse the leisure activities favored by those under 40 years old. Backtracking used to mean being a wimp. Today, it’s the wisdom of age—and the hip bones you’ve already replaced once—that keep you from bungee jumping, biking down cliffs, or racing at camel back in Saudi Arabia.

3. The possibility of fooling around with grandchildren because their own parents will deal with the consequences. This can include running, for example, through the streets of a vacation town, hiding around corners and jumping on passers-by. It is an extremely rewarding activity. This will definitely include eating at McDonalds – which you’re supposed to despise, sundaes and all, but absolutely not – at least once, and maybe twice a day, assuming the real parents put off the kids’ diet on track at a later stage.

4. To make your grandkids think you’re awesome, a most rewarding vacation feeling you haven’t felt since your own kids turned nine.

5. Being a mature traveler also means you may care less, if at all, about doing the right thing. You can sleep through the ballet, skip the Archaeological Museum, and tell the Civil War re-enactors what they can do with their pike sticks.

6. You can also shamelessly cut spaghetti with a knife and eat Chinese dishes with a fork. It is a privilege to be old and to have evolved towards serenity. The Italian insistence on twirling lengths on a spoon, and the Chinese requirement that rice be eaten with straight sticks, are stabs at reclaiming ancient cultural superiority. To amuse them over the use of cutlery is condescending to big nations. It also leads to wildly stained shirts in the senior restaurant.

7. Older travelers had time to pick up trace elements of culture. We might dither about the base jump, but we can be counted on to know that, if we’re swimming in the sea off Bulgaria, we’re not in the Mediterranean (a revelation for a colleague I worked with in Preston). Also to respond with confidence when a young American sharing our tour through the Belgian Ardennes asks: “So who was this Hitler?”

8. We don’t complain so much. We have more distant landmarks. Airline food bad? Really? Flying at 500 mph, 35,000 feet, and upset over lasagna? Budget airlines treat passengers like cattle? Come on. In the 1970s, Manchester to Marseille meant six months’ wages – not, as today, twice the price of a cheese sandwich. And, anyway, it’s the passengers who behave like cattle. In my experience, Ryanair staff have all taken a vow of unlimited patience. Entertainment lousy at your chosen vacation spot? Count yourself lucky you never saw Mike and Bernie Winters at the end of a pier. Are there too many tourists in Marbella, Cancun, Langkawi? Oh please. Fifty years ago, aspirations culminated in Bangor and Bognor. Great places, both, but if now we turn to the exotic, it’s because the country is better off. Do you want to bring back poverty to rid these places of visitors for your convenience? (Anyway, if you’re in Marbella, Cancun or Langkawi, you’re part of the problem, not the solution.)

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