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Wondering What to Do in Retirement? Why Not Start With a Volunteer Vacation?

By Sixty and Me May 30, 2015 Lifestyle

Retirement is wonderful. You’re able to say goodbye to long commutes, boring meetings and late nights at the office. You have plenty of time to do the things you enjoy. But what if plenty of time is actually too much time?

Are You Wondering What to Do in Retirement?

Many of us boomers have spent decades juggling family needs and career opportunities. This balancing act takes incredible effort and eats up every spare minute. When we finally do have time to spend as we like, we aren’t sure where to begin.

As we’ve written about before, life after 60 should be a time of exploring your passions, not sitting in front of the TV. It should be a time of starting new businesses and making new friendships. In short, life after 60 should be the best time of your life.

So, if you’re wondering what to do in retirement, consider kicking things off with a volunteer vacation. You can help others or help our planet while meeting like-minded people and traveling to new places. Your volunteer vacation may be just what you need to decide what you want to do next.

What is a Volunteer Vacation?

Volunteer vacations come in all shapes and sizes. You can spend several months working in a community or travel for a week or two in order to lend a hand building homes, restoring trails or cultural artifacts, or sharing your unique skills with people who are working hard to provide for themselves and their families. You can participate in a volunteer vacation experience close to home or halfway around the world.

Volunteer vacations aren’t free. You will pay to participate in a volunteer vacation so that the people you are working with do not have to spend money to feed and house you or purchase materials for your team’s project.

Expect your accommodations to be adequate, but far from luxurious. Meals will likely consist of local fare; if you have dietary restrictions, you will need to contact the organization you are working with to make sure your needs can be met. You will probably need to purchase travel medical insurance, and you may need to be vaccinated against specific diseases.

Aren’t Volunteer Vacations for College Students?

No. People of all ages have embraced the volunteer vacation concept. As long as you are healthy enough to travel, you should be able to find a volunteer vacation that matches your skill set and physical capabilities.

Why Choose a Volunteer Vacation?

Volunteer vacation participants choose this type of travel experience for a variety of reasons. Of course, helping others is their primary motivation, but volunteers may also want to explore other parts of the world, learn new skills or try out alternative or post-retirement career paths.

What Should I Look for in a Volunteer Vacation?

Some critics argue that money spent on volunteer vacations would be put to better use if travelers simply donated to worthy causes and stayed home. Others feel that local workers’ jobs vanish when unpaid volunteers arrive.

While volunteering to help other people, wild animals or the environment will make vacation participants feel good about themselves, there is – or should be – more to a volunteer vacation experience than participant emotions.

A good volunteer vacation experience should not just take you where you want to go. The trip coordinators should be working with community organizations to ensure that the projects undertaken by volunteers are locally-organized and locally-run. You should be able to review financial records so that you know exactly how your money will be spent.

Finally, take the time to find out what will happen to the project you work on after your team leaves. The best projects are sustainable and chosen by local community members.

Most volunteer vacations combine hard work with free time, so you will have a chance to explore the community and talk with people in an informal setting.

Try to choose a volunteer vacation organization that will match your skills and experience with a specific project team. If you have recently retired from a health care job, you may be able to assist a medical team that offers free care or minor outpatient surgery in rural areas. Perhaps you have remodeled your home or built a deck; your basic carpentry skills can be put to use on a construction project. Your love of outdoor activities could make you a good candidate for hiking trail maintenance or animal species monitoring.

Volunteer Vacations At Home and Abroad

There are numerous volunteer vacation opportunities to choose from. Here are a few of our favorites:

Habitat for Humanity – This internationally-known organization builds and repairs homes for low-income owners.  You can help out in your own community or travel to another build location. Habitat’s Women Build program offers women-only building experiences in the U. S., Asia and South America. If hammering nails isn’t your thing, you are more than welcome to volunteer in another capacity, such as office support or training.

Restoration Works International – Founded as Cultural Restoration Tourism Project, Restoration Works International brings volunteers to damaged cultural treasures in need of repair. The current project site is Chhairo Gompa, a 16th-century Tibetan Buddhist monastery in Nepal. This monastery fell into disrepair after China closed the border between Nepal and Tibet.

A local restoration committee developed plans to rebuild the monastery; the committee has been coordinating repair efforts with Restoration Works International since 2003. If you can’t travel to Nepal but would still like to help with this project, you can volunteer with Restoration Works International as a grant writer, event organizer or recruiter.

American Conservation Experience – If you love camping and working outdoors, consider volunteering with American Conservation Experience. Volunteers work either at Grand Canyon National Park or on Catalina Island off the California coast, clearing brush, planting, repairing fences and maintaining trails. You’ll have time to relax and explore, but you should expect to work seven or eight hours per day on conservation projects.

National Trust Working Holidays – The United Kingdom’s National Trust is internationally known for its work preserving historic homes and estates, gardens, outdoor areas and archaeological sites. The National Trust coordinates volunteer vacations, called “working holidays” at preservation sites in the UK and partner countries.

Most working holidays involve outdoor tasks, such as clearing brush, planting trees and restoring trails, but you can also find trips that include archaeological site work, construction or farming. Accommodation is typically in bunkhouses, although a few itineraries offer rooms for two or three people. Trips fill quickly.

Your Own Backyard

If your budget will not stretch to cover a long volunteer vacation, consider a local volunteer experience instead. Look for opportunities at:

Homeless shelters. Spend time with residents, teach a job skills workshop, wash and mend clothing, prepare and serve meals, sort donations. Example: Red Door Shelter, Toronto

Local hiking trail organizations. Maintain trails, update trail guides, help with accounting, fundraising or public relations. Example: Potomac Appalachian Trail Club, Vienna, Virginia

Animal rescue groups. Foster kittens until they are adoptable, staff a fundraising event, play with and walk shelter animals. Example: Stray Cat Alliance, Los Angeles

International education organizations. Organize or participate in a fundraiser for a school in a developing nation, help collect school supplies for overseas students, participate in a social media campaign to raise awareness, coordinate a pen pal program for a local school. Example: Kenya Connect, Elkridge, Maryland

Are you wondering what to do in retirement? Have you gone on a volunteer vacation? Where did you go? Did you enjoy the trip? Please join the discussion.


Here’s a short video that I recorded with Nancy on the topic of volunteer vacations.

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The Author

Sixty and Me is a community of over 500,000 women over 60 founded by Margaret Manning. Our editorial team publishes articles on lifestyle topics including fashion, dating, retirement and money.

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