Taking a gap year in your 50’s

ROTD monthly workawayer badgeAt Workaway, we absolutely love getting to know you all whether it be meeting on the road, hearing stories through emails or by actually going on a Workaway trip ourselves. We couldn’t be prouder to be involved in such an inspiring community of travellers! So we just had to share some of your stories you tell us!

This month we talk to our Workawayer(s) of the month Sue, 56-year-old, who is currently unemployed after her boss said “Mexico or job?” (Mexico won!) and her husband Adrian, a 50-year-old self-employed electrical contractor and all round lovers of life and travel!

Hey guys, we are so excited to talk to you and learn about your adventures. What was your first workaway placement and what kind of work did it involve?

workaway silver surfer age travelOur first placement via Workaway was at a place called Huayacocotla (pronounced “Why-a- co-cot-la) in Mexico – we stayed there for just over three weeks.
Adrian: My work included sanding, varnishing a chest of drawers, altering some support legs for a raised vegetable garden, cleaning off the old paint and re-painting a 300 year old chapel.
Sue: I trimmed some to the topiary animals in the garden, a little bit of cooking in the house – I introduced the hosts to my egg muffins! Luckily, they really liked them! I also helped Adrian on the chapel repainting.

So how did you first hear about our website?

We first heard about Workaway after reading a magazine article in the UK. It was written by a well-known presenter in the UK. She was asked how she spent the long, dark winter months…. One of the things she wrote was that she often logged onto the Workaway website and dreamed of warmer countries, working with local people and learning more about their culture and customs. Intrigued, I had a look at the website…

We have to admit this is what we do in winter too! How did you decide on the destination?

As we knew we wanted to visit Mexico for three months, this seemed an ideal scenario for us too! We have visited Mexico for many years (we even married in Mexico City six years ago!) but wanted to have a closer look and better understanding of the Mexican way of life. It’s fine travelling to a country but to understand the people’s everyday lives should be an important factor too.

What other countries have you visited together? And how do you feel travelling with Workaway is different from other forms of travel?

locals experience travel lifelong friendshipWe have visited many different parts of the world – Sri Lanka, India, South Africa, USA and many parts of Europe. Yes, you can meet local people…. On buses, restaurants, sitting in a city park but these are fleeting moments, hours – if you’re lucky like us, be invited into someone’s home for a meal, but these are still short lived moments (by the way, we are still in touch with the Iranian family we met in Istanbul who invited us for a meal!). With Workaway, you get time to build a new relationship in a natural and free manner as you get to know your host/s. If you are lucky, (as we were!) your host will show you things in the local area that tourists/travellers will never see!

Do you ever miss anything from home or have any bad travel experiences?

We were not ill, did not miss anything back home…. With the small exception of missing our grandchildren occasionally (we missed our granddaughters first birthday – oops!) but that was alleviated by the use of FaceTime and Skype twice a week! Our hosts helped me enormously with my Spanish language – which raised my confidence as we continue to travel through Mexico.

How about funny things that have happened while living in a non-English speaking country?

I also asked for cocaine ice cream (helado coca) at the beach one day instead of coconut ice cream (helado coco). The look on the seller’s face let me know I’d made a BIG mistake….!

Oh, whoops! You must have lots of tips for other travellers, what are your must-haves while travelling?

Two really good things we brought with us that may help others are:
1. Rechargeable emergency power supply – about £20 on Amazon for example. Especially useful on long bus trips.
2. A small speaker for our iPhone to play our music (as we worked)! 😉

workawayers volunteer abroad advice

And how about some quick-fire bits of advice for our Workawayers?

Give the best of yourself (you are representing your country!)
Enjoy it! Many “wish” to do this but don’t. You are lucky enough to be trusted by a complete stranger in their home, don’t ruin it for others.
Be open and honest with your host – they are not mind readers!
Get to know your host – it’s not a one-way exchange. They are interested in you, your country, your experiences!
And if you’re lucky like us, your host may just become your newest friend for life.
Last but not least, LAUGH AND SMILE!

Our personal quote (which we have in our kitchen at home) is: "Making a big life change is scary. But do you know what's even scarier? Regret."

