On my first visit to Asia, a smuggling ring tried to scam me. Now I'm older and wiser, but is travel as much fun?

I almost got caught in an Indian jewellery smuggling ring. I was that close. It was real.

I was standing in a jewellery store in a large office block, somewhere on the outskirts of Jaipur – I have no idea where. Never did. I was at the mercy of four local guys who had befriended me a few days earlier, who'd been driving me around, shouting me meals, showing me sights.

I had finally been led to the apex of their plan, to the pitch, to the part where they tell me they need me to carry some jewellery from their cousin's shop into the UK, that I won't get stopped because I have a British passport, that it will be easy and fun and we will all make a lot of money.

What do you do in a situation like that? Where do you go? I like to take risks but I had no desire to end up in jail. I also have a freakish desire to please everyone around me and not be a quitter, which left me in an awkward position.

So I bolted. I didn't say no, I didn't protest. I just walked straight to the door and turned the handle, hoping it wasn't locked. I ducked into a corridor and made for the stairs. I headed out to the nearest street and searched for a rickshaw. I waited for a hand on my shoulder, for fingers wrapped in the fabric of my shirt.

But it never came. I got away.

That was on my first ever solo trip around Asia. I did so many stupid things on that trip. I got scammed in Hanoi within the first few hours of touching down. I rode motorbike taxis without a helmet. I got fleeced by a cab driver in Mumbai. I got drunker than I should have in places I didn't know.

I came away from those three or four months with so many stories. Stories of adventure. Stories of stupidity. Stories of risks. Stories of rewards. I filled my traveller's sack with all sorts of anecdotes and potential for exaggerated tales.

That was then. Maybe 15 years ago. I still travel to Asia a lot and I still love it, but I don't get scammed anymore. I can't even remember the last time I got sucked into any sort of swindle. I know what to look out for now. I know the classic lines. I know the feeling that I'm being pitched to.


In a way that's probably a little sad – and, I've realised recently, that makes total sense.

There's a study that has just been released by the USA's National Bureau of Economic Research, which concludes that humans get sadder as they get older, and that they're at their unhappiest when they're 47.2 years old. Then, things get better. Happiness is an inverted bell curve, the study says, where children are carefree and senior citizens are satisfied, but the middle bit is hell, and you reach rock-bottom at 47.2.

That's made me think about the travel experience and how it changes, and how I've changed too. Is travel still as fun now as it was when I was 20? Do I still get the same out of the experience even though I'm heading towards the bottom of the bell curve, even though I don't take as many risks now, I don't fall for as many tricks, I don't come out with the same stories? Is travel – like music, like fashion, like sport – really a young person's game?

I've pondered it and I've decided: no. Not a chance. Yes, travel definitely does lose something as you get older. You lose the reckless abandon of youth. You lose the wide-eyed wonder of it all. That's inevitable.

Nothing is ever as spine-tingling as it is on the first try. You still have new travel experiences as you get older and they're still amazing, but they can also be related back to some other experience you've already had: this is just like that dish I tried in Mongolia; this is like that game park in South Africa; this is like that market in Tangier.

But while you lose some of the thrill as an older traveller, you gain so much more.

You gain confidence. You gain the ability to go to places you would never have dreamed of going to before. You gain the skills to visit these destinations and survive and love the challenge.

You gain better judgment too, judgment that lets you filter out the scammers and the thieves and concentrate on the genuine people you meet, allowing them in where once you might have been too wary.

You gain confidence, too, in your own choices and preferences. You care less about what other people think of your holiday plans, how they'll look on social media, whether you're doing the things you're supposed to be doing and you just go away and you do.

You gain a better understanding of yourself as well, of the things you like and the things you don't, and you allow those preferences to dictate your travel plans. If you don't like churches you just stop visiting churches. If you do like cafes you start spending a lot more time in cafes.

And the money! You have money as you get older, disposable income to spend on the things you love. You can travel longer and further. Or you can go for a short time and just live it up. You don't have to scrimp so much. You don't have to sacrifice.

You'll never come away from these experiences with the same stories that you once did. You'll no longer dazzle friends with tales of your own daring or stupidity. You probably won't wind up in some dark office block on the outskirts of Jaipur, waiting to find out what sort of scam you've got yourself tangled up in this time.

But maybe we should all be happy about that.

Do you think travel loses something as you get older? Do you miss the adventures you had as a novice traveller? Or has the experience improved?

Email: b.groundwater@traveller.com.au

Instagram: Instagram.com/bengroundwater

See also: Twenty-one things you'll only understand if you travelled before 2005

See also: Ten ways travel changed in the last 10 years

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