Why I’m backpacking around the world at 72

Geraldine in Thailand. Photo: Supplied Image
Geraldine in Thailand. Photo: Supplied Image

When I retired at 65, I bought a one-way ticket to Bangkok, packed a rucksack and waved goodbye to my family. I had no plans, I just knew I wanted to travel. Seven years later, I'm still travelling the world.

So far I've visited 50 countries, from the completely unspoilt Myanmar to the magical, photogenic Czech Republic – all a far cry from my native Essex.

Geraldine in Thailand. Photo: Supplied Image

Geraldine in Thailand. Photo: Supplied Image

I've hugged elephants in Thailand, shared a happy New Year's Eve with a hostel owner and his family in China, and eaten copious local delicacies – be it ants' eggs in Cambodia or snake in Taiwan. I can't imagine settling down. Until I retired, I'd never dreamed of leaving behind my family for a long holiday, never mind several years.

But after 30 years of slogging away running a hair salon and supporting my three children (now in their 40s) as a single parent, I finally felt free.

I speak to my family regularly on Facebook and WhatsApp, and I keep a blog so they know what I'm up to and where I am. I stay in hostels (because they're cheaper and I'm travelling on a pension) and often blog about the people I meet – you get a real mishmash.

It can be annoying, especially when people roll in at 3am or decide to repack their luggage in the middle of the night, but I like the community vibe and I've learnt to be open-minded.

I once had dinner with a lovely Spanish backpacker in Bangkok who seemed perfectly respectable, but then told me quite matter-of-factly about his love of fetish clubs. I thought it was funny and blogged about it the next morning – but my youngest son called me up, furious.

My eight-year-old granddaughter had been reading about it. "Mother!" he cried, "I can't believe you're writing pornography. I thought you were sightseeing." I really hadn't seen it like that – I have become very accepting.

My most dangerous trip so far was a tour of Kashmir, South Asia, last year. The mountain landscape is dramatic, just like a film set, but it's not the safest place because of terrorism.

I was also harassed a few times by men – it's a very conservative Muslim area and, as a blonde woman on my own, I stood out. I'm only 155cm, but I think of myself as pretty strong. If a man threatens me, I tell him to leave me alone, and I'm prepared to whack him with my camera if he doesn't.

My family long for me to be a normal grandmother to my four grandchildren. I love them dearly but it's not going to happen. We all have the right to realise our dreams – and I still have 101 places to visit including Argentina, to learn the tango. I hope my grandson, now 14, will join me when he's old enough.

When people say, "Don't you think you're a bit old to be doing this?" (as they often do), my answer is always the same: I'm healthy and full of energy. And I don't think anyone should be limited by age.

As told to Laura Silverman.