Our personal quote (which we have in our kitchen at home) is: “Making a big life change is scary. But do you know what’s even scarier? Regret.”

Guys, we absolutely love your mindset! What are you next travel plans?

We are currently travelling south through Mexico. A lot of places were suggested by our host but we also had an idea of where we wanted to go. Our timescales have changed frequently. If we enjoy a place, for example, Campeche, we have lingered a little longer. Our only fixed date is the dreaded flight home – 9th June. On this trip we have visited Mexico City, Monarch Butterfly reserve (Cerro Pelon), Huaya (as us locals call it!) Papantla, El Tajin, Tecolutla, Xalapa, Villahermosa, Campeche (recommendation – visit Edzná!)…. Mérida for two weeks (staying with our host’s daughter and family for a few days – we met them in Huaya too) then hopefully Chetumul, Tikal in Guatamala, Oaxaca, Mexico City (we may be staying with some friends of our host who we also met in Huaya). And home! Boo! We plan to do Workaway again in two years time when we go to India for three/four months.

A lot of people think that Workaway is only for the young, but this wonderful couple has just proved to us that travelling and volunteering is also for the young at heart. It’s so inspiring to learn about how people push against boundaries to follow their dream and passion for life..Thanks very much again to Sue and Adrian for the interview!

Are you also an inspired Workawayer hoping to spread the love? If you want to be featured as our next Workawayer of the Month, email us over at community@workaway.info!

30 replies
  1. Jill Christian
    Jill Christian says:

    My husband and I are 37 & 43. Workaway is for SO much more than a gap year ! Loads of hosts like having older Workawayers for different reasons. We have lined up the next 4 months with Workaway positions in amazing parts of Europe we would never go to without workaway. If you’re thinking about going travelling, we 100% recommend doing at least 1 Workaway.

    • Jill Christian
      Jill Christian says:

      Jenny Hayes There are lots of hosts that will take older people for Workaway. (Not that we consider ourselves old!) It comes down to what you can offer them as far as experience etc vs what they need. We still do a lot of manual work, but that’s because we contact a lot of remote area hosts, and we like the physical work. We’ve also come across hosts who are willing to take children, so the key is just to read profiles carefully and then keep contacting people 🙂

  2. lisa
    lisa says:

    We are starting a project in Northern Italy in September. Any “more experienced” in lifers are more than welcome with us!!!!

  3. Graciela Moreno
    Graciela Moreno says:

    Thank you for sharing this story. I am 57 and I being looking through your page for a while. Stories like this encourage me to get out or my comfort zone, I know that one day I will enjoy the Workaway community.

    • Barbara Considine
      Barbara Considine says:

      Hi Dee,
      I’m a 61-year-old woman and am considering doing a Work Away. I’m glad to see it worked out for you. Have you any suggestions about any of it? I’ve been reading about different work aways and wondering if they’d reject me because of my age, even though I’m fit and high-energy.
      Thanks, Barbara

  4. Anita
    Anita says:

    I did it last year with my 2 son’s 16 25 I was 56 …DAM fantastic year 10 work aways 20 countries 6 Continents. ….many stories will be in my book I Touched A Tigers Testicle. .. A lot of danger…. excitement …laughs…hard work and arrests …..yes you heard right …..

  5. Peri
    Peri says:

    I’m on Workaway and close to your age. I think we have an advantage as we have so much more life experience that younger people don’t have yet. We had more time to develop more skills. As long as you are healthy, I suggest this at any age. One of my host families hosted a 74 year old woman and loved the exchange with her.

    When I owned a very successful business I traveled in a very different way. Nice hotels, tourist sites, a few days here and a few days there. When business went way down during the recession and I decided it was time to close it, I didn’t want to give up my love of travel and adventure and Workaway was introduced to me. I enjoy this type of travel so much more! For the first time I really get to experience the true culture. I have stayed with one family three months and another two months. I have three more adventures already scheduled for this year. I have always been a hard worker and it is very important to me to do a good job for the hosts. I get back just as much from them.

    Really enjoyed reading your blog. Happy Travels!

