“Too Old To Backpack, Too Young To Caravan…”

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There are two types of traveller in this world – those who are too young to appreciate being on the road and those who are too old to enjoy it.

I like to think my girlfriend and I are an exotic anomaly amongst the nomadic fraternity. We are travellers and we are in our thirties; outliers of the global trend.

Backpacking duo extraordinaire

Unlike university gap year students, we realise that trekking half way across the globe to merely get drunk and go bungee jumping is a complete waste of a journey. Unlike bucket list ticking retirees, we see the value in leaving a hotel room for reasons other than going on an organised tour.

Thirtysomethings like us simply do not ‘travel’. Epic voyages of self discovery are the stuff of daydreams when saddled with career ambitions and mortgages and children. Chances are that if you ever meet a thirtysomething on temporary leave from his or her home nation then it’s due to a holiday or business trip or wedding or bereavement.

Pure chillaxation

Thankfully, my girlfriend and I are lucky enough to have gotten as far as our middle years unhindered by mortgage commitments, permanent jobs or a desire to procreate – but our wants and needs are otherwise not too dissimilar to that of your average thirtysomething.

We both enjoy a degree of comfort and soundproofing at our accommodation. Decent local cuisine is important. Every time we have a conversation with a native, we’re secretly wondering whether it can be turned in to a dinner party anecdote.

Stomping on wine

The biggest downside to being a thirtysomething traveller is that there aren’t enough other thirtysomething travellers to sustain a travel industry pitched at a thirtysomething demographic. Thirtysomething travellers have limited options when it comes to the basics.

When my girlfriend and I started on this 15 month expedition across the globe, I was surprised to find out how badly the thirtysomething market niche is catered for. Unlike gap year students, we’re picky about sleeping on just any old cum stained dorm mattress. Unlike retirees, our budget often prohibits us from splashing out on the alternatives.

Quality Inn

Sometimes, when staying in hostels, I would lie awake at night (having been stirred from my slumber by bursts of acoustic guitar emanating from the corridor interspersed with choruses of Wonderwall sung in a Home Counties accent), formulating business plans for a chain of lodgings that openly discriminates against customers wearing skinny jeans and/or a pork pie hat.

It’s not just the lack of hygiene younger travellers are willing to put up with that puts me off sharing hostels with them, it’s the tedious posturing that inevitably occurs in a building full of people all trying to shag each other.

Shithouse

Like wise, when paying extra to stay in plusher surroundings, I die a little inside every time a senior sightseer tries to snare me in conversation about camera lenses or electoral boundary reform. There is very little in the way of cultural enlightenment to be had in a discussion with someone whose entire travel itinerary is centred around visiting all the major landmarks without the inconvenience of having to engage with the locals.

And so as thirtysomething backpackers, my girlfriend and I are stuck between two worlds – one which demands us to be carefree and another which thrives on a fear of the unknown.

A new adventure

Throw in to that awkward juxtaposition our uniquely thirtysomething desire for an authentic cultural experience, and you’ll begin to understand the difficult balance we try to strike each and every time we set off on a new adventure…

 

 

 

Decline

It was the final stretch of our 15 month journey across the world. The only thing separating us from our humdrum thirtysomething lives in London was a 10,000 kilometre road trip through the most desolate wildernesses of Australia.

Endless road

I look back over our time on the road and wonder whether it has accelerated the rate at which my girlfriend and I are ageing. We have seen so many things, met so many people, eaten so many weird animals and learnt swear words in so many different languages – it is impossible for all that experience not to have ground down our youthful exuberance to some degree.

Because age is not just a physical process, it is a state of mind. As the days go by, I cannot help but be increasingly irritated by The Guardian, Michael Bay films and the non-literal use of the word ‘literally’.

Wheeling along Sydney Harbour Bridge

And so, on one sunny afternoon wheeling along Sydney Harbour Bridge, I agreed with my girlfriend’s suggestion to hire a motorhome to see us through the last leg of our journey.

