“Sorry to hear you’re leaving” a well intended colleague said in passing. She was bouncing with energy and enthusiasm. She had far too much of both for 8 a.m. on a Monday morning.
“Oh I’m not leaving, I’ll be back in a few months, I’m going travelling,” I announce proudly, trying hard not to look too smug.
A crinkled brow of confusion appears on her usually wrinkle free features. I can clearly hear the cogs whirring in her brain.
“Not twenty one? I know,” I interject as I see her mouth puckering towards the pouty O shape that forewarns me she’s about to declare the word “Old”.
Instead she quickly amends her choice of words; “Ooh exciting. Who are you going with?”
“My man!” Again a sense of smug contentment wells up inside me. My Man; never ‘my boyfriend’, or ‘the other half’. As pointed out by my young companion; I am not twenty one, so ‘boyfriend’ doesn’t work. Equally, we are not halves of one whole. Occasionally ‘my partner’. ‘My fella’, if I’m feeling jaunty.
Another “Oh” escapes her lips, and the crinkled brow grows into a crevice of consternation;
“Not twenty one either? No, I know,” I finish for her. I’m intrigued by the frown; if the furrow deepens any more she’ll be permanently scarred surely? Annoyingly her youthful forehead springs back into the flawless crinkle free feature it was five minutes earlier. She politely ploughs on;
“How interesting! Where are you off to?”
“South East Asia” I reply, instantly going to that fuzzy, happy place in my brain that consists of generic white sandy Thai beaches, the distant rhythmic pulsing of electronic music, the feeling of sun kissed skin and the mellowness only replicated by a cocktail or three.
The frown was back, tinged with an ounce of concern, “I think you’re very brave going back packing….” She trailed off, omitting the “at your age” I was sure she was thinking. Very wise. And off she skipped to work.
“We’re not backpacking, we’re travelling” I declare, to myself, suddenly alone in the middle of a busy hospital corridor. Is there a difference I ask inwardly? Is it just a term used interchangeably, or is there a subtle yet important difference? Sure I’m taking the slightly crusty backpack I lugged around Australia when I was twenty one. Yet I have been enviously coveting My Man’s ‘luggage system’ he bought home from some swanky travel shop in The City after what was clearly a particularly busy days’ work in the office. Not only does it have wheels and an extendable handle, it has hidden straps so it can be hoisted up and carried like a backpack, with a removable smaller day bag, useful for any occasion. How very practical, I think.
Perhaps that’s the difference? Recognising that there’s a slightly more comfortable, slightly more civilised way of experiencing the ‘back packer trail’ and being privileged enough to be able to achieve it. I’m in my thirties, certainly not old but not young anymore either; I have been clubbing this month, but I have also enjoyed an early night after a bath too. My Man however is truly entrenched in middle-aged-ness. Does this mean we, as a not twenty something couple, can simply not, physically or mentally, have as a fulfilling and life enhancing experience as our younger globetrotting companions? I’m not convinced. After all, we are actually going aren’t we? We’re actually doing what plenty of others just day dream about.
Of course there is an opposite reaction to that displayed by my young colleague.
“You? In a hostel? You must be joking! Obviously you’re going to be in hotels swanking it round the exclusive resorts for the entire winter, you lucky buggers”.
This tends to be thrown towards My Man more than me, followed by back slaps and hearty guffaws. Clearly I’m more easily visualised in some grubby dormitory than my city slicker fella. These masculine insinuations and flirtations about our financial arrangements for the trip are often in my experience followed up by the ladies in the group asking, “Do you not have children then?” Why are people so willing to project their preconceptions onto others? Sometimes I make up obscure answers simply to baffle them. A guilty pleasure to combat the annoyance caused by their rudeness.
Is age a barrier to our adventure, to our potential enjoyment? Why is it that everyone else apart from us seems to think it noteworthy? True we have perhaps had more opportunities to raise the ‘readies’ than the stereotypical twenty something heading off for some mind altering, “totally awesome” trip around the well-trodden South East Asia loop. But does that mean we won’t enjoy or get the same pleasure out of our experience? Or perhaps we’ll get there and thank our lucky stars we’re not bedding up in some bed bug ridden bunk house and can splash out on crisp white linen sheets in a hotel room with air conditioning. Perhaps we’ll discover we find the scurry of cockroaches in the skirting comforting and shun the personality-lacking, characterless, ‘same the world over’ hotel rooms. Being exposed to both and deciding for myself is precisely the reason I’m going.
Travelling, backpacking, holidaying. Call it what you will. I’m going wandering, and it’s already making me happy just wondering about it.