  6. Felicia Tyus
    Felicia Tyus says:

    I totally agree, I am 44yo and am also traveling and doing workaways in many of the countries I will be visiting. Many host appreciate older volunteers for the maturity, reliability, and varying experience we have. I booked my workaways months in advance and had no problems obtaining bookings. Workaway is allowing me to extend my time in various countries.

  7. Wendy Glassock
    Wendy Glassock says:

    Hey there I too am a mature workawayer. At 54, I have never done anything like this before and I am giving up a full time job at the end of July and renting my house out to fulfill my dream of travelling and learning about different cultures. Discovering Workaway has been the most exciting thing to happen in years and I have my first hosting in South Africa at the end of August for 6 months – after that …… who knows ……….. but i am in touch with a host in Vancouver where I will be going in the Spring next year and hopefully maximising my time there – life feels very exciting and scary at the same time but I know without a shadow of a doubt, this is something I was meant to do 🙂

  8. Vera B
    Vera B says:

    Hi everybody, i’m 52 and I would like to do this, I love to travel and to know about other cultures. I’m Thinking doing it at the end of next year. Does anybody can give me any tips? (sorry about my english) :)!

  9. Sara Nosti
    Sara Nosti says:

    This is really inspiring! I’m nearly 40 and I have finally managed to work as a freelancer from home so I can bring my work along with me anywhere in the world. I have decided that is time to start fulfilling my dreams and this autum start travelling and working to learn from other people and other cultures. I want to start in Australia (a bit far away from my Spain 😀 )
    But everybody tells me that I’m too old, that this kind of experience is only for students or young people, and this voices were really making me think of forget about everything and just stay at home, buy a flat and this kind of things that I’m supposed to be doing at my age.
    So, it is great to see that I’m not alone and that other “not so young” people are also being part of this experience.
    Thanks for sharing!

  10. natalie davenport
    natalie davenport says:

    Great to see so many people pursuing their dreams and sharing the possibility of their lives!
    I’m a host in Bali and would really appreciate sharing our home with people who enjoy spontaneous playing music and engaging with special needs kids.
    My daughter is 15 and needs assistance with most daily tasks – and life can be a song – quite literally.
    We are involved with bamboo building techniques and our vision is to create and/or be part of a village where families with special needs children can come and feel supported and have a rad time learning new things eating healthy food, making new friends and not having to worry about “inappropriate behaviours” – siblings can hang out and go do activities with one or both parents or just with other siblings and run a mock.

    I have a daughter with intellectual disability and wasn’t coping with caring for her alone in australia so I moved overseas to find a more supportive community to help with her needs.

    I find myself in Bali among lovely caring people who are special and happy.

  11. Polly Jeffcoat
    Polly Jeffcoat says:

    My husband and I are 56 and 53 and we are travelling India at the moment. And have just left our first workaway.
    Now looking for our next around Bangalore. 🙂
    We are travelling with our daughter 27 and her partner 32 so we have the age spectrum pretty much covered lol
    Lovely to read your blog and all of the comments.
    Don’t keep thinking about it people just give it a go…..

    ‘Jeffcoat adventure before dementia’ FB. Page.
    Polly Gary Libbi and Michael.

  12. mourad
    mourad says:

    Hello everyone, I am 18 years old and would like to do that, I love traveling and learning about other cultures. I’m thinking about doing it at the end of next year. Can anyone give me any advice? (I apologize for my English) :)!

  13. Beatrice Fendrich
    Beatrice Fendrich says:

    Yes… I would love to visit/and /teach English. I do speak German as well. I have lived in Spanish speaking countries. I have taught English in several cities around the globe. I have taught all ages, especially children. I have a MA degree in Reading. I have an EU passport as well. I am a native American speaker.

    I would love to be in a warm climate especially during the Winter. I love to take short walks…but that’s about it!
    I have also been a partner in a large furniture store here in Oregon.

    I am 78 and also enjoy knitting!


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] Workaway is a service which connects volunteers with hosts. Hosts offer free board in exchange for your labour. The length of contract and type of work involved varies and you’ll to pay an annual membership fee before you can apply for a position. At the time of writing, this was $42 USD for a single person or $54 USD for two people. […]

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