Gear UP! and GO!

People often ask me what kind of gear they should take traveling.

For those of us, like me who settled down – established a career, got married, had a child, and got divorced – all before I was 30,  the answer to this question might be different than for those of you just graduating university.  Two of my friends, uber fit sixty-year-olds, cycled Vietnam last year yet two other sixty-year-old friends countered my suggestion to visit Africa with “Why are you going there? We couldn’t possibly go where there aren’t any 5-star hotels!”  (BTW plenty of five-star hotels exist in Africa)

Destinations, activities and fitness levels, and personal preferences determine the best gear for any adult – whether twenty-something or sixty-something.  Your individual unique process of journeying through a lifetime will be different than mine.  This uniqueness renders impossible a single recommendation for any one group, regardless of age.  Hundreds of websites, books, and travel companies feature adventure, volunteer, and educational experiences target the Under-30 Gap-Year Group but an abundance of similar opportunities exist for the Over-50 Crowd.

Incorporating references to age (50-Plus, Senior, Elder) fabulous itineraries are featured for travelers older than 50, once considered the “almost dead” eager-to-be-grandparents crowd.  Camel safaris in Morocco, walking safaris in Botswana, kayaking Haida Gwaii, hiking the Andes, whitewater rafting in Costa Rica, summiting Kili, bow-and-arrow hunting with Tanzanian Bushmen, or navigating the Australian Outback with aboriginals are no longer the domain of under-30’s having a last hurrah before settling down.  These excursion feature large-or-small group tours or allow travelers to design customized activities and private travel adventure.  And your entire travel time doesn’t need to include organized tours – refresh your life with a little ad hoc travel time.

The question regarding best gear for the older travel masks the real issue, that nagging doubt hovering over us all:  as my body ages, will it allow me to enjoy the same pursuits, with the same fervour?  Intellectually, the older traveller benefits from accumulated experiential wisdom – the successes and the failures.  Yet, ultimately most will encounter physical limitations, incipient and subtle or developed and debilitating.   To minimize this eventuality:                                                                                                                        

 1.    Challenge yourself.  Acknowledge your age but refuse to let it impose limits.

  • At 25, I became a Commerical Pilot.
  • At 37, I became SCUBA Dive-Master.
  • At 38, I moved to Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula to work as a dive master and to study the Maya.
  • I celebrated my 40th birthday eating freshly killed armadillo with a Mopan Maya family in their modest, dirt-floored, thatch-roofed, rough-hewn timber home in the Maya Mountains of Belize.  (I don’t eat meat or fish anymore but…this meal was not the reason!)
  • At 47, I trekked Peru’s 4-day Inca Trail and kayaked Ontario white water.
  • At 48, I bumped along a 5-day solo camel safari in Tanzania (well, that is to say, me as the only traveler + 2 Masai camel herders, 1 Chagga guide, and 1 Meru chef).
  • At 53, I zip-lined. (Totally loved this – did it again in Mexico and in Alaska)
  • At 59, I penetrated one of Vietnam’s Karst formation caves, headlight strapped to my forehead, slipping through a mud-filled cave to the destination event: a real mud bath in a mud pool 3′ deep x 15′ wide.

2.     Diversify.  Travel to a new destination at least once per year.  The destination need not be exotic.  If you haven’t visited the Field Museum in Chicago – go there!

I’ve enjoyed a chinwag with New Guinean Headhunters who repeatedly emphasized that they no longer hunted heads (this actually made more concerned than if the subject hadn’t been mentioned).  In Mexico & Belize I’ve lived with the Maya in their modest homes.  In Kenya, I’ve stayed overnight in a Masai boma with Mom, daughter, a baby cow, and one sick goat.   One year, my husband & I coupled a trip to Italy with Rwanda.  A colleague of his quipped “Well, you’d better visit Italy first because you’re gonna’ die in Rwanda.”  In fact, Rwanda was breathtakingly beautiful and the people warm & welcoming.  Dian Fossey’s Mountain Gorilla excursion was a highlight of my life…  but we were robbed in Italy.

3.      Exercise daily. Hike in nearby conservation areas or city park lands.  Walk – anywhere and everywhere.   If you’re watching television, work-out on a stationary bike (get one with a heart rate monitor) or lift weights.

4.     Maintain positive emotional health. Focus upon dreams not regrets.

Delete emails sent by well-meaning friends commiserating the plight of old age.   Choose to admire those fulfilling their passions, regardless of age.  My personal favourites: my flight student who raised four children, then at age 53 successfully pursued a university education, obtained her private pilot license, and became a published author  – or another 53-year-old who took a leave of absence from her to job to spend six months travelling 19 countries, spurred by a 53-year-old friend who was healthy one day but in a coma the next – or my 89-year-old father-in-law who skis more than 75 days per year, zipping gracefully down steep mountain slopes.

So what gear do I, an Over-50, select?  I haven’t made any real changes to my original gear but use updated versions of longtime favourites. Here are my must haves:

backpack: Swayed by the ergonomics of recent designs, I’m searching for my fourth backpack.   The purchase always seems imminent yet I can’t seem to discard my durable 17-year-old Kelty, covered with dozens of country badges, any more than I could abandon a lover I still loved. (Note: see my previous blog News from the backpack)

sarong/pashmina:  lightweight cotton sarong transforms to towel, beach skirt, shawl and/or head covering in warm climates and a pashmina for warmth, headgear and shawl in culturally sensitive cooler regions.

clothing: Opt for layering and colour coordination.  Select primarily taupe and black that don’t reveal every indiscretion and mix’n’match easily.  I use a colourful pashmina or sarong to glamorize my beige hiking skirt for special evenings out.  I pack only long-sleeved shirts – roll them up in hot weather, button them up for warmth or modesty.

footwear:  On most trips I take more foot gear than shirts…this takes up a lot of backpack space but I need hiking boots with reinforced soles to protect against being stabbed by an unexpected thorn or shard of broken glass or to enable me to walk across uneven terrain or fields that may have snakes; cheap rubber flip-flops for showering or just for sliding into footwear quickly; adventure-style sandals with closed-toes that go anywhere; and lightweight dress sandals for evening.  (Note: wear hiking boots on the airplane as they consume too much space in your backpack.)

At nineteen, I admired the alluring beauty of a 30-year-old friend, hoping-against-hope that I would look as good when I became “old like her”.   Today, at sixty, I‘m twice as old as I ever expected to be.. I’m healthier and happier than when I was 30.  My Kelty’s almost geared up to go to Chile’s Atacama Desert, Patagonia, and Tierra del Fuego – and I’m planning my next adventure to experience the “People of the Forest” aka Borneo’s orangutans!

Think of the journey of your life this way: You have nothing to fear but fear itself.