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Gap years for baby boomers

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In the last few decades teenagers may have been able to claim the “gap year” – the interval between finishing school and starting university or further education – as their own. It has become practically a rite of passage – one in which even royal princes William and Harry decided to indulge, the Express newspaper reminded us on the 16th of September 2018.

But a growing number of people are helping to show that the idea of a gap year is not solely the preserve of youth – many baby boomers, now in their 50s, 60s or 70s, are enjoying what the BBC’s Generation Project on the 7th of November 2018 calls a “golden gap year”.

What defines the gap year?

Your golden gap year can be absolutely what you want it to be – a break from the routine, something adventurous, the chance to try your hand at anything that comes to mind. Unlike your younger counterparts, you are less likely to be constrained by the need to return for the start of a new term or the beginning of further training. You can take your time.

There are some well-worn, tried and tested ways of embarking on that step into the unknown – and most have featured travel, temporary work in some foreign field, volunteering, or a combination of all of those.


The world is your oyster when it comes to travel these days. Nowhere is impossible, nowhere needs to be ruled out, but you might still find your own trails remote enough to get away from it all and taste the adventure.

The charity Age UK has an extensive range of travel suggestions, offering varying degrees of comfort and assistance for all ages. You might opt for an escorted tour, or you can choose a tailor-made travel adventure that includes long-haul flights to far away and more exotic destinations.

But your adventures might be altogether more modest, and many can be found in Europe or within the UK itself. Browse the websites of the national and regional tourist boards in your chosen destination as part of your pre-travel planning to make the most of your trip.

Remember, too, that the rail networks in most European countries – including the UK’s Senior Railcard – offer sizeable travel discounts to the over 60s. For an overview of the various schemes in the major European destinations, check out the website tripsavvy.

Some rail services in the UK, such as Greater Anglia, offer discounted travel for those aged over 50, so make sure to check if you could take advantage of any travel incentives.

If you plan to spend a golden gap year immersing yourself in the local history of the area in which you live, note that most local authorities operate free or discounted bus fares to the over-60s. To learn more about the schemes in your area, just enter your postcode into the search box on the government website for up to date details.

Further reading: How to enjoy solo travelling.


When it comes to volunteering during an extended gap year, older people have certainly stolen a march on the youngsters.

The Royal Voluntary Service has estimated that some 30% of those aged between 65 and 74 do some form of voluntary work and that even amongst the over 75s that figure is still up to 20%.

People aged 50 or older can find volunteering opportunities with the Retired and Senior Volunteering Programme.

Volunteering to help socially isolated or lonely older people is a way of paying your community back so that it not only helps them but you too, says the NHS. It gives you a sense of purpose, is likely to boost your self-esteem and value, while encouraging you to take your mind off any of your own problems for a while.

It's the simple things, such as your time, company and a good conversation that are likely to count the most – so you needn't be put off by any fear of the volunteering being overly demanding or challenging.

Your local council offices, library or branch of Citizens’ Advice is likely to have any number of contact details for volunteering activities in your area – or you might try one of the national coordinators such as Contact the Elderly, Friends of the Elderly, Independent Age, Silver Line, or Volunteering Matters.

Temporary work

Many young gap year students help to pay for their travel and adventures by taking on temporary work along the way.

Although you might not be quite so strapped for cash as the youngsters, any extra money is certain to come in handy and may also give you some sense of purpose and a commitment to helping the local economy wherever you happen to pitch up.

You are likely to be paid by the hour, you are unlikely to have much in the way of job security, but by the same token, you are also free to quit the job whenever you choose. These days – and armed only with your laptop – you might even decide to work remotely from some exotic paradise on the kind of jobs you might have been doing at home. Freelancing work is exceptionally mobile.

The appropriately named Gap Year website publishes listings of temporary overseas work as and when it becomes available – not all of which might be appropriate for older people, but give you an insight into possible openings.

The data used in this article is accurate at the time of writing.

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