As a holidaying couple rather than a pair of travellers, we have spent almost all our time in each other’s company rather than taking the opportunity to get to know people we have met around the world. It’s not that we are an anti-social pair who prefer to spend all our time alone; at home we have quite independent social lives which we conduct very happily alongside our courtship. It just seems that everyone we have met is a know-it-all travel expert dickhead.

Generally speaking the backpacking community is full of heinous wankers, more concerned with finding other heinous wankers to hang out, get drunk and take acid on the beach with, than actually having proper experiences of the countries they have spent their parents money on coming to visit. They wear massive harem pants, carry their enormously over-laden rucksacks with them all the time but never actually use any of the camping or hiking equipment they spent their last student loan instalments on, get their hair dreaded, necks tattooed and noses pierced. I don’t know why they all want to look the same but they do. It would be much simpler for them to simply hang a sign round their neck that said “Ask me anything about anywhere because even though I haven’t been there you can bet I have an opinion on it because someone I know once read a Lonely Planet guide about it. By the way do you know how much LSD I did last night? I only do psychedelics now because alcohol is so passé and totally makes you a wanker. I can’t be a wanker because I travel so much you see so I must be open minded and anyway even though I don’t know why I’m wearing these fucking heavy, impractical, hotter-than-the-sun baggy trousers, the mushrooms in Thailand are incredible. Has anyone seen my shoes?”

Which made it such a bloody pleasure to meet Gertraud.

This is Gertraud (left)

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Gertraud is a 67 year old widow, she travels alone for three months every year, has never been moved to get a sanskrit tattoo and has been to more countries than Ban Ki-moon.

She was staying at the same guesthouse as us in Bira and after a couple of days of seeing her chatting non stop to other backpacking Europeans we assumed she was just a crazy old German lady who smoked too much and probably talked a load of old bollocks. When we tentatively joined her at her table for breakfast one morning we were delighted to be proved wrong.

She has been just about everywhere, for the love of travel and seeing the planet, not for the love of being part of a bead-wearing community of idiots. Yes, she’s had a “dirty weekend in Pattaya,” (her words) but she’s earned it.

If you want to know about women’s rights in Iran, ask Gertraud. She was there in the 70s when she says women were running the show in banks, politics and the rest. Same for Afghanistan before the rise of the Taliban; Gertraud was there. If you want to know anything about any of Indonesia’s 17,000+ islands, she has been to most of them and can recommend you a good place to stay. If you want to know what it’s like to share your hut in the Amazon with tarantulas and pythons ask her, she’s done it. If you want to know why Goa isn’t a nice place to go on holiday anymore she will tell you at length how when she first went it was the most unbelievably beautiful place on earth until backpackers and developers shit all over it. Asia, Africa, South America, Oceania, Europe, the Middle East; she’s been there, done that, bought the fake Burberry t-shirt and worn it with pride with her beautifully blow dried hair because she understands that taking care of a sensible haircut is much easier than taking care of dreadlocks when you’re on the road for several months you fucking faux rasta pillock.

Or if travelling isn’t your bag, ask her about something else, because Gertraud isn’t defined by her nomadic lifestyle like all the gap year Henrys and Poppys are so desperate to be.

Ask her about growing up immediately after the war in West Germany, having nothing and having to start an entire country again from scratch. Ask her about going to the opera in Munich in the summer. Ask her about her brother and his awful Club Med package holidays. Tell her about your trip to the USA because its the only place she’s never been to and because she actually likes to hear what the youth are up to these days, without having to respond with her own, slightly more crazy and enlightened anecdote about how when she went to *somewhere* it was before you went there and they had much better weed then.

If I can be even half as cool as Gertraud is when I’m nearing 70 I will be so pleased with myself that I will become unbearable and therefore automatically way uncooler than her. But I’m going to try and do it anyway.

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