The decision was not taken lightly. There is (in Britain, at least) a stereotype of the aged traveller: caravan owners. Misanthropes whose idea of a fun vacation revolves around getting rained on in the Brecon Beacons whilst clearing air locks from the plumbing of a chemical toilet. These people are preprogrammed to feel uneasy in any social interaction that takes place outside their own living room. They are holding back the human race from putting aside its differences and conquering Outer Space, preferring instead to seek solace in the comments section of the Daily Mail website.

Overlooking Sydney Opera House

I had always thought I’d die in a rock and roll blitz of whiskey and cocaine long before ever being tempted to hire a caravan – but there I was, staring at the iconic Opera House, giving it some serious thought. The mere fact that I was having such thoughts served as a sombre reminder that yet another little part of my youth had bitten the dust. How much further would I be willing to let myself slide on the fuddy duddy scale before the trip was over?

Sunset motorhome

But a motorhome is not a caravan, is it? It’s a motorhome. Motorhomes have a single corridor connecting the front cockpit to the rear living quarters, whereas a caravan is an entirely separate entity to the vehicle that is towing it, I convinced myself. Besides, we didn’t have enough money left in the budget to rent anything with its own onboard chemical toilet.

The 8,000 kilometre route took us from Adelaide on the south coast, directly through Australia’s red centre and up to tropical Darwin on the tip of the Northern Territory. From there, we turned south west, tracing the shoreline all the way down to Perth.

Road trip map

Before setting off, we stocked up on essentials – dry goods, washing powder, sunscreen and the all important emergency survival kit (consisting of three bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon, a Shiraz, a Merlot, three Verdelho, one sparkling Verdelho, two Riesling, an unoaked Chardonnay, a Shiraz Cabernet Merlot blend, a Grenache Shiraz blend, two bottles of a Grenache Shiraz Mourvèdre blend, a straight Mourvèdre, a Savagnin, a Grenache, a Chambourcin, a Montepulciano, a Touriga, a Sagrantino, a Fiano and a half bottle of Muscat).

Wine selection

It wasn’t until we were finally on the road that we realised we’d forgotten to pick up any Sauvignon Blanc. Concerns about the availability of cool climate wines in the heart of the Outback however paled in comparison to fears of barrel rolling in to a ditch.

Our motorhome was slow and lumbering. It creaked as the rear end flumped over the speed bump on the way out of the car park.

Grumpy driver

I remembered my first ever car at the age of 18 – a buttercup yellow Fiat Punto that effortlessly curved its svelte European chassis through the traffic logjams of Manchester city centre. Now, as I entered this new phase of my life where motorhome rental is considered acceptable, I struggled to keep my hulking derrière from colliding with anything within a 20 metre radius.

My ambition to grow old gracefully had never felt more remote…

Unsexy motorhome

 

 

 

The End Is Nigh

The Outback was a barren sort of place. From every angle there were reminders that death eventually comes to us all. Everything looked either dead or dying.

Nothing lives

Seemingly infinite miles of scraggly vegetation wavered between beige and browny beige. Every now and again we passed a splattered kangaroo corpse on the roadside. Apparently it’s touch and go as to who will come off worse in a collision between a kangaroo and a vehicle, which probably explains the mangled cars that are just left to rot in the desert too.

Mangled car

And then there were the flies… oh God, the flies…

Now I know what it must feel like to star in a Red Nose Day appeal. Australian flies seem to in no way be affected by insect repellent. They swarm in gangs of about 40 or 50, and are attracted specifically to the moisture secreted through nostrils, mouths and ear canals. Face nets became the only way to keep them out of our orifices.

Face net fun

Like all small insects, flies need water and a food source to survive. Out here they feast on roadkill. It is, as Elton John once said to Simba the Lion, “the circle of life, and the wheel of fortune.” The old adage that travel keeps you feeling young is certainly not true when you are surrounded by mortality.

