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How to be a Grey Nomad
It takes more than simply hitting the road in an RV to perfect the fine art of being a Grey Nomad, as Rod Lee explains
Words and Images by: ROD LEE W65844

From the outset, the reader needs to understand what it really means to be a Grey Nomad (GN). To the uninformed, it might mean being old and travelling around Australia in a caravan. This is a pathetically inadequate description of a rather complex idea. Here we analyse the essence of Grey Nomadism from the perspective of the individual who wishes to join the ranks of this special breed. So that you might assimilate the ideas more readily, the discussion has been reduced to key points, as follows. 


Fundamentally, a Grey Nomad needs to be grey. As with many species however, there are variations – such as the silver-back nomad, the bald-spot nomad, the great bald nomad, etc. Typically these variants apply to the male, however balding females are sometimes seen, and females with startling blue, green or red hair have occasionally been observed while travelling. The female almost always adopts a short, ‘sensible’ haircut. The male’s hair is always poorly cut, usually by his female companion or some other female GN. 

Age is important – you cannot possibly be taken seriously as a GN unless you are at least 60 years old (males) or ‘late fifties’ (females). With advancing age comes respect: “Wow, look at that old guy – I hope I am still out here travelling when I am his age.” (Sadly this author now overhears other travellers referring to him in this way). 

Sometimes a swim can provide relief for various GN ailments


Nomadic behaviour is naturally at the heart of Grey Nomadism. It is totally inadequate to have a fixed travel plan or schedule. If leaving a campground and asked about your intended destination, answer with nothing more specific than something like “down the road” or “up to the Cape” or “we are doing the Big Lap”. And you will certainly be excluded from GN ranks if your trip involves anything less than three months on the road. 

Enormous credibility accrues to those who have been on the road for two years or more, and permanent GNs are the most honoured of all (read more later about selling your home, abandoning everything that is dear to you including all your family and friends, and truly embracing the GN religion). 

Grey Nomads are not on holidays – you have abandoned gainful, satisfying, and well-paid work which contributed to society, in order to become a full-time, ageing gypsy. On the other hand, it is also acceptable to undertake poorly paid, low-skilled work for short periods – jobs that you might have considered as an 18-year-old backpacker when desperate for beer money (ie fruit picking). 

When asked about it though, you must lie, describing it as an ‘enjoyable, worthwhile, and interesting experience’. Under no circumstances are you to reveal the six months of painful medical treatment which you required to recover from all this hard work. 


GNs have ‘attitude’. They might, in other circumstances, be considered nothing more than grumpy old men (or women), but the GN attitude naturally relates to their lifestyle. So for example, when arriving at their favourite northern campground for a threemonth stint of avoiding winter, Bruce and Mabel will be very upset if their regular caravan site is not available, “because we always have that one, with the afternoon shade, and next to Bill and Martha, and close to the toilet because of Bruce’s ‘condition’,” you will hear them say. 

While most GNs have enjoyed their lives with barely a thought for struggling country folk, the newly re-born GN suddenly finds country issues important. For example, the condition of country roads is now a big issue, mainly because they get very upset if the caravan has to endure 10km of unsealed road and some red dust seeps into the drawer storing the tea-towels. 

The state of country roads and tracks are a priority for newly hatched GNs 


Ailments are an important part of the GN lifestyle. You should ideally have several, of which at least one is only spoken about quietly and seriously, because it is probably ‘life-threatening’. One-upmanship is important here – if a fellow GN has just had a knee rebuilt (most have), there is nothing better than to respond with, “I had the left one done last year and I am booked in for the right one next month”. 

Exotic ailments will give you top billing at Happy Hour. Before embarking on you first GN trip, you should make sure your companion has at least one serious health problem else they will be letting the team down in the ‘ain’t it awful’ health conversation. 


