Over 50s volunteering abroad guide

Let’s start by defining what we mean by an over 50s volunteering holiday. This is not a trip exclusively for people who have passed their 50th birthday. It’s not a ‘soft option’ either, or a watered-down version of the volunteering that strapping 18 year olds on gap years do. It’s simply a volunteering holiday that might suit someone who is a little older, but also a little wiser, too, playing to their strengths while respecting their limitations (if they have any, that is).
Anyone is welcome on an over 50s volunteering trip, from young conservationists still in primary school, to septuagenarians still in their prime.
So, if your kids have flown the nest and it’s your time to shine, if you’re on a career break, retired or just looking for an alternative adventure, volunteering could be for you. Whether you are passionate about animals and conservation, or keen to give a helping hand to underprivileged children, there are amazing opportunities whatever your age. You’ll be making a genuine contribution, immersing yourself in a different culture, learning new skills and forming fun and often long lasting friendships. Find out more in our over 50s volunteering holidays guide.

Over 50s volunteering is…

open to anyone, of any age.

Over 50s volunteering isn’t…

volunteering ‘lite’. You’ll be making a genuine contribution on a holiday that delivers real benefits.

Is over 50s volunteering for you?

Go on an over 50s volunteering holiday if…

you’re over 50 and taking a career break, retired, or just looking for a holiday with a difference. These trips are open to everyone though, but have the adaptability to suit all ages. you have a week or two free. That’s all the time needed. Volunteering abroad doesn’t limit you to being away from home for months. you’re a solo traveller. You’ll have a readymade friendship group in the other volunteers, who you’ll live and work with. you want to do more than sightsee. Volunteering delivers a sense of achievement, broader horizons and some wonderful memories, while also benefitting local people, the environment and wildlife, too.

Don’t go on an over 50s volunteering holiday if…

you want a lazy break. A volunteering holiday will have working hours, tasks and responsibilities. Some holidays include six days a week of work, although jobs can be adapted to suit your fitness. you want luxe accommodation. Shared dorms in the project base or a rented house is typical, although over 50s trips usually include the option to upgrade to private accommodation. you’re not a team player. Volunteer trips are about mucking in and following directions, to support the ongoing work of a project. By choosing the trip, you’re making a commitment. you want to spend time exclusively with older people. Any volunteering trip that’s suitable for over 50s is also open to anyone.

Types of over 50s volunteering

There are hundreds of wonderful, enriching volunteering holidays out there, open to all, but also suitable for people in their 50s, 60s and beyond. A volunteer holiday specialist will advise you on the demands of each trip, so you can make an informed choice. Age is just a number, after all – you know best what you can handle, and what you might enjoy.

Wildlife & marine conservation

Wildlife and marine conservation volunteering is about working with animals, marine life and their habitats, whether that’s protecting sea turtle nests in Costa Rica or observing wild dog pack behaviour in South Africa. You’ll be working with local conservationists and researchers, usually as part of an ongoing project, with the chance to see incredible animals in their natural environment. There might occasionally be the chance to get hands on, for example radio collaring animals, but generally wildlife conservation is about monitoring and environmental work.

Volunteering with animals

If you would like to work more closely with wildlife, volunteering in a sanctuary is a great option. Generally, the animals have been abused or injured and brought in for rehabilitation. Duties include gathering and preparing food, feeding, washing out enclosures, monitoring wellbeing and in some cases giving sanctuary tours. You could work with bears in a Romanian sanctuary that have been mistreated, hunted or imprisoned, or for something more hands on, volunteer at a rehabilitation centre for orphaned baboons and monkeys in South Africa – feeding, playing and interacting with the babies is one of your daily ‘tasks’.

Community projects

Working in a school or on a community project is an extremely rewarding option. You might work as a teaching assistant, help out in a day care centre or work on a community project to reduce food waste, for example. Some language skills may be necessary – knowing some Spanish is very helpful if you’re volunteering in Latin America – but often no special training or TEFL qualification is required.
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Over 50s volunteering or need help finding a holiday to suit you we're very happy to help.


How much work?

Each volunteering holiday will have a timetable, with work sometimes starting early (around 7am) and tasks scheduled throughout the day. Often, you’ll be working six days out of seven, with a free day to relax, explore or socialise. Most projects rely on the ability of all volunteers to get stuck in and work hard, so spontaneously deciding you want a day off to rest might not go down well. However, there is usually flexibility over tasks.

Anne Smellie, from our volunteering specialist Oyster Worldwide: “We just want to get the best out of people whatever they can offer. A lot of projects require physicality, but they will be flexible, so the leader will say, don’t worry about lifting that, why don’t you just make sure everyone’s water bottles are full instead while they do that heavy task. It may not be that easy to take a day off, though. Some projects do depend on volunteer support so it’s a bit of a problem if you want a rest day. But on others you could say, ‘this job I’ve been assigned is a bit too much for me today, can I switch with someone else and do the monitoring instead?’ And that will be fine.”