Aussie graves

Mornings were spent deciding which brand of granola to eat for breakfast. Evenings were spent sitting in the back of the motorhome watching illegally downloaded HBO box-sets on my laptop. These seemed like suitably thirtysomething distractions to take our minds off the inevitable.

Bowl 'o' granola

Over time I actually began to find the back of our little motorhome quite comfortable. The mattress was thick, the pillows were fluffy, there was a small ledge either side of the bed on which to rest our glasses of Chambourcin.

The back of the motorhome

Maintaining the motorhome was like a game. Each time we pitched camp, we raced through the electricity and water hook up routine in the fastest possible time. Stacking groceries in the tiny fridge was a bit like Tetris. Judging how much fuel to put in the tank to get us to the next, potentially cheaper, roadhouse was essentially a high stakes life or death gamble.

Extreme fridge stacking

I wonder how my younger self would have coped in the same situation – when my imagination was supple and could leap like a bird, or a gibbon – and I had not yet realised that the only way to come to terms with the mind numbing dullness of life’s many chores is to turn those chores in to a competitive routine.

I imagine the younger me would have run out of petrol once, been towed to the nearest town at enormous expense, and then realised that it’d have been cheaper to just fill the tank up to full at the last petrol station. The younger me would have let a lot of his food go mouldy because he didn’t know how to plan multiple meals in advance. The younger me would not have had the foresight to buy a portable fan to compensate for the lack of air conditioning at night.

Motorhome in the rubble

But also, the younger me would have brought along twice as much booze (all of it weak beer, but who needs taste when you’ve got volume, right?). The younger me would have already found out what the absolute top speed of the motorhome is. The younger me would not have a girlfriend that sighs every time he puts Led Zeppelin on the stereo.

There are advantages to travelling when you are young. Prudence is not one of them…

Dead kangaroo

 

 

 

Going Underground

I was pleased to discover that the scenery in Australia’s Outback is not spectacular enough to have become the highlight of our road trip – ‘pleased’ in the sense that it was concrete evidence I have not yet reached the stage of my life where it could be reasonably thought the main reason for getting an Australian tourist visa is to stare at rock formations.

Wine at Uluru

Some of what we saw was literally (in the literal sense of the word ‘literally’) breath taking – iconic locations like Uluru and the Pinnacles, for example – but still, my main memories from each episode tend to centre more around the getting to and from each scenic outpost rather than what actually happened when we got there.

One such particularly non-scenic stopover occurred in the opal mining town of Coober Pedy. Here we met Tallis Georgiou, a man whose job it is to dig for precious gemstones.

Tallis in the mine

“I used to be a chef,” said Tallis. “Before that I ran a motel.”

Tallis’s mining credentials didn’t exactly quell my concerns that the roof could cave in at any moment. My girlfriend and I were not on a squeaky clean sanitised tour depicting Australian mining life – we were deep underground in a real life working opal mine.

“But I’m 68 now,” said Tallis. “I moved to Coober Pedy about nine years ago. This is the biggest opal mine in Australia, and I’ve been digging it every day for the last five years.”

Inside the mine

In a battered old pickup truck, we plunged further and further in to a pitch black warren of tunnels Tallis had quite literally (as in ‘literally’ literally) carved out by hand. We screeched to a halt next to a Bobcat digger sitting in an ankle deep trough of mine dust.

Tallis's Bobcat

The Bobcat was clearly a one person vehicle only. “OK, you guys hop in the scoop at the front. I’ll take the driving seat,” said Tallis.

He handed me a small plastic chair to sit on. It rocked back and forth on the uneven scoop floor. With a splutter of dirt and diesel fumes, he twisted the ignition key. Our teeth chattered with the vibrations of the engine.

Sitting on the Bobcat scoop

And so we spent the next hour thundering through the mine whilst clinging on to the scoop for dear life. The path ahead was lit by a solitary front facing spotlight on the roof of the vehicle. Every ounce of my being was summoned to avoid falling underneath the wheels.

