You’ve probably done your research already on gap years for adults and older people. You know it does not have to be too challenging, it does not have to last a year and you that you probably don’t need to do it alone.
We’ve rounded up the three most important questions our grown up gappers are asking us with some helpful advice on each.
“Will I be the oldest volunteer and feel like everyone’s mum or dad?”
This must be the number one question asked everyday by any adult gapper over 25. If you don’t want to be picking up all the boys socks or feel the urge to wash up after everyone, then it will be preferable to join a project between September and May. Although no one will expect you to play the parent at any time of year, it might be hard to resist around younger volunteers.
Taking a gap year before the summer means you can avoid the summer high volumes of University students and the pre-Uni crowd who can only get away in the summer months.
At all projects between September and Spring with any organisation you will generally find a mixed bag of ages and a wide range of motivations for volunteering. It probably is the best time for an adult gap year. Our off-peak volunteers, off peak referring to season and not age, tend to fall into the following categories fairly evenly:
• Pre-University Genuine Gap Year Student
• Career Breaker with one or two months off for travel and volunteering
• Career Changer looking for some relevant new career work experience
• Self-employed professional with gap in schedule
We also notice ages of our volunteers are evenly spread too; on a project in November you can expect to find a couple of 18 year olds, twenty-somethings, thirty-somethings, a couple of 40+, 50+.
Our oldest volunteer date was, we quote, ‘80 years young’ and volunteered in Mexico for two weeks in January.
These off-peak months would contrast greatly with our summer volunteers of whom the majority will be aged 18 to 23 years old.
The advantage of being on a project of mixed ages is that everyone comes together. When there are only ten volunteers you tend to spend more time with each other and grow a deeper appreciation for people you might not ordinarily mix with at home. In the summer months with larger volunteer group sizes of as many as 30, we notice everyone naturally divide themselves up into sub-groups of similar age.
This coming together means insights, perspectives and life experience can be shared and it works in both directions too. Don’t think an 18 year old with no life experience has nothing to offer a professional career breaker in their 40s or an early retiree. You’d be surprised.
“What if I don’t like it and want to come home early?”
Planning and expectations are key to your comfortability and enjoyment on a volunteer project.
If you are in any doubt whether you will enjoy your volunteering abroad, don’t commit yourself to many months on your first trip, take a taster trip first. Ask your chosen volunteer organisation for their suggestions.
For example, if you are considering a 6 month trip in a year or two’s time then you may want to try a 2 or 4 week trip first. By contrast, some volunteers taking 4 week projects started with a 10 day trip on our community programme in Morocco which is a little closer to the UK than other destinations yet still feels exotic and far-flung but only 3 hours from London.
It is important to be able as close as possible to visualise the environment you are going to. Unfortunately, no website or online research will be able to provide enough information on this as we all have our own motivations and preferences that we take to our chosen project.
In addition, each project is unique. There is currently no chain of volunteer projects operating with the same atmosphere and approach as you would find for hotel chains.
Ten teaching projects for example will offer ten completely different experiences from the volunteering itself, the accommodation and local support to how you will or won’t need to organise your free time.
To make sure you choose the right project get the information you need on your chosen project here are a few questions you might want to ask:
1. Will I be on my own or with other volunteers?
2. How realistic is it that I will be able to make a difference on my first trip?
3. Will I need experience? How do other volunteers without experience manage?
4. Can you pair me up with another volunteer to travel together or how likely will it be there are other volunteers when I travel?
5. Will you send a driver to meet me at the airport?
6. How long is the transfer time from airport to where I will be staying?
7. Have you had older volunteers before on the project?
8. Is there an experienced person who can speak English to settle me in and introduce me to my volunteering placement?
9. Will I be escorted each day to my volunteer placement?
10. How challenging or comfortable will the accommodation be?
11. Will meals be provided? If not, is there a kitchen I can use and shops I can reach independently?
12. Will there be someone I can contact if I need any help during my stay?
13. How much time will I have free to explore and can anyone help me organise this?
14. Will I have my own bed room or should I expect to share?
15. What is a typical day like?
16. Can I try different volunteering experiences during my stay or will I be limited to just the one?
17. How will I organise my return back to the airport?
When chatting with an advisor, it is best not to hold back your concerns. Do not expect anyone to second-guess what you are looking for or your personal concerns.
If you are ready for the challenge of getting stuck in and dirty but need to get a good night’s sleep in a comfortable room at night then make this clear. You won’t cause offence and any experienced volunteer advisor will have heard the same request many times before.
“Can I afford an adult gap year?”
If you have a total budget of £1000 then you should be able to stay in a developing country for between 3 and 4 weeks, providing you have found an affordable project and flights are no more than £500.
With a budget of £2000 to include flights then you will be able to cover living costs for up to 3 months without any undue worry.
If you have found an affordable volunteering organisation (Original Volunteers trips start at no cost to India for 2 weeks and £150 for 12 weeks in Cambodia) the flight may be the most expensive aspect of your trip.
As a general guide, if you are flying from the UK to Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia or Latin America and buying a return ticket in advance, expect to pay between £450 -£600 return. Skyscanner.net is the preferred flight search engine.
Flights to Morocco in North Africa are very reasonable starting at £50 return in January with Ryanair from Stansted. Typical return prices to Morocco the rest of the year average £110. For this reason many older people start their volunteering in Morocco on a short break.
If you are unsure buying flights online and need a guiding hand there are many agents who will be happy to spend the time going through all available flight route options.
Flightcentre was recently recommended by two older volunteers. Apparently Susan at Flightcentre’s Cambridge office has been super patient and helpful both in store and by telephone ever after 1.5 hour long consultations. Tel: 01223 301940.
Volunteers have also recommended STA Travel and Trailfinders for their patience.
After you have covered your project accommodation, providing you are based in a developing country you should find you can manage on £7- £10 a day.
The biggest daily cost will be eating out if your project accommodation does not include meals so try to limit this if you are on a budget. A café may seem good value charging only £4 a meal including a drink but eating out three times a day in these affordable cafes will soon eat into any budget.
Some locations will require you cover or share transport costs to get to your volunteer placement and can vary enormously between nothing, if you live on site to £1 a day for a short return bus journey. If you are in a city needing buses and taxis or in a remote area you may need to allow £10 a day. Ask your volunteer organisation what you should expect to pay and how this is paid.
It sounds a bit obvious but you will need to shop around to find the best deal. There can be more than £200 difference between similar policies which may cover an extra week or two away or an organised tour.
If you have an existing condition there may be an organisation or charity which recommends specialist affordable insurance or an insurance broker which caters specifically to your needs.