Until recently, my age – I am 33 (gasp!) – and my social status – I am married (double gasp!) – has never been an issue. While traveling through South East Asia, I met a number of young people and older (you can call me old I suppose) people. We shared stories alike as backpacker peers.
Such is not the case in Australia.
In Australia, staying at a hostel as a 33 year old feels more like being the guy that just never graduated from college. The younger guys tell stories about ‘the old guy’ and glance at you from behind their beers.
Indeed, staying at a hostel in Australia is more like being in a college fraternity than a professional business establishment. Actually, I doubt fraternities were this much fun due to the occasional requirement of actually going to class.
In this environment, being 33 years old is a real liability. This point was driven home last night over beers with a handful of barely 20 something Germans who had yet to see the inside of a university lecture hall but clearly understood the concept of a keg party.
We talked about the prices in Australia before they asked the question they clearly were dying to ask: “So how old ARE you exactly?”.
I told them and they nodded. I secretly suspected that money was exchanging hands under the table as they settled the “How old is the Canadian?” betting pool. we kept chatting before heading across the street to a bar called the Cheeky Monkey – a drunk tank made out like a hill billy shack if ever there was one – for our one free beer and potential entertainment from Amateur Male Strip Hour.
I didn’t mind the question at all to be honest. It’s kinda fun hanging out with the young gang again in their natural intoxicated environment. But it lead me to two questions.
Where are all the older backpackers in Australia? And, in reverse, where were all the young backpacker in South East Asia?
The first question I can’t answer yet. Maybe they just aren’t hanging out in Byron Bay which is silly because Byron Bay is a beautiful place to hang out. Or maybe there really aren’t many older long term travelers. Or, more likely, they are out there but just don’t like the idea of sharing a dorm with other partying 20 somethings and are paying either more for a hotel room or have a rented campervan.
The second question I can partially answer. There are many young people in Asia but they are spread out. And in some ways of a much different mindset it seems than their Australian comrades. Notable exceptions are Vang Vieng Laos (a town that thrives on cheap alcohol and water activities) and some of the Thai islands and their “Full Moon Festivals”.
Age has never been an issue worth discussing with any of my fellow backpackers until I arrived in Australia. Here, being old clearly means you don’t fraternize in the Hostel circuit. In South East Asia, age was never a dividing line. I’m not sure I completely understand the forces that create the two strikingly different scenes yet but it is certainly a fascinating one to walk back and forth across.