“You see this tunnel here?” said Tallis, pointing towards a dark gouge in the wall. “I had to stop digging there because the roof became unstable. One day I’ll be able to get to the opal behind it by digging through from the other direction, but for the time being all my mining has been over on the other side of the claim.”

Tallis in the driving seat

A laissez-faire perspective on health and safety is a hallmark of the older generation. It’s not that Tallis’s flamboyant attitude towards potential catastrophe was irrational (having already accepted the risks of entering a working mine, the difference between being crushed to death by a collapsed roof vs being crushed to death by a construction vehicle is immaterial in the grand scheme of things), but nonetheless it is a rarity amongst modern society’s current crop of rule makers. For cotton wool millennials like my girlfriend and I, it was quite refreshing to have a sense of adventure prioritised over our physical wellbeing.

Covered in mine dust

Tallis pointed out a whole host of other rock features, all of which looked indistinguishable to our untrained eyes. “I guess if you’ve never been down here before you could quite easily lose your way and get stuck for days,” he quipped from behind the steering wheel. “Of course, I dug all this out, so I know where we’re going.”

He seemed to enjoy us hanging on to his every word. I imagine imparting one’s knowledge to the uninformed is quite gratifying when you’ve got the experience to back it up.

Tallis digs

“Mining is a good hobby now I’ve retired, but if you don’t treat it like a business it’ll come back to bite you,” said Tallis.

“We sell most of the opals to the Chinese, and obviously the market price goes up and down, so you have to know when to stop digging. You have to know when it’s no longer worth digging in one particular direction and when to start digging in another. Look at this hole, for example,” he said, pointing out a particularly smooth shaft with daylight poking through the far end.

Smooth shaft

“I made that hole with a blower – a big machine that can shift in a day what would take me months by hand – but it costs $300 a day in jet fuel to use. After I dug that hole I decided to abandon using the blower and instead rely on my Bobcat digger, which uses $30 of fuel every ten days. It’s slower but the overall costs are less. You can spend a whole lot of money mining for opal, but if there’s no opal at the end of it, you’ll go broke.

“I was the first person in Coober Pedy to start mining using just the Bobcat. Since then I’ve converted about 20 other old timers to my way of doing things. It helped me put nine kids through university and secure their futures.”

Tallis digs

I admired Tallis’s attitude towards retirement. His approach was simple – slow and steady wins the race – it was enough to dig him a bigger, more bad ass opal mine than anyone else in town. He embodied the kind of acumen that comes only from years of having tried alternative approaches, and after 68 years of finding out the hard way, he was still unafraid to challenge the younger, leaner and keener miners on the Coober Pedy opal scene with his own neat ideas on how to operate more efficiently.

“On a good year you can make $220,000,” he chuckled. “On a bad year it could be $20,000. It all depends. You could get lucky.”

Tallis had never given up on that youthful dream that one day he might accidentally strike it rich. He powered down the Bobcat next to a small plastic table illuminated by a solitary beam of sunlight creeping through the ceiling.

Scene of the tea party

“Fancy a cuppa?” he asked. “I’m sorry, I don’t have any milk,” he added, as if anticipating a typically British thirtysomething expectation of chilled dairy products available on demand at all times. The kettle boiled.

“The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea,” said Tallis. “In a beautiful pea-green boat… they took some honey, and plenty of money, wrapped up in a five-pound note. The Owl looked up to the stars above, and sang to a small guitar: ‘O lovely Pussy! O Pussy, my love, what a beautiful Pussy you are, you are, you are! What a beautiful Pussy you are!”

Tallis continued for two more verses.

Close up Bobcat

“That’s another one of my other hobbies,” he said. “Poetry. I have a knack for remembering it.”

“Cool,” I responded.

“I also love The Man From Snowy River. Do you know The Man From Snowy River? It’s a famous Australian poem,” said Tallis. We didn’t have time to answer.

