Grey gap years: Why retirement is the perfect time to get away

It’s commonplace for students to head off on a year of discovery before settling down into the world of university or work. But it’s becoming an increasingly popular choice for the ‘young at heart’, too.

Today, many over fifties are taking full advantage of the time freed up by finishing work to enjoy a gap year before they relax into retirement. And like their younger counterparts, they are using this extended break to fulfil an interest or thirst for adventure.

Reports suggest that there are in the region of 200,000 people already taking ‘grey’ gap years from the UK1, and this figure looks set to rise. Spending around £5,000 per trip, they are using savings, pensions, schemes like equity release and income from letting out their home to fund the trip of a lifetime.

Fresh from a career, you may decide to use your valuable business or practical know⁠-⁠how in your time out. There is a wealth of volunteer opportunities across the world where your skills will be in great demand. Projects in Asia and Africa, for example, cover areas like business development, plumbing, animal care, house building and education.

A number of organisations cater exclusively for those of us wishing to help out abroad. According to Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO), 40% of its volunteers are in their fifties and sixties, and 2% in their seventies. In fact, they raised their age limit from 65 to 75 in 2003 to take advantage of increasing numbers of retirees looking to put their time to good use, whilst also seeing the world.2 Opting to take off on a gap ‘year’ doesn’t have to mean you’re away for a full twelve months. Volunteer schemes range from just a few weeks to two years, depending on how long you’d like to be away.

A gap year also doesn’t have to be dedicated to good causes. It can simply be an excuse for visiting other parts of the globe on an extended holiday. Research by the National Employment Savings Trust (NEST) revealed that travel is the nation’s main aim, with 62% choosing exploring the world over new hobbies or treating their family.

So whether the idea of a gap year for volunteering or seeing the world appeals to you, planning is the key to success. You can do this yourself or, if that sounds a little daunting, you can employ the services of a specialist company, which will take charge of visas, flights, insurance, accommodation and local arrangements for you.

Either way, your friends and family can look forward to hearing all about it. Thanks to the Internet, you’ll find it easier than ever before to email and phone home or record your gap year experiences in a blog. So the only question remaining is, when you reach retirement and yearn to spread your wings, where will you go?