How I became the 'creepy old man' on a bus tour

BEN GROUNDWATER
Last updated 09:50, August 22 2014
GETTING TOO OLD FOR THIS? Ben Groundwater (circled), the Creepy Old Man on a European bus tour.

GETTING TOO OLD FOR THIS? Ben Groundwater (circled), the Creepy Old Man on a European bus tour.

So here's the breakdown.

There are 42 passengers on board this Busabout tour of Turkey. Thirty-seven of them are girls. Five are guys. Thirty-eight of them are Australian, three are Americans, and there's one Kiwi.

The average age is about 22. The youngest passenger is 19. The oldest passenger is 34.

IS HE CREEPY? The author, Ben Groundwater.

IS HE CREEPY? The author, Ben Groundwater.

And that's me. The 34-year-old. Aboard a bus with a whole pile of smiling, joyous and occasionally hungover 20-somethings. The only person older than me on this bus is Mustafa, our 55-year-old Turkish driver.

The passenger closest to me in age is a 27-year-old Victorian guy called Nick, who keeps talking about the "old bloke" who was on his Sail Croatia trip a week earlier, and who'd been struggling to keep up with everyone else on board their boat.

It's only after a couple of days that I find out that the "old bloke" Nick is talking about was 32. Ahem.

Despite the age differences, it's still possible to enjoy a trip like this in your 30s.

Despite the age differences, it's still possible to enjoy a trip like this in your 30s.

I met my young travel buddies at a hostel in Istanbul, where we stood around on a warm Turkish morning for a quick headcount before piling onto the bus and beginning our journey to Gallipoli for the tour's first stop.

It's standard on trips like these to get up to the front of the bus on the first day and introduce yourself, and that's when my fellow travellers realised there was a veteran in their midst.

"So," said an American guy called Jeff, turning to me face me in his seat, "you lived through the 80s! What was that like?"

Unlike some of its competitors on the European bus tour market, Busabout isn't officially aimed at any particular age bracket. It's not limited to 18-to-35s – however, with its budget-friendly prices and party-friendly itineraries, it's always going to appeal to the younger end of the traveller scale. (It also appeals to female travellers, with a rough 70-30 split across Busabout's tours.)

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While the company is known for its hop-on, hop-off bus trips around Western Europe, it also offers a few of the more traditional guided tours, although in more alternative destinations like Scandinavia, Croatia, and Turkey. I'm doing the "Aegean Adventure", a six-day trip from Istanbul to Fethiye, taking in Gallipoli, Troy, Ephesus and Pamukkale.

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The question I'll be forced to face over the next week is this: how old is too old to be doing a European bus tour?

I did my first one when I was 17, cruising around Western Europe with Contiki. I did not feel old then. I spent a season working for Topdeck when I was 25. I did not feel old then either.

Now, however, I'm clearly the tour's token creepy old man. Every tour has one, just the way every hostel dorm has one. And if you don't know who it is, it's probably you.

I've quickly realised, however, that there are benefits to being the grand old man of the Busabout tour. For example, no one seems game to sit next to me on the bus, which means I've got a whole double seat to myself. I'm also the inevitable champion of the drinking game of truth, "Never Have I Ever", purely because I'm so old that I've already done everything.

"Never have I ever... thrown up in a taxi," one of the guys says.

Glug, glug. I shrug. "I'm old. I've done stuff."

But this tour ain't all drinking games and confessions. It's actually surprisingly sedate for a bus full of 41 young travellers (and one old one). Plenty of the passengers here have either just finished one of Busabout's Sail Croatia trips, or they're about to begin a Sail Turkey – both of which seem fairly party-heavy adventures – and are treating this tour as down time for cultural advancement.

We begin that education with an afternoon exploring the historic sights of Gallipoli. The next day we're passing through the ruins of Troy and Pergamum, before spending day three in the ancient Greek city of Ephesus. So far, so sedate.

It's not until night three that the drinking games come out and this old guy is eventually forced to introduce the kids to a new term, "smoke-bombing", which involves discreetly going upstairs and passing out in your room without saying goodnight.

"You know, I've never had a hangover in my life," says a bright-eyed 20-year-old the next morning as I roll myself down to the breakfast room and lay my head on the table.

Truth is though, I'm not too old for this stuff. Not by a long shot. And nor is any other 34-year-old with a thirst for adventure (and beer).

By day five we're going tubing down a river and having a mud bath in beautiful Saklikent Gorge. Now that I can handle. And on our final night we're hanging out at a great hostel in the coastal town of Fethiye, dancing in the downstairs nightclub and eating kebabs on the pavement at dawn.

I might have lived through the 80s, but I still know how to have fun.

The writer travelled as a guest of Busabout.

TRIP NOTES

Busabout's six-day Aegean Adventure tour costs about $840 per person, and includes all transport with a guide, five nights accommodation, five breakfasts, a tour of Gallipoli, and entrance into Troy and Pergamum. See busabout.com

Would you join a tour traditionally done by young travellers even if you're over 30? Have you been a young traveller that had a 'creepy old man' on your tour? Post your stories below.

 - Sydney Morning Herald

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