The pros and cons of a youthful appearance when travelling

Setting the scene
This morning, during what I considered to be a perfectly adult conversation (politics, emigration, Lady Gaga, etc), someone made the assumption that I was on a post-university gap year. What makes this all the more surprising is that we were both in the first class dining car of VIA Rail’s legendary The Canadian – not within the price range of your average gapper, although perhaps that says more about the poor deductive powers of my fellow traveller than about me. Nevertheless, this is not the first time, nor indeed the twentieth time, that this mistake has been made.

A bit of background
To set the record straight, I am 29. I will be 30 later this year (and I’m absolutely fine with this, by the way…). Why they thought I was fresh out of university, I don’t know, but I do seem to be developing a trend of misassumption about me.

For example, I’m often assumed to be a vegetarian. In fact, I love a good steak, the bloodier the better. Yesterday, a Facebook friend commented on my newly updated status (“If David Cameron becomes Prime Minister I may refuse to return home”): “Emma, you surprise me – I had you down as a true blue!” I’m a Lib Dem through and through, although I will confess an odd attraction to Gordon Brown’s dour accent and bloodcurdling smile (purely physical, you must understand, nothing political in it at all; that would just be embarrassing). Nothing against vegetarians or Tories, of course, I’m just not amongst their number.

The evidence
I suppose I can vaguely understand the vegetarian and Tory things. After all, I am rather pale and I did go to private school. But as for the age issue…I have more than my fair share of grey hairs, and have had since I was 21. I have the beginnings of crow’s feet. My sulky teenage years left me with deep frown marks between my eyebrows. I don’t wear black skinny jeans with Converse trainers or have a floppy fringe. What’s more, I left home at 18 years old. Since then I have lived in numerous cities across the UK and travelled to over 50 countries. I have a degree and a post-graduate qualification. I have established my career. I refuse to pepper my sentences with “like”, “stuff”, “whatever” or “awesome” but I do allow in the odd “cool”, and I do tend to speak…haltingly. Everyone’s allowed a few flaws.

I can’t figure it out. Do I have a baby face? Am I overly quiet? Does my young soul shine through my cantankerous persona?

Getting to the point
Anyway, rather than waste time worrying about it (I don’t need any more grey hairs), I have compiled this list of the pros and cons of appearing younger than you are when travelling. Feel free to add your own.

Pro It is easier to impress people with wisdom apparently “beyond your years” when they assume you are only 23.

Con Some people are vaguely appalled to discover that you are not married with kids when they learn your true age.

Pro People assume you have less money than you do so are more willing to drop prices, and drop them further.

Con Some people are surprised and occasionally affronted to see you in first class/five star.

Pro You are able to mix with a far greater variety of people if you can fix yourself up to look 23 or 43.

Con You don’t fit in with travellers who actually are 23.

Pro You can behave stupidly and no one bats an eyelid.

Con People recommend places to visit for binge drinking when you are mostly interested in good food.

Pro Thieves assume you don’t have much worth pilfering.

Con Some tourist agencies assume that because you are a young backpacker they can walk all over you.

Pro Those same agencies are easily shocked into action when you coherently and maturely file a complaint.

Con People assume you are drunk when you are ill.

4 Responses to “The pros and cons of a youthful appearance when travelling”
  1. Sam says:

    Hey Emma,

    As an youthful new entry to the 30 club I found this most amusing. I like to make full use of the pro “You can behave stupidly and no one bats an eyelid.” Sadly this only works among those who are unaware of your true age… sigh.


  2. Liz says:

    Loved your South America tips: am currently helping to plan a trip down there and am looking very seriously at spending the extra time and money to get to Ciudad Perdida. Worth it in May!?

    I too get this pros and cons situation – I’m younger, and look it, but as soon as I talk, I somehow appear older. The uses: I would almost say the cons outweigh the pros. You get harassed more; people think you’ll put out [faster]. However, on occasion I’ll entertain conversation with an older gentleman – with no intention for anything but just that – and that exchange is genuinely appreciated, on both sides. I benefit to gain wisdom and potentially dinner; he benefits by being made to feel valued for his companionship, not automatically disregarded for his years. And I love a random exchange like this…

    I suppose, in the end, I like to disregard my age and how it is perceived, as it makes me even more self-conscious than I already am.

    Thanks for the words – you’re an excellent travel writer, with some very useful tips and a nice wit!

    [my blog is mainly of personal interest, though perhaps I’ll start something for my upcoming S.Am trip]

    • Emma says:

      Hi Liz,

      You make many good points here. Thanks for contributing!

      I’d always recommend taking the extra time and money to go to Ciudad Perdida – it was one of the most memorable times of my trip, and it was one hell of a trip! They don’t run it during the wet season (not sure if that’s May, off the top of my head…) so worth checking. You’re going to get muddy and sweaty whenever you go though, so don’t be too easily put off by a bit of bad weather 😉

      Have a fantastic trip!

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