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Too Old to Backpack?

Posted on 18 Jan 2016

Tags: travel, backpacking, hostels

Dilliebooks author Penny Knight gave up a comfortable life when she was in her forties to follow her passion for travel and adventure. During her travels around the world she has never found her age to be a problem (for other people – it never is for her!) except in one place… London. She tells us about the only time she has been told she is too old to back pack.

Two weeks in advance I booked into the grand looking South Kensington Astor Hyde Park Backpackers' Lodge for four nights in a mixed dormitory. I paid a deposit of £10 online with the balance due on arrival. Having just spent two months travelling around Asia staying in a wide range of hostels, including some rather dubious ones, I was used to the basic but friendly backpackers’ scene and looking forward to my stay in London.

I was on time as I trudged with a laden rucksack to the beautiful Victorian terrace next to the National History Museum. Inside were high ceilings and wood panelling. This was a bit of a higher standard than I’d been used to and I felt I’d landed on my feet.

The receptionist asked for my name and found my booking, then asked “How old are you?” I cheerfully announced “Forty-nine” - only to be then told, “You’re too old to stay here.”

For a moment I thought she was joking. The beauty of backpacking is the diverse mix of people from different cultures, nationalities, backgrounds – and ages. I’d found a good social mix and welcoming atmosphere as I’d embraced my new lifestyle around the world – but on returning to my own country I was being told I was too old?

She was deadly serious. “Are you really telling me that I am now alone in London at 7 o’clock at night and I have nowhere to stay?” I said, sounding pathetic and feeling a mix of emotions.
“I’m afraid so,” came the reply. “It is in our small print. You have to be 18-35 years old, so we will be keeping your deposit.” Talk about rubbing salt into the ageing wound!

I stood outside on the pavement, looking around, feeling lost. I started to walk not sure of where I was going. After a few minutes, smiling down at me, was a large poster of Bear Grylls in his scouting uniform. I followed several rucksacks ahead of me into a bright open reception of the Meininger at Baden-Powell House. I was greeted by a friendly young lad and explained my dilemma. He found me a room, charged just £15 a night, and offered me a cup of tea before I headed up to a clean, airy room with a sink and locker.

I stayed for four nights at this hostel that had lively scout groups, school parties, cheerful families, older singletons and travellers of all ages and nationalities. It was a welcoming place for all, with a wonderful atmosphere and great mix.

So thank you, the Meininger, Bear Grylls and the scouting movement for saving me in London and restoring my faith after being told I was too old to be a backpacker!

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