It is a prerequisite of Grey Nomadism to not only undertake fishing regularly, but also be fully aware of every species of fish known in Australia, where, when, and what bait to use to catch them, and the common (different) names used to describe each species in each state. Furthermore, even as a newcomer you will need to invest at least $2000 in fishing gear. For serious recognition you will require a cartopper (that is GN language for a 4m aluminium dinghy), an outboard motor, all other accessories for the boat, a power-driven boat loader (loads the car-topper to the car top!), and a collapsible boat trailer. You could probably kit yourself out for slightly more than the cost of a three-month luxurious holiday in Europe or 7,850 meals from your local fish and chip shop. Of course, once you have the boat, you will not be able to afford either of the aforementioned delights. Indeed, you had better start catching fish soon because otherwise you will get mighty hungry. 


Do you enjoy sleeping in late? You will need to get over that poor habit, quick smart. The serious GN leaps out of bed as the sun is just thinking about starting the day and gets on with all the important things that need doing. Especially when en route to a distant fishing spot. The serious GN quickly packs up camp in the morning, motors about 150km down the road to the next free roadside overnight stopping point, and arrives in time to snag the best possible campsite and enjoy freshly baked scones for morning tea. After lunch they have time to sit around and watch with glee as other travellers arrive to find the only spaces left are 1.5m from the road train-filled highway and already occupied by nine million ants. Later arrivals (like this author) are left to camp in the adjoining snake-infested swamp. 


Appearance is very important to the serious GN. Males are inclined towards navy blue T-shirts with the arms ripped off, or singlets which proudly display great forests of body hair in strange places. Their body shape suggests that triplets are due any day soon. Females prefer three-quarter-length trousers. Naturally everyone wears thongs, and these must be worn down to an alarming caveman-like shape of the wearers feet, and be no thicker than 2mm. New thongs must be ‘worn in’ during the hours of darkness only. You may have some clothes which, if sufficiently abused, can be added to your GN wardrobe, otherwise try the Salvos. 

Snoozing in a hammock is a must part of a GN’s day


As a newcomer you will need to cope with the disappointment that every person you meet on the road has already been to every place in Australia that you aspire to visit, plus several hundred other better places that you have never heard of. Furthermore, they will be keen to give you their expert advice about iconic destinations. However, do not be discouraged – pretty soon you too will be extolling the virtues of free camping on roadside rest points as compared to the frippery of things like flushing toilets and iconic tourism destinations. 


It is somewhat paradoxical that the elderly Grey Nomad is typically an avid user of technology – especially communications and computing tools – but also all sorts of other gadgetry. They have no real understanding of how all this works and spend a lot of time grappling with problems, seeking advice from fellow travellers, and ultimately getting their grandchildren to fix problems remotely from their computers at home on the Gold Coast. In the meantime, even if this does not excite you, perhaps you should begin to develop a deliberate interest as part of your preparations for conversion to Grey Nomadism. 

It is a GN’s responsibility to travel to the most remote areas of Australia, not parade around in catwalk couture


You will soon be faced with more vital information – dealing with the important question that is acquiring a vehicle which will be envied by other GNs. You will need to grapple with choices of makes, styles of vehicle, whether to choose the safe option to avoid ridicule or whether to buy a Jeep, and many other vexing issues. 

You should note that the information provided here is intended as a guide, rather than a prescriptive list. You may successfully convert to Grey Nomadism without adopting every last one of these ideas, however those most warmly welcomed in to the great family of Aussie GNs will be the serious converts who adhere to almost all of the above. 

DISCLAIMER Like all of you, my wife Glenda and I are keen travellers. This material, ‘How to be a Grey Nomad’, was written during long road trips and with a view to present a comical view (perhaps a caricature version?) of ourselves and our fellow travellers. You will notice it does not focus on travellers with motorhomes, but rather just potential Grey Nomads no matter what their rig. I have taken a great deal of poetic licence. Indeed, matters of accuracy and truth have been largely disregarded in favour of fun. I have been encouraged to share this nonsense with a wider audience and who better than my fellow CMCA comrades? Please note that neither your editor, nor CMCA endorse any of the crazy content. I hope you enjoy it in the spirit intended and “Laugh More, Live Longer”.

Tags: Grey Nomad Travel RV Campervan Motorhome Caravan Fifth Wheeler Backpacker Australia Vehicle Age The Big Lap
Category: Features
Written: Thu 01 Feb 2018
Printed: February, 2018
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