Unfettered by family or friends, older Koreans are setting off on more solo trips

Posted on : 2022-06-10 16:47 KST Modified on : 2022-06-10 16:47 KST
With COVID-19 restrictions easing, there’s been a resurgence in Koreans in their 50s and 60s leaving on trips with acquaintances from online
(courtesy Getty Images Bank)
(courtesy Getty Images Bank)

There’s been a recent resurgence in Koreans in their 50s and 60s going on backpacking trips abroad with people they’ve never met. The so-called “senior backpackers” that started appearing a few years ago are now making a comeback thanks to the lifting of social distancing measures.

“I can’t fully relax if I take my parents or children on vacation, because I have to take care of them the whole time. It feels more like a mission trip, where I should go in with a sacrificial mindset,” shared Lee Jeong-eun, a 62-year-old from Goyang, Gyeonggi Province. “It doesn’t feel like ‘my vacation’ so even when I come back home, I don’t feel happy. Now that I’m middle-aged, I want to go on my own trips with peace of mind. Not to mention how shut-in I felt during COVID-19.”

Looking through social media like Naver’s online community forum Band on Monday, the Hankyoreh came across various groups aimed at these older backpackers, with many posts recruiting travelers to go on trips this summer.

Rather than being tied to the schedules and tourist-trap-laden itineraries of travel agencies, these seniors are looking to travel more freely by directly booking their own tickets and finding accommodations.

In particular, many of these older travelers are looking to meet new people who share their hobbies or are looking to travel at the same time as them.

Park Jae-beom, a 66-year-old who runs a private business in Daejeon, is hard at work “studying” trip-planning, such as how to book flights and looking for accommodations. Why, you ask? Because Park has decided to jet off to Vietnam with the people he met on a Naver forum for older backpackers that has about 4,670 members.

“It is so difficult to schedule a trip with family or friends,” Park said. “My hobby is walking, so I joined the [Band group] because it’s easy to set off with people with the same hobbies and schedules.”

Park added, “So far, I have only gone abroad on package tours, but I’m tired of that now, and I find it much more fun to search out and do things I want on my own.” While he said that although booking everything online alone may be a headache, “it's fun because you do it all yourself.”

Demand for such trips is apparently very high. When someone posts a travel plan for a trip to South America or Australia, for example, the available spaces fill up within just 10 minutes.

“It's scary to travel alone, and it's even harder to get along with family and friends because we know each other too well,” a 59-year-old surnamed Kim shared. “I've lived a hard life until now, and I thought, ‘What am I living for?’ Despite how expensive it might be, I just bought a plane ticket without worrying about it,” Kim added.

(courtesy Getty Images Bank)
(courtesy Getty Images Bank)

Koo Ik-bong, 56, the moderator of the group on Band, said in a phone call with the Hankyoreh that half of the members of the group are of retirement age or early retirees. “You know the people you have been around throughout your life quite well, right? There are many people who try to overcome the emptiness after retirement and experience a new world through unfamiliar environments and strangers,” Koo said.

Jumping on the bandwagon, travel agencies are also offering a variety of travel products to meet the backpacking demands of middle-aged people who seek more “freedom” on their travels.

“Recently, the number of middle-aged customers who inquire about tour guide products for small groups of up to 10 people has increased,” said Lee Yun-woo, a manager at Modetour.

“We get a lot of inquiries about guided tour products from people in friendly associations or groups intending on traveling together,” Lee said, adding, “We are increasing the number of products that broaden the choice for travelers.”

Lee shared that there are many middle-aged people who choose to travel alone on travel agency itineraries with a specific theme.

Cho Il-sang, a team leader at Hanatour, said, "There are a lot of middle-aged travelers who set off alone on themed packages like those for trekking or cycling.”

By Park Ji-young, staff reporter

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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