As a single mother, this is why I’m backpacking around the world at 72

Is it ever too late to hit the road? No, says Geraldine Forster.

Is it ever too late to hit the road? No, says Geraldine Forster.

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.

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.

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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.

Making friends on her travels: Geraldine Forster in Thailand. Photo: Supplied

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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.



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