“There was movement at the station, for the word had passed around. That the colt from old Regret had got away, and had joined the wild bush horses—he was worth a thousand pound…”

Twelve and a half verses later, he finished.

Tallis makes tea

“So do you do many tours down here?” I asked, sipping on my black sugary brew.

“Oh no,” he smiled. “Lots of people want to, but it gets in the way of doing what I love, which is digging the mine. You guys are alright though.”

“Thank you very much,” I smiled back, satisfied that my girlfriend and I had bagged yet another solid dinner party anecdote.

“Byron is another one of my favourites,” said Tallis. “She walks in beauty, like the night of cloudless climes and starry skies. And all that’s best of dark and bright, meet in her aspect and her eyes. Thus mellow’d to that tender light which heaven to gaudy day denies…”

Down here in the mine, away from the stinking heat and flies that plague the surface world, Tallis seemed content with all he had achieved. I envied him for it…

Escape from the mine

 

 

 

Rebirth

They say the day you realise you’re no longer young is the day you realise you’re older than all the pop stars and professional footballers. My first ‘senior moment’ came when we met the 24-year-old pilot of the six-seater Cessna due to fly us over the Bungle Bungle Ranges.

Young pilots

It’s not that I doubted her competency at keeping us safe in the air, of course, it was merely an additional unsettling factor when sitting in an aircraft that has shafts of light poking through the joining sections of the fuselage.

“This is my first flight, actually,” chirruped her co-pilot.

“No kidding?” I chirruped back. She spent most of the ride texting on her smartphone.

There is something deeply jarring about the idea of dismissing young people simply because they are young. It goes against the notion of merit over status, a concept I swore never to abandon many, many moons ago. Still, on the day of the flight, whilst staring out the aeroplane window, my mind was entirely preoccupied by fiery balls of death. I’m pretty sure I’d have been more focussed on the scenery had our pilot had wrinklier skin.

Scary flight

We had made it to the half way point in the road trip. Australia’s northern coast – the ‘Top End’ – seemed much like the desolate interior of the continent, except that it was bursting with life.

There are fewer chances to gawp at death and decay here because within minutes of something dying it is invariably smothered by new life. The prevalence of water seems to be the main reason for this. We arrived at the tail end of the rainy season, where eco-growth is at its most ferocious.

Sam and the giant termite mound

The impact on our motorhome routine was palpable. Every evening, before locking up, the inside of the van was caked in insects, many longer than an index finger. The Top End is home to a fair chunk of the planet’s deadliest species, so rather than gently ushering the bugs out the window with an upturned wine glass, we opted for grislier endings.

My girlfriend became particularly skilled at the nightly executions – cornering victims with a washing up liquid spray and then smashing them to pieces with the heel end of a flip flop. It was enough to earn her the nickname ‘Killer’ for the rest of the journey.

Toilet frog

During daylight hours, keeping bugs out of our Merlot meant holding a palm over the rim of the glass at all times. In toilets, we were often greeted by tree frogs that’d made their homes in the bowl. Once, in Wyndham, we had to share the kitchen with a donkey.

Kitchen donkey

Showering became pointless. Within seconds of drying off we were covered in a thin layer of sweat. We began to smell.

Wearing anything more than just underpants whilst sitting in the motorhome was a real challenge. I had thought it just our weak British constitutions that prevented us from combining clothing with the stifling humidity, but I was proven very wrong at a campsite in Daly Waters where I accidentally caught a glimpse of a man that looked a lot like Larry David, leaning out the front door of his trailer, wearing only a pair of Dr Martens boots.

In Darwin, we forked out for a hotel room with air conditioning and perfectly preserved 1970s furnishings. It made me feel bad for Dan and Oonagh, the twentysomething Irish couple we met in a campsite kitchen in Alice Springs ten days earlier. They told us their budget only stretched to sleeping in a tent for extent of their road trip, meaning that by the time they made it up here, that tent would be an unbearable torrid mess.

