Lets be real, there is no magic age at which you officially become too old for backpacking. The lure of cheap stays and new friends will stay with you well into middle age and beyond, but at some point you will come to realise that it might be time to retire your dusty backpack for a lightweight wheelie case.
You could be 20 when it happens. You could be 65. There are entire families who are still backpacking, so it could be a while. But there are warning signs, and these are the ten big ones to watch for. As soon as you notice these, I dare you to upgrade yourself at least to a private room.
YOU COMPLAIN ABOUT THE NOISE
Hostels are noisy places. That’s just a fact of traveling. Often set on noisy streets, right in the middle of the party zone of whatever major city you happen to be in. Your dorm mates will probably be the kind who stay up late, wandering in at some ungodly hour of the morning. Or on the flip side, they’ll be the ones rustling endless plastic bags at 5am. When sleeping through the night becomes your biggest priority, it might be time to give up the cheap sleeps.
YOU REALISE YOUR DORM BUDDIES WERE BORN AFTER YOU LEFT HIGH SCHOOL
I know, I know. I said that there was no age at which you become officially too old for this crap. Still, when you’re swapping life stories and the best they’ve got is “I just finished my uni entrance exams” it might be time to consider moving on. I find it difficult to maintain conversations with kids who think Nirvana is retro.
YOU’RE OVER TALKING TO PEOPLE
If you do it right, backpacking is as much about the people you meet as it is about the places you explore. However, if you’re like me and find yourself getting more and more introverted as you get older the constant swapping of stories with new people is plain exhausting. Now that I have quit hostels and traded dorm beds for guest houses and luxury hotels I find myself just wanting to be left alone to enjoy my surroundings in peace.
LONG BUS RIDE? NO THANKS
There are varying degrees of dread when it comes to the overnight bus ride. When I was 20 and broke, I faced it with disdain and the knowledge that one day I wouldn’t have to do it. Now that I’m in my 30s and can afford the alternative, I face them with an feeling of actual death. I would rather die than take an overnight anything, but especially a bus. The heat, the clanking, the squishiness, the smells. No thanks.
YOU ARE STARTING TO SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF
Things are bound to go wrong when you’re traveling. I have lost count of the things that have gone wrong for me; from getting dengue fever in Vietnam, to losing my passport in Thailand. When you travel on a budget, those things seem to happen more often. When this ceases to be fun, it might be time to invest in an upgrade.
YOU ARE HAVING MORE OFF DAYS THAN ON
I remember when I was in my 20s, and some weeks looked like I was drinking for Australia. There are years where I can count on one hand the number of alcohol free days I had. It got so bad my friends almost staged an intervention. Or they would have if they had sobered up for long enough. Every now and then though, I would go drink free for a day just to prove I could. When it started taking me two days to get over a hangover I decided it was time to cut back, and with that decision I also upgrade my travel stays. Ten years later, and I think the last hostel bar I was in was in Scotland in 2014. And that was only because I knew the bartender.
YOU’RE OBSESSED WITH DOING LAUNDRY
If you can’t turn your undies inside out and re-wear them, you’re too old for backpacking.
YOU HAVE BECOME OBSESSED WITH PRE-BOOKING EVERYTHING
If you have ever pulled out a spreadsheet to map out your travel plans or booked every hostel and every transfer and even a few meals weeks before your trip then maybe backpacking isn’t your thing. And if you’re this person, then maybe it never was.
THERE IS NO CREEPY OLD GUY IN YOUR DORM
You know the rule. On any given night, there is always a creepy old guy in every dorm in the the world. If there isn’t one in yours… Well, sorry.