The Long Riders' Guild

Irish travel writer Dervla Murphy began travelling in the 1950s. She wrote, “The hardships and poverty of my youth had been a good apprenticeship for this form of travel. I had been brought up to understand that material possessions and physical comfort should never be confused with success, achievement and security”.

In this extract from To Oldly Go: Tales of Intrepid Travel by the Over-60s, Dervla Murphy, now 83, explains why her age and lack of reliance on social media make it easier to explore adventurous destinations.

“In the travellers’ world, social media have enlarged the generation gap. The internet has brought a change in the very concept of travel as a process taking one away from the familiar into the unknown. Now the familiar is not left behind and the unknown has become familiar before one leaves home.

Unpredictability – to my generation, the salt that gave travelling its savour – seems unnecessary if not downright irritating to many of the young. The sunset challenge – where to sleep? – has been banished by the ease of booking into a hostel or organised campsite with street-plan provided by the internet. Moreover, relatives and friends evidently expect regular reassurance about the traveller’s precise location and welfare – and vice versa, the traveller needing to know that all is well back home.

Notoriously, dependence on instant communication with distant family and friends is known to stunt the development of self-reliance. Perhaps this is why, among younger travellers, one notices a new timidity. It worries me to hear youngsters muttering uneasily: “I don’t think we can go there, we can’t speak the language.” In pre-web days, serious travellers didn’t allow those limits to determine destinations.

We knew that on the practical level, sign-language is adequate. If you’re hungry, thirsty, sleepy, dirty, sore, needing to pee, needing food for your equine companion – such needs can be conveyed wordlessly. (Even to the point of specifying how to cook your egg; on all continents frying eggs make the same noise.) For 10 weeks, in the highlands of Ethiopia in 1967, I met not one English speaker yet had no language problem. (There were many others!)

As an oldie, one can largely ignore all this – even if it does mean that at travellers’ meeting places oldies find themselves oddly isolated while the rest go online instead of communicating, as of yore, with their fellow-travellers. I remain delighted that Facebook and Twitterings had not taken over when I first began my travels. I would have missed out on lifelong friendships, and almost certainly learnt far less about the world.”

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