Where to go on an over 50s volunteering vacation

The popularity of later life volunteering has grown and grown. What was once seen as a gap year activity, for those aged 18 to 25 predominantly, is now something that all ages are enjoying. The choice of vacations and locations is vast, with conservation and community options dotted around the world, so you’ll need to choose what you’d like to do and where, too, from Europe to South Africa and Indonesia. The cost of flights won’t be included, but the project will generally arrange to transfer you from the airport to its base, so traveling is easy.

1. Belize

Discover the incredible marine biodiversity of the Caribbean and join people of all ages with a shared passion for diving and ocean conservation on an island off Belize. You will spear invasive lionfish and take part in other conservation dives, helping protect the Belize Barrier Reef. Both experienced and novice divers are welcome, as are those keen to learn or just to snorkel.
Costa Rica

2. Costa Rica

Stay on a remote stretch of coast and help protect turtles during the crucial nesting and hatching stages, joining night patrols, monitoring turtle nests and making sure just-hatched baby turtles make it safely to the sea. You can also choose to work at a sanctuary helping rehabilitate sloths, monkeys and other wildlife, that are either released back into the wild or cared for permanently there.

3. Ecuador

Working as an English language teaching assistant in a school in Ecuador is incredibly rewarding and the only qualification you need is being a native speaker. Volunteers liven up classes and make the children more enthusiastic about learning, and if you’re sporty, musical or into crafts, there’s scope to get involved in teaching these, too. You’ll live locally – usually in Quito – with weekly Spanish lessons often included.

4. Greece

Greece is a great destination for over 50s volunteering, with a range of conservation options. Head to northern Greece to track and monitor its brown bear population, or make for the coast to help protect the turtles of the Peloponnese. You can also join a dolphin research project, taking daily excursions on the research vessel to do surveys at sea between June and September.

5. Indonesia

Help protect the reefs of Raja Ampat, a breathtaking marine paradise in the East Indonesia/West Papua region of the Coral Triangle. Conduct research and survey dives and then work on community initiatives that educate local people on the importance of the marine ecosystem. Due to Raja Ampat’s remote location, volunteering here is a two week or more option, in November, December and January.

6. Namibia

Wildlife conservation is the main volunteering option in Namibia, with both project and sanctuary work available. You can join a carnivore conservation team which works to reverse the decline in cheetah numbers or help at a rehabilitation center for orphaned and injured wildlife. It’s a chance to live in Namibia’s wild landscapes and learn more about its wildlife, with placements usually requiring a minimum of two weeks’ commitment.

7. Romania

Romania’s largest bear sanctuary relies on volunteer help and the rewarding work of feeding and monitoring ensures bears rescued from abusive work or conditions live a happy life. This is a very popular option with over 50s volunteers, who appreciate the option to try a one week placement, the short haul location and the chance to live in and explore a Romanian town after work.
South Africa

8. South Africa

South Africa has lots of wildlife and marine conservation volunteering opportunities. Take part in animal and bird conservation and research work, sometimes with endangered species including black rhino and cheetah; volunteer at a rehabilitation center for orphaned monkeys and baboons; or help preserve the great white shark and its environment, educating local communities and countering negative misconceptions.
Sri Lanka

9. Sri Lanka

Help promote the survival of elephants in the wild by volunteering for two weeks (or more) at an established elephant conservation charity in Sri Lanka. Work alongside local scientists and conservationists to track, monitor and photograph them, while living deep in the jungle in an off the beaten track location. Time here serves as a great springboard into further travel on the island.

10. Uganda

Uganda may be small but it’s packed with wildlife, and volunteering on a rhino conservation project, which aims to reintroduce white rhino to its wild landscapes, helps support it. The work is varied, including monitoring, surveys, data collection, vegetation management and community engagement. A great choice for anyone who’s enjoyed a safari but wants a more hands on experience of the African bush.
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Over 50s volunteering or need help finding a vacation to suit you we're very happy to help.

Over 50s volunteering advice

Anne Smellie, from our leading volunteering vacations supplier, Oyster Worldwide, shares her over 50s volunteering tips.

The benefits of older volunteers

“Life experience can be brilliant. Older travelers are more confident to get cracking and get on and do it. They are good at inspiring others to get involved and help keep morale up, and often take a leading role because they’ve done that in their work. They have transferable skills or maybe they’re a mum, and become the ‘mum’ of the group, someone younger people can go to talk about anything that comes up.”

Ignoring the preconceptions

“The preconception is that volunteering is something you do on a gap year between the ages of 18 and 25, but it’s also something that older people and particularly parents often say, ‘I would love to do something like that’. They see their kids going overseas, and think, ‘now it’s time for me’. I think that the oldest volunteer we have had was 79, but it can depend on which project that they do, and we’ll advise whether we think it is suitable or not. Don’t be put off by the images on volunteering vacations, which are often of young people. Younger people share their pics, which is why you don’t necessarily see images of older people on the trip pages. The photos don’t necessarily tell the whole story.”

