The first time I traveled to Asia, I was 19 years old. In my mind I was a grown up. In people’s eyes, I was probably still a little brat. But there was something that felt so grown up about traveling to Asia by myself for the first time. I had only heard good things about Southeast Asia and that it was relatively safe to travel there, so I packed my bags and went. It was 2 months of fun, exciting, new things each day and I met so many people in my own age whom I bonded with.
Flash forward 6 years and I was heading back to Asia once again, but this time a bit older. I was worried that I’d be feeling lonely since I knew that many people considered Southeast Asia to cater for a “younger crowd”, meaning people who are 25 and younger. I didn’t have any problems with hanging out with people younger than me. I was just worried about how I would be perceived as – a 27 solo female traveler who had just quit her job. I felt like a walking cliché, but an old one.
Some of the reasons why Southeast Asia might be considered a destination for younger travelers might be because it’s deemed as safe, it’s incredibly affordable, it’s so developed in terms of tourism that you won’t have any trouble finding accommodation or signs in English that will guide you to the nearest restaurant. In other words, Southeast Asia is a safe destination where you can get very far on a shoestring budget.
I started off my journey in Hanoi and checked in to one of the cheapest and most social hostels. I was really nervous. All kinds of thoughts flew around my mind: “Will I be okey? Will I meet any friends or even like-minded people? Will I be the oldest person traveling solo?”, and much more. I went in with very low expectations and I got one of my fondest travel memories.
Vietnam turned out to be a destination for not only young travelers but for people from all over the globe, young, old, male, female, traveling solo, with partner, friends, kids, and the list just goes on and on! Although you won’t be meeting a lot of kids families in hostels, I was still surprised by the diversity of people I met in hostels. I quickly found out that I wasn’t the oldest person and that even if I was – what does it even matter? The people I met were all travelers and everyone had a common goal – to experience Vietnam and have fun.
The more I traveled in Vietnam, the more I realized how popular it’s become. Gone are the days when only the hippies were here and created what we now call the “Banana Pancake Trail”. Instead, you have the entire world in one country. What’s so good about Vietnam as well is that it’s so diverse, in every single aspect. For example, you can choose to go eat at low budget restaurants or even holes in the walls places, or you can opt for a more luxurious meal. You have the cheap hostels and the 5 star resorts, all in one place. And then you have all the fun activities spread out across the country: why not go surfing, canoeing, swimming, diving, snorkeling, take cooking classes or learn how to kite surf? You won’t be bored in Vietnam, that’s for sure.
After traveling around for a months time, I had gotten friends from Colombia, Holland, Canada and Australia, to name a few. Each had their own story and each of them were between 20-30 years old. As I became more comfortable traveling, I stopped taking notice of how old someone was. That’s the beauty of traveling – you get a limited time with a person and instead of thinking of all the differences, you bond over what you have in common.
So, is Vietnam a destination for only younger travelers? It definitely isn’t. It’s a destination for all. You’ll meet people with all kinds of backgrounds and none of them will care about how old you are. I remember I met a woman who was almost 40 year old and she had decided that now was the perfect time for her to go to Asia. And that’s what she did. I asked her if age never bothered her, if she never felt misplaced amongst all the youngsters. After thinking for it for a while, she just told me: “Age doesn’t define you, it doesn’t decide who is mature or not. Age is simply a number which tells us how many years we’ve existed on Earth.” And after that, I never let age bother me. It is, after all, just a number.