Volunteering for mature travellers

14 June 2017

Volunteering is becoming increasingly popular amongst mature travellers, and approximately 30% of our volunteers are aged over 35 - a group that has been deemed “grown up gappers”.

Seeing amazing places, making a contribution and having a life-changing adventure, is no longer the exclusive domain of the 18-30s!

If you’ve just retired, have the time and finances to travel, and a bucket list to work through, a volunteer experience can tick several things off your list at once. We find that older volunteers have a lot to offer, and our projects give you the perfect opportunity to share your skills and make a difference, while meeting different people of all ages and backgrounds. Why not travel with your children or grandchildren and make it a shared experience?

So, how do you decide which project is the right fit?

1. What’s your dream?

Maybe its walking with elephants; seeing rhinos up close in the wild; working with primates; sharing your skills in a community outreach medical clinic; doing veterinary work with exotic animals or teaching English in rural schools. There’s almost certainly going to be a project out there that fulfils your dreams.

2. How social are you?

Do you want to mix with lots of other volunteers of all ages and nationalities, or have a quiet intimate experience? Think about what sort of accommodation you would be comfortable in and find out if there’s a private room available or a separate cottage.

3. What tasks will you be set and is there the option to reduce the workload or skip some activities?

Most projects will allow you the position of team photographer if there is one activity that is particularly physical!

4. Whats the weather going to be like?

Whether you’re a sun worshipper or prefer things a bit more temperate, make sure you pick the right country at the right time of year. And remember, lots of Africa gets chilly in the winter!

5. What injections do you need?

Some African countries require more injections than others, but many places do not require Yellow Fever or even malaria tablets, making travelling much easier to organise.

Our top travel tips for mature volunteers:

- Comfort

Make sure you pack comfortable clothes suitable for the flight, transfers to the project (often a couple of hours) and while you’re at the programme. Most projects will have a laundry service either included in the fee or for a few dollars a week. Ask if you need to provide your own washing powder. Pack comfortable shoes - it’s never advisable to take a pair of brand new shoes if you’re going to be doing a lot of walking.


Pack your own small first aid kit with any preferred brands. Remember to take enough of any prescription medications you may require and ensure that your name is on them. Pack rehydration salts to overcome dehydration and don’t forget mosquito repellent even in areas where there is no malaria. Remember your sun cream (we recommend at least SPF 30) and after sun! Most projects will require you to have travel insurance so make sure it has good health cover and repatriation, and make sure you declare any pre-existing conditions.

- Communication

Some places may have internet but one thing you can almost be sure of, is that the internet in the bush is unlikely to be as fast as you are used to at home. Be patient and use the opportunity to get away from it all - the internet (and electricity!) is often a luxury. Let your family and friends know that you might not be in touch frequently.

- Documents

Make sure your passport is up to date, has at least 6 months before expiry and has the required number of blank pages - some countries, such as South Africa, require that travellers have at least 3 completely blank pages in their passport. Make sure you check out the visa requirements for all countries that you plan on visiting - do this a few months in advance in case you need to apply before you leave. Namibia requires that all volunteers obtain a work visa, which can take up to 8 weeks to organise.

What do other mature travellers say about their volunteer experience?

"I am a 60 year-old retired attorney who decided it was time to do something worthwhile. I have always loved animals, maintaining homes for such creatures as llamas, a blind deer, and tortoises, to name a few. Another retired attorney and friend had participated in various volunteer projects in Africa and unearthed the Imire program. When we stumbled upon the video, “There’s a Rhino in my House,” we were both hooked.

We spent two weeks performing various tasks such as repairing wash-outs in the road, pulling down unsafe watchtowers, removing old fencing, and painting and constructing new elephant mounting platforms.  

I was totally taken with the black rhino, Tatenda, the star of “There’s a Rhino in my House” and whose “boma” is located next to the volunteer house. He clearly loves human company, so I would pull up a chair next to his boma at night and we would discuss world issues and perhaps he would get an ear massage.

I also spent a lot of time with the elephants, usually cleaning their “nests” in the morning and trundling countless wheelbarrows of elephant manure each day. One of the highlights of my stay was walking Tatenda home one evening with his handler/guard, Brighton, and looking behind me to see the elephants coming up behind us to be put to bed. I never tired of seeing the elephants. Even glimpsing them across the dam from the volunteer house was magical, since they are such stately creatures and move so gracefully.

Finally, I neglected to mention that I have suffered from Parkinson’s for about fifteen years.  My protective husband thought that I might be a target because of my sometimes visible disability.  Exactly the opposite occurred.  Often I was targeted by the kindness of the people around me, who rushed to help me if I fell, or assisted me if I was slowing down because of a medication meltdown."

Marcia, Rhino & Elephant Conservation, Zimbabwe

"Every time I visit this project, and this is my third time, I am always impressed by the professionalism and dedication of the staff. This is from the cooks right through to the rhino and elephant handlers who are always very knowledgable and love imparting their wisdom to us lesser mortals unfortunate enough not to live in Africa

Whether riding horses or following the rhino through the bush, they are always very dedicated, keeping the volunteers amused and safe at the same time. The school visits are always a joy - whether its helping with the local juniors, counting or doing colours or numbers or helping the secondary school with their vegetable garden, many friendships are made between volunteers and kids.

The work we do is meaningful - clearing fences and mucking out the elephants and the staff are always there to help when necessary. Bright is hugely knowledgeable and keeps us going with his enthusiasm and terrible jokes. Mike is also great and keeps us amused in the evenings when the power is usually off!
All in all this is a very worthwhile project knowing that you are personally helping an animal which could be extinct within your lifetime unless something is done about it. I am sure I will be returning again!"

Nigel, Rhino & Elephant Conservation, Zimbabwe

I was so impressed by the project staff and teachers' values and their committment to the enviroment and local communities. It was crucial for me that this experience would be more than a "feel-good" operation set up solely for tourists. I have worked with Children in the Wilderness before, so I knew their endorsement would give me the guarantee of its credibility and value.

We had an amazing experience. I have never felt happoer or more comfortable than with the people who I met on this project. They have 100% integrity.

I achieved a perfect balance - doing good work, enjoying life, meeting extraordinary people, seeing amazing animals and landscapes, having a drink next to a grazing elephant. I could not pick one moment to like the best!"

Brigitte, Teaching & Literacy, Victoria Falls

Take a look at a selection of volunteer programmes popular with mature volunteers

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