What to leave at home advice

“When people have had a career or still have a career and are used to getting things done, they can be frustrated in a developing country or charity, where you’re always treading a fine line between helping to get things done and taking over. Bringing western notions of how it should be done isn’t helpful; that attitude means they may have a frustrating time and that’s also not good for the project, where people are working incredibly hard to do the right thing with financial and cultural constraints. We try to explain that to travelers, to manage their expectations. This can be more of a culture shock for mature travelers than for an 18 year old.”

Accommodation insights

“Accommodation is one of the concerns older travelers have when they inquire. There is usually the option to upgrade to a private room, rather than dorms, or sharing with one or two people of a similar age. We take that really seriously. We are up front if stuff is quite basic. We do all we can to accommodate them.”

What to expect

Erin Sparks, from our supplier, Pod Volunteer, shares her advice on managing your expectations: “On every different trip, your role is support the work that the conservation project is doing, so although they may have said that something is due to happen the next day, if it’s for the benefit of the animals that you’re working with, or for the goal of the project overall that it has to happen in two days time instead, that’s the way it is. You have to go with the flow. If you’re supposed to be tracking a specific species that day, but then there’s issues with the parameter set and you can’t find them, it just makes it more special when you do, plus you’ll get to see lots of other nature driving to and from sites – you have to understand that when you’re working with animals in a natural environment, nothing is guaranteed.”

Who does marine conservation?

Anthony Saner, director of ReefCI which specialises in marine conservation in Belize, explains the mix on marine conservation vacations: “We do get older volunteers from time to time. In fact, we attract a vast cross section of demographics from diverse ages and backgrounds and have had guests as young as three and as old as 82. We have educational college groups, working professionals, families, singles, couples, and retirees that come to our island! You will find that people coming on this type of vacation all have a shared passion for diving and ocean conservation, which makes for great group dynamics. We try to give the general diver a unique opportunity to learn about and help conserve the marine environment while having a fun vacation. Our trips are for both experienced and non-experienced divers, everyone contributes regardless of their background and experience. We accept non-diving guests and snorkellers and certify people wanting to become divers. The research methodologies we teach are very simple and straightforward and you can learn all you need to know in our training session prior to the dive. You will be spearing the invasive lionfish and participating in our other conservation dives and making a difference.”

Over 50s volunteering tips from our travelers

At Responsible Travel, we think the best people to advise our travelers are often... other travelers. They always return from our tours with packing tips, weather reports, ideas about what to do – and opinions about what not to.

We have selected some of the most useful over 50s volunteering tips that our guests have provided over the years to help you make the very most of your vacation – and the space inside your suitcase.
Bring clothes/shoes that you don’t mind possibly ruining. Taking care of baby monkeys is messy business.
– Shannon Hiltabrand, volunteering with monkeys in South Africa
“We are hardly your typical gap year students. We are a married couple who just fancied a vacation with a difference. If you're not looking for glamour, and don't mind a spot of hard work, it's a very rewarding and worthwhile experience.”– Jane Adcock, volunteering with bears in Romania

“Pack clothes that you don't mind getting covered in ‘muck’. The food prep work can get pretty messy!” – Susan Wood, volunteering with bears in Romania

“This is a great place to go for scuba divers who want to learn a bit more about what's under the surface. It doesn't matter if you're a first timer or a seasoned pro. Remember – you're on a small island in the middle of the Caribbean. It's a tropical paradise, but there's limited electricity (generator) and fresh water (for showering etc) is precious. It's not 5* accommodation, but the sorts of people who would pick this aren't looking for that. As there’s a constant breeze there's no mosquitos, humidity or oppressive midday heat – a blessed relief from when you're on the mainland.” – Richard Atkins, marine conservation in Belize
This is a great place to go for scuba divers who want to learn a bit more about what's under the surface. It doesn't matter if you're a first timer or a seasoned pro.
– Richard Atkins, marine conservation in Belize
“Read all the information (there is a lot) and you will be fully prepared for the experience. Be willing to join in as part of the team, take plenty of layers of clothing (and a woolly hat!) as it can be very cold on the vehicle and look forward to an amazing adventure!” – Anne Brown, endangered wildlife conservation in South Africa

“Bring with you a spare of gentle walking shoes in case of heavy rain. To be ready for changeable weather in the mountains. Enjoy the adventure! A real highlight was to learn about camera traps, to get insight into bear research, radio tracking etc.”– Henriette Hradocka, brown bear tracking in Northern Greece
Written by Joanna Simmons
Photo credits: [Page banner: Pacific Southwest Region USFWS] [Food: Frank Smith] [Places: Joe Bloggs]