What is a Grey Nomad?

You may have heard the term ‘grey nomad’ but what is its exact definition? Who exactly falls under the category of grey nomads? What distinguishes them from other travelers? Let’s find out!

A grey nomad is usually someone past the retirement age, or more than 55 years old, embarking on a long-term trip around Australia in specialized vehicles like motor homes, camper trailers, or caravans. It is predominantly an Australian term because of how widespread the phenomenon is in the Land Down Under.

What Sets Grey Nomads Apart From Other Tourists

Not every elderly person travelling in Australia falls under the category of grey nomads. Grey nomads do not treat travel as a mere hobby. They are not on a short vacation. Their vehicle becomes their home, and being on the road becomes their lifestyle. This is why they can spend significantly long periods in a single place.

Most grey nomads use their retirement benefits for travel. Some even sell their homes and invest the capital for a steady income source as they keep on travelling. They might even take up light work or sell handmade products in the places where they stop for a long time, an occupation that’s not heavy for their age or stressful enough to disrupt their travel plans.

Grey nomads set their own itinerary and set off in their vehicle of choice. Their caravans or campers are usually well-stocked with essentials to support their lifestyle. Some might go the minimalistic route by carrying the bare necessities. But most prefer not to depend too heavily on the stores they find on the way.

For the rest stops, they don’t stop at hotels and resorts. They usually prefer free camping spaces. Depending on the vehicle type, they might set up a tent or simply stay inside their parked vehicle. A slightly more luxurious option is the caravan park. Caravan parks may be expensive, but they can avail of washing services, barbeque, and maintained camping spots. They could even socialize with the other groups who have stopped there. In fact, a majority of customers at caravan parks across Australia happen to be grey nomads.

Glance At The Trends Within Grey Nomad Population

Over the years, grey nomad adventurer numbers have been rising steadily. It’s difficult to provide accurate statistics since most grey nomads do not check into formal accommodations and their numbers keep varying with the season. But experienced professionals in the travel and tourism industry attest that the numbers have doubled in the last three years.

These projections are backed by the numbers in the camping stays and vehicle registration data. In the year 2019, almost 43% of the total camping stays all over Australia were booked by the grey nomads. According to the Caravan Industry Association of Australia, registrations for caravans have hiked by 30%, and that of campervans have risen 20% since 2011. This surge was further confirmed by the NRMA, which experienced growth in bookings by one-third in the same period.

Many grey nomads have said that due to the sudden surge in these numbers, it’s getting difficult to make reservations in caravan parks. In some popular places, they have to make the bookings at least a few months or even a year in advance.

When it comes to choosing the routes, most grey nomads appear to chase good weather. Driving to warmer areas to avoid the southern winter is a prominent trend among them. It could be a result of age or related ailments, or it could simply be a matter of preference. Another major route trend has been coined by the ‘Big Lap’. As the name suggests, it refers to navigating the entire continent in a single tour spanning over a year.

grey nomads travelling

Why The Grey Nomad Boom?

Over the years, there has been stronger compliance with laws regarding retirement age and benefits. A significant section of the population retired with enough resources to fund all their travel dreams.

Let’s add to that the advancement in medicine. People of retirement age are now healthier than they used to be. With proper medication and supplements, they can undertake long trips on the road.

Rising awareness regarding mental health has informed people that travel is actually a very good way to alleviate boredom and depression that often sets in during post-retirement life. Covering bucket lists, socializing, and meeting old contacts is a healthy urge, and people in the retirement age are beginning to realize this.

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Pros And Cons Of Grey Nomadism

Pros

There are undoubtedly many benefits that grey nomads get to enjoy because of their unique and flexible travel style.

  • Grey nomads get to fulfill all the travel goals that they didn’t have time for before. They make the most of their post-retirement time to experience new places, unique food, and tradition different from their own.
  • Also, they have the option to avoid harsh climates and spend the winter months by driving to warmer places where the weather suits them better.
  • They have got plenty of time on their hands, they don’t need to stay at expensive hotels, and transport tickets don’t dictate their routine. This gives them the freedom to stay for longer in the places they like.
  • Being on the road is an experience that transforms them forever. The things they see, the unique souls they meet, the challenges they face, and the sense of achievement later are unparalleled life lessons.
  • They come into contact with people from various walks of life. It could be a travelling family, a friendly cafe owner, or other grey nomads at a caravan park. These unlikely friends make plenty of enjoyable memories.
  • Grey nomads get to meet old friends and acquaintances scattered all over the country. Getting the opportunity to catch up with people they used to know and spending time with them after years is priceless.
  • Grey nomads are not the only ones who enjoy the benefits. Their travels contribute to the survival of trailer parks and campsites. Even when they free park, they still spend money on food and fuel. This brings much welcome business to local organizations in remote or outback areas.

Cons

However, the grey nomad life is not all sunshine and daisies. There are a lot of issues that grey nomads experience while journeying.

  • Crossing borders is a part of the lifestyle. They must always carry the necessary identity proof documentation and comply with the vehicle registration regulations of each state.
  • They have to routinely choose between legal free camping spots and caravan parks. Free parking is not always a safe option. Caravan parks are secure and offer special services, but they are also expensive.
  • Selling or keeping the house is a crucial decision for grey nomads that will leave a huge impact on the future. Keeping the house involves maintenance costs while selling it leaves them without a secure shelter to rely on.
  • The vehicle itself incurs a lot of repair and maintenance expenses since they have to cover long distances. The constant towing of the caravan also puts a lot of pressure on the vehicle and increases the need to replace parts frequently.
  • They don’t get the chance to see their family doctor, which can be a problem if there are no medical centers or hospitals nearby. Since grey nomads are above 55 and have a higher risk of contracting illnesses, this could lead to serious difficulties on the road.
  • Local communities often complain that grey nomads have increased littering, and this has led to heavier cleaning expenses.
  • Very often, the new grey nomads set out with little highway driving experience. They often park wrongly or get stuck on bridges. This increases the risks of heavily-loaded trucks crashing into them. Sometimes, truck drivers have to help them out of the situation since they are unable to reverse safely.
grey nomad campervan

Predictions Regarding Grey Nomads In 2021

After the boom in 2019, discussed in a previous section, travelling slowed down in 2020 as movement restrictions were imposed. However, as the borders are beginning to open up and people are resuming normal activity, we can expect the numbers to rise again.

Experts predict that post-2020, grey nomad activity might surge as citizens begin to pick domestic travel over international trips. A survey by the Tourism and Transport Forum suggests that about 28% of people claimed that they would prefer to travel within the country. They further elaborated that two out of five people would prefer to stay within their own state while travelling. All these signs point to stronger growth in the grey nomad population over the next few years.

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