Grey Nomads by keara


									                                                                    CAUTHE 2008 Conference
                                                             Where the Bloody Hell Are We?


                                                                               Jillian Litster,
                                                  Faculty of Arts, Humanities & Education,
                                                            Central Queensland University,
                                                                   Rockhampton, Qld, 4702
                                               (PhD student with University of Queensland).

                                                         Associate Professor Ian Patterson,
                                                                          School of Tourism,
                                                                  University of Queensland,
                                                                 Ipswich Campus, Qld 4305


         The “grey nomad” phenomenon is a growing one in Australia. Grey nomads are
         defined as people aged 50 years and over who travel for an extended period of time
         independently within Australia (Onyx, Leonard & Dean 2005). The most popular form
         of pleasure travel is by caravan, motor home, campervan or converted bus. This paper
         presents a case study of a group of grey nomads traveling through Northern Territory
         and Western Australia in 2006. Using their travel diaries as a means to investigate the
         nomads’ engagement with friends and family whilst ‘on the road’ the paper argues
         that being ‘far away’ physically does not mean being isolated from family and friends
         but rather that these ties are important connections that are maintained during travel.


At the present time, the Australian caravan industry is thriving as many older people are
travelling around Australia. In Australia these people are called “grey nomads” and are
generally over 50 years of age, retired and want to travel around Australia in their own time and
at their own pace. As a result, the caravan industry is growing at the rate of about 15% a year,
and contributes about $A2 billion into the Australian economy every year. The sale of caravans
has increased by 17% in 2002 with more than 80% of these sales being to the older age groups
(Brannelly, 2003). In the study of grey nomads, undertaken by Onyx, Leonard & Dean (2005),
93% were couples.

This case study of a group of four couples undertaking an extended holiday, multi-destination
trip through the Northern Territory and Western Australia is presented to illustrate a variety of
patterns of behaviour of grey nomads on tour, focusing particularly on their engagement with
family, friends and the people they meet on their travels.


A group of four grey nomad couples were asked to provide copies of their diaries and
photographs of a recent trip. Although the group structure changed over the course of the
journey, the core two couples travelled from 3 July – 22 September 2006, with the two other
couples also travelling a similar amount of time but joining and leaving the original two couples
at different stages of the trip. As participants were contacted at a distance they were also asked

                                                                            CAUTHE 2008 Conference
                                                                      Where the Bloody Hell Are We?

to respond to a series of open ended questions via email. The eight participants in the case study
were all over 50 years of age and retired, although Couple A still had business interests that
required some attention prior to departure.

                                             Table 1
                                Case Study Data and Demographics

Couple     Gender      Age     Occupation        Vehicle     Trip        Diaries        Photos       Other
   A        M+F       59, 53   Retired -         Motor-      July -      1- kept by F    361         album
                               (private          home        Sept
   B        M+F       55, 64   Retired           Caravan     July -      2 - kept by    1108      Digital
                               (private                      Sept        M&F
   C        M+F        58,57   Retired           Camper-     June –      1 kept by M     1300     Digital
                               (foundry          trailer     Nov.        + extracts     (July -   + web
                               manager, lab                              on weblog       Sept
                               technician)                                               only)
   D        M+F       61, 58   Retired –         Caravan     July -      None, just       259     Digital
                               (accountant,      (pop-top)   Sept        notes of                 camera
                               home-maker)                               location


Social advantages for couples travelling by caravan often exist as older travellers can choose
locations based upon their personal preferences and develop a network of new friends and
acquaintances. Older travellers openly admit to the freedom and fun from this type of lifestyle
as they feel they have the right to it because of their hard work and responsibility that they
‘shouldered’ prior to retirement. Permanent homes are often seen as continual time wasters and
‘money pits’ such as mowing lawns, painting and household repairs “no longer hang heavily
around their necks” (Jobes, 1984, p. 192). Interestingly, all four couples indicated that their
travel times were strongly influenced by family commitments, in terms of when they were ‘free’
to leave and when the needed to return home.

The attraction of traveling with friends, and or making new friends on the trip, is also an
important part of the grey nomad experience. When asked what motivated them to undertake
their trip, one member of the case study group responded:

           The pleasure and enjoyment experienced traveling with friends plus the excitement
          of discovering new places, meeting great people from all walks of life – an excellent
          leveling experience (ie. You may be a janitor or a CEO in your past life.) (Email,
          Couple B)

Another traveller in the group also highlighted this social aspect of the trip, and stated:

          One of the pleasures of travelling around Australia was meeting new people with
          similar interests and lifestyle. Travelling with other people can be difficult, but does
          add to the experience. In some instances, such as outback travel, we found/think it
          advisable to travel with another party. The “Happy Hour” tradition that is common
          in campsites is a great way of socialising as are the camp kitchens found at many
          caravan parks. (Email, Couple C)

With improved design features continually being incorporated into caravans and motorhomes,
grey nomads are able to ‘take the comforts of home’ with them in a compact, relatively low
maintenance way that allows them to travel vast distances but still with many of the

                                                                          CAUTHE 2008 Conference
                                                                   Where the Bloody Hell Are We?

conveniences of home. One of the couples in the group pointed out that “friends had advised
that we should buy a van with everything”. Having done so that found that they:

            … enjoyed both campsites in the remote areas and also caravan parks in the larger
            towns and cities. As we were self sufficient tourist facilities in parks were not an
            issue. (Email, Couple D)


There are several disadvantages that need to be carefully weighed up before this type of lifestyle
is seriously adopted. One of the major problems faced is finding a good mechanic and spare
parts in rural areas if the car breaks down and needs major repairs. Frustration of finding
required facilities in unfamiliar areas, such as a post office, restaurants and mechanical repair
shops. Crowded and full caravan parks, with very few close to major city centres. Signs, poles
and trees that project into roadways are also causes for concern, as are some encounters with
truck drivers (Blais, 2002).

