John Waite, who is 89, has traveled the globe for 30 years and is assumed to be the world’s oldest backpacker. Hollywood screenwriters and book publishers are eager to tell his story but he isn’t ready for that just yet; he has still to complete his journey. Waite is now in Iceland for the first time.
Travelers in Iceland. Photo by Páll Stefánsson.
“I have no time to stop to write a book; I’m still traveling. I have planned trips for the next 15 years and then I’ll think about that afterwards,” Waite told Morgunbladid.
Waite was 17 when he fought for England in World War II. In 1961 he moved to Australia where he has a home, five children, 11 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.
“My wife died in 1982 and a year later I embarked on my journey. I was a public servant, had reached the retirement age and wanted to do something. Many people think life is over once they stop working but that is actually when it begins because then you have time to do what you’ve been dreaming about all your life,” Waite said.
He isn’t rich, he said, but backpacking doesn’t have to be expensive. The first years he spent working as a volunteer for the United Nation in Africa and traveled war-torn regions. He met Mother Theresa in Calcutta where he worked at one of her hospitals for a while.
Waite has friends all around the world; noting down their names in a black book. He has filled a few such books which he keeps at home in Australia.
“In addition to this book I have two other books with me on my journey; a diary and a book where I get the people I meet to write something in their own language,” he said.
Waite never organizes his trips; he just arrives in each respective country and manages somehow. “I look at tourist attractions but I prefer speaking with locals to get information on what one cannot read about in brochures.”
Iceland was one of the few countries Waite had yet to visit; now only Argentina, Greenland and a few islands in the Pacific are left. He was impressed with Iceland’s nature and would like to return.