Jellyfish

This is corner of Australia is no less harsh than the arid interior. Even the water – the very thing that enables life to exist here at all – offers no salvation because the rivers are full of crocodiles and the sea is full of killer jellyfish.

Regular readers of this blog will know of my love for overly protracted imagery. Travelling through Australia’s Top End is a lot like being young, insofar as most of the time is spent covered in an unpleasant bodily fluid of some sort. The climate is a great leveller. It is impossible to be glamorous, comfortable or to appear dignified. Everybody looks like shit, irrespective of natural beauty, because of Mother Nature’s determination to screw with your body in the most unpleasant of ways.

Ask anyone who’s been to the Top End and they’ll probably make a huge deal out of this aspect of their visit. To me, that misses the point – what’s remarkable about the Top End is not the abundance of eco-growth; it’s the plants, animals and insects that survive for longer than all the others around them.

Cashew ants

Early years are hazardous years. Death is not expected whilst young, but it is (statistically speaking) more likely than ever. This is no surprise when the vast majority of the world around you has the potential to be lethal. Inexperience can have disastrous consequences. You never know when you’re going to be smashed to pieces by the heel of my girlfriend’s flip flop.

As a thirtysomething traveller, I am somewhat glad to have made it out of the Top End in tact. Having rallied so vociferously against Mother Nature for so long, I feel all the more wise for it.

Wisdom personified

So why trust a youngster to keep an aeroplane in the air when they haven’t even yet finished tackling the gauntlet of youth? This question is perhaps the most infuriating of all to whippersnappers with big ideas and bold ambitions, which is why I felt guilty for thinking it.

Still, I breathed a sigh of relief when our flight over the Bungle Bungle Ranges landed safely…

Back on the runway

 

 

 

The Road Warrior

“People like me are called ‘Grey Nomads’ in Australia,” said Len.

We had met him about an hour earlier when trying to clear an airlock in the plumbing of the motorhome’s onboard sink unit. Len had very generously offered to lend us his hosepipe connector to flood the pipes. As a reward, we offered him a glass of Sagrantino.

“I retired about ten years ago, sold my house, my car, pretty much everything. And then I bought this.” He pointed towards a custom built mega truck designed to trample over the bleakest of terrain.

Len's truck

“So now I spend about nine months of every year travelling across the country. I sell photographs to keep me going, and then for the other three months I usually pick up some light work somewhere to see me through the tourist season.

“I’ve made so many friends since I went on the road,” said Len. “A couple of years ago I made it out to Canada, actually, visiting some guys I met over in Queensland. They put me up for a few weeks and we got to travel round the country.”

Len was the master of his own destiny. Through the eyes of a thirtysomething backpacker, he had come full circle and achieved the dream. No longer restricted by mortgages or careers or children, he had broken free from the shackles of adulthood. He was tough enough and wise enough to be able to endure all the world can throw at him. He understood the need to keep adventuring, whatever the cost.

Len

Len did not leave comments under articles on the Daily Mail website. He was not a British caravan owner. He was a Grey Nomad, an Australian road warrior…

 

 

 

Valhalla

We had made it 18 kilometres away from Coral Bay and towards Perth before realising my wheelchair was nowhere to be seen in the back of the motorhome. We found it sitting alone in a car park in Coral Bay about thirty minutes later.

Lone wheelchair

Forgetfulness is one of those things that only ever gets worse with age, isn’t it? Perhaps fatigue can be blamed for the wheelchair mishap. By this point we were on the final leg of the final country of our 15 month backpacking adventure across the world. It was the beginning of the tourist season, when the kids are off school for Easter, and the campsite was brimming over with motorhomes.

Lobsters

Of all the places we’d stopped so far on the journey, Coral Bay seemed the most idyllic. The waters were calm, crystal clear and filled with the densest coral reef of any ocean in the world. We went swimming with sea turtles. There were a handful of small reef sharks to watch out for in the water too, but apparently they only attack you if you attack them, we were told.

