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Backpacking as a 40-something isn't as unusual as it sounds. Just by turning up, you immediately get to share a bond and common interest with weird and wonderful people from all walks of life. But on this particular night, as younger backpackers shrieked mating calls above thumping music and sang drinking songs in their native languages, I felt oddly conspicuous.

Backpackers of all ages typically engage each other with a protocol, kind of the same way modems performed handshakes in the mid-1990s. Instead of using a series of garbled noises and high-pitched squeals (some nationalities still use those), we ask questions in a predictable sequence to form a connection. Earlier, a friendly Norwegian half my age had unexpectedly followed up the default “where are you from?” icebreaker by bluntly asking how old I was.

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