On our recent jaunt (Sydney to Brisbane via Lightning Ridge) I was amazed by the massive flocks of Grey Nomads on the road. I mean there were so many flying along the roads in their 4WD with caravans hitched to the back that I swear there is not a single older person over the age of 60 remaining in any major city for more than a few days at a time.

A Grey Nomad is defined as someone over 50 who is travelling around Australia in a caravan of some description for extended periods of time. They are also known as snowbirds and grey voyagers in the USA and Canada.

This migratory species of the population are all hell bent on making up for lost time – seeing all the things they wished they had seen when they were younger. Their universal mantra seems to be “If I knew at 18 what I know now the world wouldn’t be big enough”.

Soaking in the bore baths at Lightning Ridge with a dozen or so of the Grey Nomads, we got talking about their life. Many of them do have a “home base” that they pop back to once or twice a year when the weather is warm and balmy, but the rest of the time they are on the road to nowhere in particular.

Why do they do it? Freedom, adventure, enjoyment of beauty, learning and exploration. They do it because they can!

Don’t think they are all the same though – you have the perpetual sun seeking Grey Nomads. These are the ones who winter in Port Douglas and summer in Tasmania. There are the circumnavigation nomads – the ones who do the loop of Australia. These tend to travel in packs – continually bumping into the same people on their trek.

You also have the job hoppers – those who travel from casual job to casual job, doing the tasks normally reserved for young Swedish back-packers.  There are solo nomads as well as pairs and friendship groups. Some have their dog along for the ride – others bring along the grandkids during holidays. You even have full-timers – people who have no other home than their nomadic caravan.

They compare details of their “rigs” or caravans with all the fervor of kids with the latest collector cards. Most are remarkably tech savvy – demanding good internet connections to keep in touch. They are very active on forums and share their experiences with local businesses (both good and bad) with other nomads coming along behind. Give bad service and the nomads will tell everyone about it – they are not backward in coming forward!

Grey Nomads as a group create all sorts of demographic challenges. It is only in recent census times that this group of the population was officially counted and the scope of their group was known.

So what sort of impacts are we talking about? Health services including pharmacies need to be able to cope with the massive swelling of the population at certain times of the year. Towns such as Lightning Ridge are becoming full of retired people who live there 9 months of the year – which means aged care services are needed 9/12 months. This also impacts on retail, petrol stations and tourism operators in these areas, with a large part of their business disappearing in the hotter months.

Grey nomads also tend to be conscious of their money – looking for good deals and interesting experiences on a budget. They look for warm, friendly camping grounds and sound advice on road conditions on the way ahead. They self-cater a lot of the time rather than rely on the local milk bar for meals.  But – they have more disposable income than traditional backpacking groups and are not afraid to spend money on useful museums and interesting tours.

Yet, given the size of this group (I would suggest reaching similar numbers to overseas backpackers in areas) it is surprising how few businesses actually are catering to that market. There are only a few websites and even fewer books available.  Motoring associations as a group tend to ignore them (which considering that pretty much 100% of the nomads are Gold members of their local association is a massive oversight).

Here is a huge potential market that is not being adequately served by most businesses. What could you do to make the Grey Nomads welcome in your part of the world?

And if you don’t hear from me for a week or so – you can assume the lure of the Grey Nomad lifestyle has caught me.