My girlfriend and I also went deep sea fishing, which at the time seemed like an extraordinarily sedentary activity for young pups like us, but turned out to be a hobby I reckon I could get in to.

Bloody fish

Later that evening, whilst rearranging the fridge to fit in our catch of three Blue-Line Snapper and five Chinaman Cod, a head poked round the side door of the motorhome.

“I reckon I could help you,” said a rather eager thirtysomething mother from the plot situated diagonally across from ours. “We’ve got a huge fridge and freezer in our camp. There’s loads of room. Just put your fish in there and then you can come and get it back whenever you want.”

“Oh, that’s very kind of you,” said Killer.

A freckly fair haired boy of about twelve came and wrapped his arms around mum. She smiled. “Say hello Angus.”

“Hello,” said Angus.

“Hello Angus,” we waved back.

“It’s beautiful here, isn’t it?” said Angus’s mum.

“Absolutely,” I said.

“You’re lucky you got a plot. We try to book our space for the Easter weekend about two years in advance at this campsite. But we come here every year, and Angus and my husband and the four other boys just love it, don’t you, Darl?”

It occurred to me at this point in the conversation that over the preceding 15 months my girlfriend and I had averaged no longer than four days in a single location. Angus and his mum had returned to the same spot, at the same time of year, every year, and planned to keep on returning forever more. They were stability and predictability personified – the enemies of adventure, the anti-backpackers, everything my girlfriend and I had spent 15 months trying to escape. But still, they seemed happy.

Dog eats fish head

Later that night, whilst sitting in the back of the motorhome, straining to hear the dialogue of the penultimate episode of The Sopranos emanating from my laptop due to the din coming from outside (Angus’s teenage brother with an acoustic guitar singing Wonderwall in an Australian accent), I realised that I already know what kind of old person I will be.

The older me will think that all new music sounds like noise. I will be confused by fashion and dismissive of innovation. I will be less tolerant and less wise, but convinced that I am more tolerant and wise than ever. I will be harder to impress, I will be fussier and I will be fatter. When I see Clare Balding on TV, I might give it more than two seconds before switching over.

Sunset Sam

How much further on the fuddy duddy scale I am willing to let myself slide is unimportant. A trajectory has been established. All the character flaws accrued between the day I was born to this very moment will be exacerbated by several orders of magnitude. I now know what form my fuddy duddyness will take, even though I don’t yet know how extreme that fuddy duddyness will be.

Did I need to spend 15 months backpacking around the world to figure all this out? Probably not.

Back 'o' the motorhome

Perhaps 50 years of hindsight will make a fool of me. Perhaps one day I will look back at my thirties and chastise myself for not having lived it more sensibly.

Perhaps I will think to myself – in another lifetime, if my girlfriend and I had been born within three hours drive of Paradise, like Angus’s mum, then we too might never have spent our thirties travelling around the world. Perhaps we could have saddled ourselves with mortgages and career ambitions and children instead. Perhaps our humdrum thirtysomething lives in London were to blame for 15 months of dead space that could have better been filled by adequate fridge space, down payments, promotions and the pitter-patter of tiny feet.

Motorhome shadow

Perhaps, when I begin to think these things, I will be a Grey Nomad road warrior like Len, a king of my own castle like Tallis, or a curmudgeonly caravan owner that tries to take the best of both approaches and ends up with none of the benefits. Equally possible is that I will achieve none of these three outcomes, and instead meet a grisly early end underneath the wheels of a bus.

Lonely motorhome

But I very much doubt that my girlfriend and I will ever have any regrets about spending our thirties backpacking. We were neither too young to appreciate being on the road, or too old to enjoy it. We had a portable fan to compensate for the lack of air conditioning, a glass of above average Grenache, enough dinner party anecdotes to last several lifetimes, and a feeling that all is right with the world.

To thirtysomethings like us, there is no greater fulfillment in life than that.

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