A note to the travel industry: Who are you calling 'over the hill'?
I'm over 55, and I'm willing to pay good money to sleep on the floor of a villager's hut. I want the adventure travel industry to take note of this.
The reason behind this outburst is the growing realization that, as I've matured, so to speak, I've slowly dropped out of the target demographic for the travel I love – soft adventures in the developing world.
Soft adventure trips are typically understood as those that require a willingness to sacrifice some creature comforts in pursuit of a purportedly more authentic experience. They contrast with what I suppose would be hard, or physical, adventures – such as high-altitude trekking or mountain climbing.
In practice, they involve staying in accommodations generally understood not to be acceptable to the American traveling public – accepting iffy sanitation arrangements, communicating by hand signals with hosts at home stays, and the like.
This is the travel I love, and this is the travel I've been pursuing since I was first able to afford it.
I've always been vaguely aware of statements lurking in the fine print of catalogs and consumer publications about typical travelers being in the, usually, 18-to-55 age range. Only in the past few years have I realized, with shock, that these statements could have something to do with me.
Certainly not all the companies whose brochures I regularly peruse contain this qualification, and indeed the prices of many almost ensure that their trips will appeal mostly to affluent retirees. I don't believe that any of the companies in question would deny me a place on their trip rosters – business is business, after all – but I chafe at the implication that I would be the grand old lady of the group and should start acting my age.
As someone who attends every travel fair and adds her name to any mailing list with an outside possibility of producing an interesting tour, I probably receive more travel-related material in a period of months than most people do in a lifetime.
But somewhere there is a giant travel database where, along with my preferences (Asia, ethnic encounters), sits my age. About the time I turned 50, I noticed a subtle shift in the character of the materials I received. Brochures for cruise lines started to arrive, in which I could admire images of elegant, silver-haired couples gazing reflectively out to sea.
The second wave seemed to be composed of golfing holidays at upscale resorts, although I have never played more than the odd game of miniature golf.
Clearly the travel industry had decided that it was time for me to move beyond my youthful fascination with initiation ceremonies and open-air plumbing.
Don't get me wrong – it's important to understand the age profile of a particular trip. I don't want to end up with a group of 20-year-olds traveling in a converted truck any more than I would have wanted to when I was their age.
I was once stuck behind just such a group at the Bulgarian-Romanian border, and was grateful for the discernment that had allowed me to avoid such pitfalls.
It's equally true that tour operators have a legitimate interest in assuring that clients are up to the rigors of a particular trip, and they usually have no more than the client's own statement to go on.
Certainly, suggested age ceilings are one way of making travelers seriously contemplate their limitations, but they are very one-size-fits-all. Who says that age is the main indicator of physical fitness?
In the meantime, I plan to continue traveling in the style to which I've become accustomed, as long as I can make it up the hill and over the suspension bridge.
I'm sure I'm not alone. We baby boomers are the spiritual heirs of the hippie trail to Kabul and Katmandu, even if we didn't personally make the trip. We're predicted to change the face of retirement, the health-care system, and the economy itself.
I'm hoping we'll change the preconceptions of the travel industry as well.