Planning to be away from home for an extended period of time can also require making special
arrangements, both prior to departure and whilst travelling. The following list of pre-departure
issues covers just some of the things considered by members of the case study group when
planning for their trip. It also illustrates the importance of the support of family members,
making it possible/easier to stay away from home for over two months.

                                            Table 2
                   Pre-departure planning issues identified by group members

        •     when to retire (one couple retired shortly prior to starting their trip)
        •     what sort of vehicle (4-wheel drives, motorhome)
        •     type of accommodation (camper-trailer/caravan/motorhome, with/without
              bathroom, off-road capacity or not)
        •     finances / budgets (bills still at home, plus increasing fuel prices)
        •     medical matters (medications & consideration of access on the road)
        •     mail (children to collect & redirect if necessary)
        •     what to do with house (children to house-sit or visit)
        •     bill payments (arranged for children to access accounts)
        •     pets (could not take to National Parks, children doggy-sat)
        •     itinerary (individual and meeting up with people, flexible)
        •     equipment to take (safety issues, phone contact home, weblog facilities)
        •     communications (eg. consideration re charging computers/digital cameras)
        •     when to leave and when to return (departure and return tended to be dictated by
              family commitments)

                                                                       CAUTHE 2008 Conference
                                                                Where the Bloody Hell Are We?


Temporary communities are often communities of special interests, of people who consciously
come together because of their shared interests, values and preferred behaviours. Travellers are
free to choose when and where they will go and with whom, although to the outsider it may
seem quite structured and predictable. That these plans can be flexible is evidenced by the
following quotes from the grey nomads:

         Our plans were to travel by ourselves although we knew we would meet people
         along the way and probably bump into them again and again. We did not count on
         meeting the group that has now become our good friends that we will be keeping in
         touch with. (Email, Couple D)

         While going out to the bus I saw a guy by himself with a boat. I asked him if he was
         looking for some one to go fishing with. Long story short he came over for a few
         drinks and is going to take AA and DA out tomorrow. Lets hope they catch some
         barra. (Diary entry, Couple A)

The locations may change periodically, but the interaction networks tend to remain relatively
stable. Ming (1997) found that “sightseeing was mentioned by 95% of couples, while reading,
socializing, relaxing and dining out were also popular leisure activities” (cited in Patterson
2006, p. 124). Many of the diary entries of the couples refer to the mealtimes with the main
travelling party but also activities with other travellers staying at the campsites.

         We had barra again for dinner and as [Couple C], we met at Daly Waters, were in
         the park, they joined us. … Sat talking till 11pm. (Diary entry, Couple A)

         B.b.que was the order of the night and BA had his out, so we all gathered there to
         cook, eat and drink. (Diary entry, Couple A)

         We got talking to our neighbours at the back of us and were invited to join them for
         a Karioke session. It was great, about 20 people joined us. (Diary entry, Couple B)

         We found a great, shady bush camping spot at Quondong Point, overlooking the
         beach. Our nearest neighbours (eight names listed) were friendly people, so we had
         a few pleasant happy hours with them. (Weblog, Couple C)

Diary entries made during the trip also contained references to contact with family members
‘back home’ and the couples regularly sent postcards and souvenirs to family and friends.
Couple C also maintained a weblog of their travels, in addition to a personal diary (their
‘private’ diary contained more detail than the weblog postings).

         We will keep you updated on locations where they have been seen, but to date they
         have been discovered at the following locations … (Weblog, Couple C)

         … posted some slippers and a little plastic painting smock to [grand-daughter].
         (Diary entry, Couple B)

         Rang [son] before we left town and he was up and about but realizes he has to be
         careful. (Diary entry, Couple A)

                                                                     CAUTHE 2008 Conference
                                                              Where the Bloody Hell Are We?


As can be seen from the comments made by the case study participants, the connection with
family and friends was maintained throughout the ‘grey nomad’ experience. This group of
travellers regularly kept in touch with their family back home and continued to strengthen the
group’s friendship ties on the trip. The evening “happy hours” were important for socializing
with other travellers as well as for obtaining information about where to travel to next and what
to see and do. One of the couples, initially strangers, joined the group early in the journey and
have continued to travel with the other three couples on trips undertaken in 2007. In addition,
although retirement allowed the four couples time to travel and “see Australia” they all relied on
the support of family to allow them to stay away for an extended period of time, in terms of
looking after pets, home/garden and finances.

Although the four couples in the case study were at times ‘far away’ physically they were rarely
isolated from family and friends. Indeed all four couples delimited the start and finish of their
trip based on family commitments. Social ties to family and friends were seen as important
connections that were maintained during travel and even noted in the diary entries of the grey
nomads. For this group of travelers, the social advantages appear to have outweighed any
disadvantages as in 2007 all four couples undertook another ‘grey nomad’ trip, this time through
eastern Australia up to Cairns and back.


Blais, P. (2002) ‘On the road again: they’re big; they’re slow; they’re often the vehicle of choice
           for tourists’ Planning, 68, 6-11.

Brannelly, L., (2003) ‘Grey nomads keep caravan industry rolling along’ Australasian Business
         Intelligence, 13 July, 1008.

Jobes, P.C. (1984) Old-timers and new mobile lifestyles Annals of Tourism Research, 11, 181-

Onyx, J., Leonard, R. & Dean, S., (2005) The Grey Nomad Phenomena – A Research Report,
          Working Paper Series No. 66, Sydney: Centre for Australian Community
          Organisations and Management (CACOM), University of Technology Sydney (UTS).

Patterson, I., (2006) Growing Older: Tourism and Leisure Behaviour of Older Adults,
          Wallingford, UK: CABI.


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