Volunteer Programs for Senior Travelers Abroad
Volunteers around the world come in all shapes, sizes, races, and ages. Many organizations are thrilled to welcome the contributions of their volunteers, from the young to the young at heart. If you are over the age of 50, this guide is for you!
Older adult volunteers have a wealth of experiences and knowledge from a full career, parenthood, and other life milestones. They can bring these skills to any volunteer endeavor, they already carry a positive attitude and desire to help and share, and some studies have discovered that older adults who volunteer usually enjoy increased health!
There are plenty of opportunities for volunteer projects abroad and domestic for older adults to participate in after retirement. Older volunteers can be found in the Peace Corps, teaching English, working with faith-based organizations, and in diverse projects around the world.
Volunteer programs are very flexible in length; older adults can commit to as little as a couple of weeks to as long as a couple of years. Whether you want to volunteer in Europe or Africa, by yourself or in a group, volunteering abroad can be the adventure you crave, while you reach out to help others in need. There is something out there for any healthy individual, regardless of age.
Teaching: Teaching is a natural fit for older adults, who bring a great deal of rich life experience and diverse knowledge. Volunteers can be teaching English, physical education, life skills, and in one program, even surfing! Older volunteer teachers also make great mentors for children and teenagers who come from under-resourced families, and look to receive more education and care at community centers.
Community and Care Projects: Community and care projects involve working with all ages in community centers, orphanages, and health care centers. Older volunteers develop activities, teach, assist in feeding, cleaning and health care, and provide mentoring and support.
Another aspect of community projects involve participating in art and media related projects, such as photography, editing and writing, journalism, and filmmaking. These projects help raise awareness about what’s going on with the community to the greater world. Another example of a community project is helping the locals with the establishment and the tending of a community garden.
Conservation: For older adult volunteers who love animals and the environment, a conservation project may be the adventure they seek. Volunteers contribute to research, use photography to raise awareness about conservation efforts, and work with animal rehabilitation. Volunteers can also work in botanical gardens, in developing more garden projects, giving tours, and performing maintenance of the garden.
Archaeology: Several volunteer programs offer the unique opportunity for older travelers to participate in archaeology projects. Volunteers assist in digs, research, processing finds, and raising awareness. For any volunteer who is interested in preserving history and local culture, this is a great opportunity for you.
Central and South America: Demand is always high for volunteers of all ages in Central and South America. In tourist destinations, such as Cusco, Peru, there are individuals in the tourism industry who want to learn English. Likewise, there is opportunity to help in preserving the history and culture of the Incas through archaeology. In the bustling cities, such as Buenos Aires, senior volunteers can use their life experiences and knowledge to reach out and make a difference in community centers and orphanages. Also, no matter the region, qualified medical volunteers are always in demand to help in hospitals and clinics everywhere.
Africa: Most African countries are constant recipients of international aid and volunteers, and older adults can certainly find ample opportunities to teach, help in community centers and orphanages, and participate in conservation and wildlife efforts. Some of the popular areas include South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Zanzibar.
Europe: Older volunteers can participate in teaching, community and orphanage care, and cultural projects in Eastern European countries, such as Bulgaria and Romania.
Asia: In Asia, there is always a large demand to learn English and there are community centers and orphanages where children and teenagers need guidance and support. Also, it’s a culture that greatly respects elders for their experience and wisdom. Older volunteers can work in various Asian countries, such as China, Thailand, and Vietnam.
Planning Your Trip
Over 50 and Overseas: A resource full of volunteer and travel opportunities for anyone over the age of 50. You can search through diverse categories, from teaching to faith-based projects. You can also search through different countries. It links many different resources, both for abroad and domestic opportunities. Of note is a section about Personal Health and Security.
AARP: Always a great resource for older travelers on all manner of subjects from home and family, to politics. They also have a page devoted to travel, which certainly bears a look.
U.S. Department of State: The U.S. Bureau of Consular Affairs is always a useful page to visit for information about passports, visas, and travel advisories. There is also a page about your health while overseas, especially with travel insurance. It is very important, no matter what your age, to be healthy before volunteering abroad, so check with you volunteer program about health requirements, vaccinations, and any risks involved with your volunteer project. It’s always a good idea to register for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program as well.
Resources Concerning Health: Health and safety is a very important issue to consider before going abroad. Older adults are not covered by Medicare abroad, so they must consult with AARP or a travel agent for information about medical care coverage while you are abroad. The Bureau of Consular Affairs has a great page concerning health abroad for persons 65 years and older.
You should also consult your primary physician and make sure he or she thinks you are able to manage the work of volunteering abroad, as well as handling traveling overseas, change in diet, and other issues that may come up. Women on the Road have a fantastic list of questions you should ask yourself as you prepare to take on a volunteer project abroad.