Who are my fellow volunteers?

Despite the name, you don’t have to be over 50 to join an over 50s volunteering trip. This type of holiday is so called simply because it would suit anyone in that age bracket, from 50 right up to 70 and beyond, but it will also be open to everyone. So, you will probably be working with people of all ages, sometimes with children, too, and with individual in their 60s and 70s. Volunteers are from all walks of life, too, and from around the world. Trips that are more likely to suit mature volunteers include things like comfortable accommodation (or the ability to upgrade) and include tasks that can be adapted to suit fitness levels.
Volunteering, at any age, is also a great option for solo travellers. There is no single supplement, although if private rooms are available (and they’re not always) and you request one, you will have to pay extra. Volunteers are treated as members of an extended family, so it’s easy to make friends as you work collaboratively together. You’ll be with like-minded people, after all. Most people come because they want an active and interesting holiday that provides genuine benefit to wildlife, local people or the environment. They want to step off the tourist trail, discovering remote regions and living amongst a local community. Meal times are always very sociable, too, especially in the evening when there’s time to relax after the day’s work with a beer or glass of wine.

How long are trips?

Some over 50s volunteering breaks require only a week-long commitment from you – ideal if you’re new to volunteering and just want to try out the experience – although you can usually opt to volunteer for up to 12 weeks, with subsequent weeks charged at a much discounted rate. Projects that involve more training or a diverse mix of work; for example, conservation work with a range of endangered species in South Africa may demand a minimum commitment of two weeks. Those trips that run in remote or long haul destinations – Costa Rica, Belize, Indonesia – also tend to be a minimum of two weeks. Some volunteering breaks are tailor made, so you can start on any day that suits you. Many travellers use volunteering as a springboard to further travel in the country or region they’ve been working in for a few weeks. Volunteering is a great way to familiarise yourself with the language, culture and food of a place before venturing further afield.

Do I need experience?

An induction and training is always provided on a volunteering break, whatever you’re doing, and you’ll always have the support of the local team while working, so enthusiasm is generally more vital than experience. You will generally need a certain level of fitness, but over 50s volunteering breaks are less strenuous than some, so you won’t be expected to clear scrub on a steep hillside for eight hours a day.
It’s also good to have an interest in the scientific side of things on some trips – data gathering, monitoring, animal population statistics – and depending on where in the world you volunteer and what you’re doing, it can be useful to have a little of the local language – Spanish, say – so you can chat with local staff or your accommodation host. Some holidays will include weekly language lessons, too. You should also be motivated by the bigger picture. Don’t come to hug a monkey or snorkel with dolphins; come to fulfill a genuine interest and make a valuable contribution.

Why pay to volunteer?

Although you will be working and giving up your time, a volunteering holiday is not free. This is an organised holiday, booked through a tour operator that carefully vets every project to ensure it delivers genuine benefits to local people, the environment and wildlife. The cost of your holiday also goes towards your food (usually all meals are included), accommodation, training and valuable pre-trip and in-country support. It’s also the chance to travel to remote corners of the world, connecting you with people and wildlife in a way few travellers experience. When you take all this into account, a volunteering holiday is an economical way to immerse yourself in a country.

Anne Smellie, from our specialist supplier Oyster Worldwide, explains what goes into the cost of a volunteering holiday: “There are a huge number of projects out there, some genuine and some less genuine. We make sure you are choosing the best project in terms of ethics, safety, accessibility and knowledge of the country. It can take us a couple of years to get from first contact with a project to first volunteer on the ground. We visit all of the projects and know them intimately before anyone goes anywhere, and doing that research takes time and money. You are also paying for what’s included: accommodation, food, transfers from the airport, help and support, full time staff there who can look after you. Projects are taking on unskilled volunteers and families up for making a genuine contribution, but it costs them more money to do this than using fully trained people who can hit the ground running. We also give everyone a full briefing before they travel and an induction once there. It’s not like going to a resort where you just need to find out where the pool and the bar are; you need to be prepared culturally, work out if you’re fit enough, find out about the language and if you need to learn it. A lot of detail goes into preparing.”


Many over 50s volunteering holidays run all year round – caring for animals in a sanctuary takes place every day, after all, and many conservation monitoring projects run year on year, too – while others are seasonal. Turtle conservation in Costa Rica, for instance, only happens when the turtles are nesting and the babies hatching, from the beginning of July until January. If a trip runs all year round, find out what the weather is like at the time of year you’d like to visit. Volunteering with bears in Romania might feel easier in the mild weather of spring and autumn, rather than the bitter cold of winter or heat of high summer.
Written by Joanna Simmons
Photo credits: [Page banner: Pacific Southwest Region USFWS] [Is / isn't: Oyster Worldwide] [Volunteering with kids: Oyster Worldwide] [Bear: Oyster Worldwide] [Nepal: Oyster Worldwide] [Fellow volunteers: Oyster Worldwide] [Working in lab: Oyster Worldwide] [Baby turtles: Gabriel Saldana]