Beyond cruises: your alternative retirement travel options

Savvy retirees who are willing to give a little something back are finding ways to explore British and worldwide locations.
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Who hasn’t daydreamed of long days relaxing in the sunshine or exploring far flung locations during long meetings or the daily commute? Nearly half of Brits approaching retirement age are planning on turning these dreams into reality, but many people’s pension pots simply won’t support a lifestyle that includes several holidays a year.

If you discover that the reality of your retirement budget doesn’t match your desire to become a globetrotter, or you just want more from retirement travel than cruises and package holidays, there are options beyond out of season day trips to quiet seaside resorts.

Savvy retirees who are willing to give a little something back can find several ways to explore British and worldwide locations. Increasingly popular choices among adventurous retirees include spending two years on a mature gap year volunteering in Africa or a weekend housesitting in rural Yorkshire. Which one suits you best?

House sitting

House sitting

House sitting

Angela Laws house sitting with a new canine friend Image: Trusted Housesitters

Over-50s are popular house sitters as homeowners often perceive them as being more reliable. As house sitters are often responsible for the wellbeing of beloved pets as well as someone’s home, this is extremely important.

“Being serial nomads house sitting and engaging house sitters for our own home is the most affordable and rewarding retirement travel lifestyle,” says Angela Laws, an experienced house sitter with Trusted Housesitters.

“We travel more than we ever thought possible, saving thousands of pounds on accommodation. We enjoy looking after other people’s pets too.”

You might choose to stay entirely within the UK, or even a specific region. Alternatively you could take it as an opportunity for an extended stay in a chic European city or New Zealand farmhouse.

Being able to pick and choose when you house sit makes it an ideal choice if you want to combine travel with family commitments or current hobbies too.

For Laws and her husband the biggest drawbacks are saying goodbye to the pets and not having enough time to visit all the places they have the opportunity to go to. However for them this is easily offset by “knowing that we are making a difference in people’s lives at a time when we thought life might be too ordinary or predictable.”


Geoff and Paula Williams running a class with VSO in Papua New Guinea Image: G Williams

You might associate spending anywhere between a couple of weeks to two years volunteering abroad with gap year teenagers, but it’s an increasingly popular option for the recently retired. It’s a chance to use your decades of experience to give back in a developing country, helping communities develop sustainably.

Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) is one of the most widely recognised organisations that pairs would-be volunteers with suitable openings. Although well-known for providing opportunities for education and medical professionals, VSO also seeks volunteers with fundraising, marketing, HR and engineering skills, among many others.

Two volunteers share their experience

Speaking to past volunteers it’s clear that this was much more than a trip, it was a deeply personal and satisfying experience.

“I was not just inspired by the idea of a fundraising post, but by the idea of working with a women’s organisation, which I had done before in the UK,” says Rosemary Morle, who spent two years as a Fundraising Advisor on the Thai/Myanmar border after retiring from the civil service.

This sentiment is echoed by Geoff Williams who volunteered as Professional Development Facilitator, along with his wife Heather, in Papua New Guinea. “Following many years as a head teacher in England, where my motivation was to do the best by the most needy in my care, I was keen to go and do the same in a developing world context,” he says.

One of the most meaningful aspect of volunteering is getting to develop long-term relationships with local people, which would be impossible during a short-term stay.

“It was amazing how people looked out for us, gave us gifts of traditional bags and clothing, and simply kept us safe,” says Williams.  Perhaps the greatest satisfaction came through problem-solving in a new culture and by drawing on our previous experience, but reinterpreting our knowledge and skills to meet the immediate needs that very clearly presented themselves.”

Both Williams and Morle say that seeing their projects come to life, with organisations in developing communities creating new policies which will have a long-term positive impact.

Are you up to the challenge?

The Williams’ in Papua New Guinea Image: G Williams

Potential volunteers should be aware that being immersed in a radically different culture, where you may not have the facilities that are taken for granted in Britain is not always easy.

“In one sense, every day was a challenge,” says Williams. “We never knew what we would find in the market or shops to eat.  Electricity was erratic and in rural villages and schools there wasn’t any. The internet only worked sometimes, which made communication tricky especially with family back home.  The roads were highly dangerous.”

However, for Williams overcoming these challenges only made the successes sweeter: “all this added to the experience and made every success that bit more satisfying.”

For Morle, the biggest challenge was learning the local language but this didn’t detract from her volunteering stint being “easily one of the most worthwhile things that I have ever done.”

Even if you’re on a low budget, you might find that the options available to you are actually more interesting and fulfilling than that luxury cruise.

Last modified: June 10, 2021

Written by 12:27 pm Sustainable Living