Maggie Counihan started travelling at age 60 and hasn't stop since, she will be doing a talk at the Lismore Library today.
Maggie Counihan started travelling at age 60 and hasn't stop since, she will be doing a talk at the Lismore Library today. Mireille Merlet-Shaw

Backpacker grandmother shares tales from trek across globe

"Never retire, it's a dirty word."

When I listened to Maggie Counihan talk about her travels, it was hard not to imagine her picking up these words of wisdom along some dirt road in India or among the orphanages of Siem Reap.

Her story, which will be shared at the Lismore Library from 12.30 today, started when she was 60 years old.

The Perth-based grandmother, divorced, widowed and wanting more from life, packed her bag and set out for India - solo.

"I lived by myself, I had gone through a divorce, my kids had grown up, and I thought, you know, why not?" she said.

"So I set out with a back-pack and no plans."

After three months in India, Ms Counihan returned to Australia to find little had changed.

She described the experience as retuning from technicolour to black and white, and it wasn't long before she set out again.

During her solo travels, Ms Counihan worked as a masseuse in Cambodia, Endured six days on a train from Beijing to Moscow, ran a summer school in China, was robbed in Mexico and fended off an intruder in Thailand.

She said her biggest mantra in life since travelling is "age is no barrier".

"I don't think any of us really realise what we're capable of until we try," Ms Counihan said.

"You owe it yourself to find out what your purpose is.

"If you don't really have any idea, then have a guess or have a go at something new."

She said one of her most memorable journeys was a five-day overland bus trip to Tibet.

"It was tough," she said. "We had to all keeping urging each other to drink more water as we got higher and higher and higher."

"It was difficult but it was such a wonderful, wonderful experience." Eventually deciding to return to Australia after nearly a decade of travelling solo, Ms Counihan met her partner Rollo Dixon in Buderim at age 69.

Together, the pair spent a year living in Thailand, taught English as a second language in Vietnam, met with orphans in Cambodia and explored the South Island of New Zealand.

From January to April this year, the couple will be travelling from Queensland to South Australia, visiting 22 libraries along the way, where Ms Counihan will be sharing her advice and stories.

Maggie's top five tips

Less is best (pack light)

Wear good walking shoes

Use commonsense

Be positive

If you get in trouble, use your voice.


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