Why It’s Never Too Late: Reinvention at Any Age

by | Mar 7, 2024

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Last updated on May 10th, 2024

Featured image: Reinvention at any age is possible! What have you been putting off? | Photo by Wavebreakmedia on Envato

How retirement became a new beginning, and a new career, for me

by Leyla Alyanak

I’m sure you’ve either heard it or said it: “I’m too old for that!”

Often, it has to do with crazy sports or… technology, the dreaded advances today’s young are born with but that we had to learn step by step, like descending from a spaceship and walking gingerly onto a new planet.

Reinvention at any age also has to do with life plans, with devising longer-term strategies at an age when time actually begins to mean something. In 2007, at 53, I started a blog called Women on the Road for solo female travellers, because solo travel wasn’t a “thing” yet, nor was traveling around the world in my 50s on your own. And it took off.

Almost 20 years later, I’m here to tell you that it’s never too late. I started a new career later in life, and my reinvention is ongoing. At age 70, I should be slowing down. Instead, I’m thinking of expanding in new directions.

Quitting my job to travel solo at age 43

It was with a bit of apprehension that at the age of 43, I ditched my much-envied career at the United Nations and decided to do what I hadn’t done after university – backpack around the world. I’d traveled plenty, but that standard rite of passage after college had eluded me.

I bought a one-way ticket to South Africa and told myself anytime I felt it was “too much”, I would just hop a plane home. I planned to be gone for six months, which friends and family thought was insane: I was away for nearly four years.

These were the later 1990s, when the Internet was just beginning to become accessible. I had an email address with numbers – @compuserve33013.com or something like it – but didn’t know many people with email addresses to receive mine.

I left for Africa with one of the first-generation laptops: delicate, poorly built, and the object of much curiosity. One day in a Zimbabwe post office, I attracted upward of 50 young men who wanted a closer look at “the machine”.

I was trying to pay my way as a freelance writer. Before joining the United Nations, I’d been a journalist so half the battle was won. The other half – the network and contacts – was still being fought. After Africa came Asia, and then the Caribbean, and the Baltic states.

It wasn’t all roses, and more than once, I felt like giving up. Like when I was stranded in northern Uganda with no transport and a battered knee. Or chased by a machete-wielding vegetable saleswoman in a Lagos market. Or had to spend a week in a brothel in Malawi because of an electricity breakdown – the ladies who worked there were the only ones who took me in.

At times, I wanted to feel the hot pressure of my shower at home and eat something that wasn’t white and pasty. But I persisted.

Leyla Alyanak standing at a podium during her job in the UN

Leyla left her career at the UN to pursue her travel dreams / Photo provided by Leyla Alyanak

Starting a new blog at age 53

Fast-forward to the year 2000, I’m back home in Geneva, Switzerland, looking for work to pay for my $15/day coffee habit (well, Switzerland…) and telling myself I should write a book. I didn’t, but there was this new thing called websites. Blogs were still in the future. And that’s when I launched Women on the Road.

In 2020, we got locked down, and travel was no longer on anyone’s horizon. By then I was 67, living in France, retired (read: unemployed) and in need of some financial inflow.

I started another online thing – they’re called blogs these days. About French lifestyles, history and travel. This became my passion project, and I devoured everything I could about the new technology. A blogger, by the way, is a Janet of all trades. We write, design, interview, photograph, shoot video, edit, market, research and promote. Each of those is a distinct profession. We need to be proficient in them all.

Online, age disappears

Age, online, disappears. I belong to 100+ Facebook groups and most people in them have no idea about my age, nor do they care. Much as social media allows people to hide while engaging in execrable behavior under the guise of anonymity, it also frees us to become who we want to be. In my case, that’s a vibrant, energetic travel blogger with a cultural bent that keeps me fascinated and passionate.

Keeping up with technology is a challenge. Younger people are born with iPhones in their hands, whereas I still remember my newsroom changing from manual to electric typewriters! But the beauty of the online world is that there’s always a Youtube tutorial out there to explain things.

Leyla Alyanak working on her blog while traveling

Leyla turned to building a website and blogging to help finance her travels / Photo provided by Leyla Alyanak

Looking for my next venture at age 70

At 70, I ‘should be’ slowing down. Instead, I’m thinking of expanding, moving in new directions, and trying new methods of reaching readers. Podcasting. A YouTube channel. Pinterest. I have more travel plans, but now they include comfortable beds rather than the upper bunk.

As I mature, some things move closer to the forefront. Health is a main one, because I never know when it’s going to betray me. I’ve had a few scares, but I like to put those behind me with the gratitude of recovery.

I’ve learned to live and plan for today, which doesn’t mean there’s no tomorrow. Just because the certitude of youth is no longer there doesn’t mean tomorrow has disappeared!

On the contrary, I relish each day. I also know I’m not special: JourneyWoman has writers well over 80, and I hope that’s me some day.

But I started a new career late in life, and it was the best decision I ever made. My life is filled with excitement and interesting things, and rather than wind down, I’m winding up.

My next venture? I might get that book written. Or launch another blog. Or start a new YouTube channel. Or even return to university.

Lessons learned about reinvention at any age

Here’s how I manage my aspirations, along with a few lessons I’ve learned that might resonate with you:

1. At some point, I made a CONSCIOUS decision that retirement would not be a dead end for me, but a new beginning.

2. I try to ignore the concept of time. I make plans like anyone else. They just have a shorter timeframe. Rather than “Where do I want to be in five years”, I look at where I want to be in ONE year, without sacrificing the longer term. I just don’t focus on it, that’s all, and try to get as much done today as I can. Which leads me to…

3. I take one day at a time and make sure I do one major constructive thing that moves my business forward each day.

4. I learn something new every day. Right now I’m buried in Facebook advertising. Tomorrow it may be newsletters. Or something completely different, like the psychology of baby boomers. All learning is good to stretch the brain.

5. I socialize. I live in rural France, so my opportunities for live interactions are limited. Social media has saved my sanity by providing me with wonderful friends around the world.

6. Nothing is insurmountable. All I have to do is break it down into manageable steps.

7. I have to remember that my body isn’t infinite, so I take far better care of it now than I used to.

8. I cultivate an adventurous spirit. If it’s new and shiny, I want to know about it. I’m sure there’s research out there that tells you curiosity keeps you alive (as long as you’re not a cat, of course!)

9. I say yes. To pretty much everything. To trying new things and going to new places. To starting new ventures. To wandering down paths I haven’t trodden yet. To being the best that I can be, and asking for help when something gets in the way.

Leyla Alyanak enjoys a macaron in France

Enjoying a macaron in France / Photo provided by Leyla Alyanak

I found that as time passes, I become more fascinated with the world around me, and keen to take as big a bite out of it as I can. And starting new ventures later in life only means I’m more selective about the how and when.

I also accept I’m privileged in many ways, with an education that allows me to explore both my inner world and the outer one.

But my biggest takeaway is that it’s not too late. You can embrace reinvention at any age. Even if an entire goal can’t be accomplished, if you’ve moved the needle, you’ve succeeded in my book. When I do, I pat myself on the back for even the smallest wins.

And then I look around for something new to sink my teeth into.

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Leyla Alyanak is a former foreign correspondent and development worker who has visited 99 countries and speaks 5 languages fluently. She is a senior solo travel expert and launched her latest blog, offbeatfrance.com, at the age of 67. She now lives in rural eastern France.


  1. Laura Carolina

    Great article, Leyla. I’ve followed you on the internet for many years. We’re the same age – I remember being thrilled with electric typewriters and not so impressed with punch cards for programming a mainframe computer in 1976. I try to keep up with technology by following techie bloggers. I can’t imagine how we travelled before we had a mobile phone with a hundred apps on it! And a laptop for dealing with thousands of digital photos. 😉 I enjoy all your writings, and I wish you many more years of travel and new challenges.

    • Leyla

      Thank you so much! May we both have many years of travel ahead of us!!

  2. MaryPat Begin-Ortiz

    You have a new fan! I lived in Germany for 18 years while working for DoD and took advantage of the opportunity to travel all over Europe and elsewhere. It changed me and my life

    • Leyla Alyanak

      You were so forward-thinking to do that! Often we only realized what we missed when we’ve left it behind, so having taken advantage of your surroundings, even if that wasn’t planned, was a blessing. Well done!


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