I’m psyched to bring you a very special edition of the Seasonal Worker of the Month today! Again, I’m featuring seasonal workers, but this time, they’re more like seasonal volunteers. And they’re not your typical 20somethings. They’re in their 70s. They really prove that you are never too old (or, insert excuse here) to start traveling — or changing lives.

Let’s introduce Carrie and Tim, who hail from England. I was sitting at a volunteer meeting in Nicaragua when I saw this lovely couple stand up to speak. They had the poshest of accents (to my American ears, at least), they looked ultra distinguished (and it wasn’t just the accents; I swear!)… and then they talked about how many grandchildren they had and how they traveled each year to a new country to volunteer.

Every single one of the 20-30 year old volunteers smiled. The girlfriends turned to their boyfriends and said, “That’s going to be us in 50 years!” I thought: “I have to interview these guys for my blog.” They were gracious enough to agree, and I’m so grateful they took the time to share their pearls of wisdom and inspiration with us.

(If you only have the attention span to read one thing, A. shame on you, and B. check out their favorite quote.)

Meet Carrie & Tim!

Names: Carrie and Tim
Ages: Carrie is 70, and Tim is 75.
Hometown: Sheffield (Carrie) & Capetown, South Africa (Tim)
Current location: Wimbledon, London, England
Current job: Both retired, but Tim works one session a week as a group therapist. I do 2 sessions as a bereavement counsellor, and hope to do some work in a prison, too. Voluntary, so our hours are flexible.
Life philosophy in one sentence: Be open minded, nonjudgmental, and explore whatever comes your way… as long as it’s legal!
Spirit animal: Horse
Favorite quote: You are never anywhere by accident. There is always something for you to give there and something to receive.
Favorite condiment: Black rock salt (It has coconut charcoal added; buy at Waitrose.)
Fun fact about you: Optimistic and will try anything… legal!

Carrie’s & Tim’s Lives as Volunteers

Tell us a little bit about yourselves — family, interests, etc. What jobs did you have before you retired?

Tim had an estate agency in London, and on retiring did 3 years training at the Westminster Pastoral foundation, before volunteering as a group therapist. He has a grown up son and daughter, and 3 small grandchildren, living in the country. He enjoys painting oil and watercolour, and is currently painting small watercolour interiors of people’s houses (for commission). He also plays bridge.

I trained as an occupational therapist, and worked in psychiatry, then worked in a Montessori nursery school. I also became part of a women’s cooperative restaurant in London. We each cooked at home and with a friend, rented a day each week in a small restaurant; it was good when the children were small. Then I did a 3 year counseling course, and worked as a bereavement counselor.

I have 3 grown up sons and 6 grandchildren, living outside London. I like to play tennis, and do some rather undemanding keep fit exercises. Also I paint in watercolour. I like illustrating. I love being with grandchildren, though have no fixed commitment, so am not tied to much routine. I also play bridge really badly! Neither of us are trained teachers, though Tim did do a very short online TEFAL course. Nobody seemed to need anything like that though.

Tell us about your lifestyle now — how you travel and volunteer around the world.

We just google “volunteering in” the name of a country we think looks interesting and up come the names of various organisations that are doing projects there. We email any that look interesting!

We book our own flights, and now, find our own accommodation. You will usually be offered quite cheap “homestays” or student rooms or hostels. Some “older volunteers” don’t mind being in the perfectly clean and ok hostels, but we decided the novelty of sharing a kitchen/fridge/bathroom wore off rather quickly! We usually manage to find an inexpensive B&B or small flat. As we usually work for 5 weeks, deals can be done on price.

What was your first volunteer experience abroad?

Kerala, in Southern India. An orphanage for boys, most with a reasonable ability to speak English. I went on my own, having never travelled alone before, and helped in the nursery school section. I lived on-site, in a room with 2 other women — a retired doctor and a young gap year student. I stayed for 3 months.

We worked in the morning, had a little nap after lunch, (weather exhausting and hot!), then usually went around chatting to the children, or painted or read till supper time. I lost quite a lot of weight as I’m not too keen on curry — should have thought about that! However, I enjoyed it all.

I did also go under the umbrella of Projects Abroad, which I was glad about, as they met me at the various stages of my journey, and delivered me there. They have a brochure, as does i to i, but both insist that you use their hostels now I gather. Good to send for them though, as it gives you some idea of what it’s like.

What led you to that first experience?

Being 60! Also, I read about a volunteers fair in London, where all these organisations gathered, at the time.

Also, children all left home and were busy, and I’d always rather envied all these gap years they were having! So while I still had a bit of get up and go, thought I’d better get up and get on with it before too late. Also, Tim was wanting to spend more time abroad, so we compromised and decided to live abroad for 2 months each year doing this.

Where else have you volunteered?

Tim and I now volunteer together.

Port Elizabeth, South Africa: I was at a nursery school, and Tim taught english in a township to anyone who wanted to learn — mainly local helpers. We were there for 2 months and lived in a tiny 2 roomed flat — very cozy.

Accra, Ghana: Basic English and maths for both of us. Tim in a class of mixed age boys on remand, waiting for their cases to be heard. I was in another small room with girls — orphans, or some children who had just got lost and were waiting to have their families traced, and returned. As well as the above, I started playing card games and patience, and doing art. Big demand for cards!

N.E. Thailand: A small rural school. Lived in small house on stilts in the school complex. Quite basic, surrounded by hens who nested on the ladder up to our door, overnight! We both taught very basic english to classes of about 30. Lovely polite children, and good fun.

Guadalahara, Mexico: Rented a small flat. Tim Googled “language schools in Guadalahara” and found one close by. We had a small group of enthusiastic adults, including a monk. I went to an orphanage and helped the children who stayed behind from school each day, as they were ill, or too young. No help before, run by nuns, so started a little daily routine… mainly crafts, art, games, and nursery songs! Encouraged 2 resident helpers to carry on as best they could when I left. Then in the afternoon, I went over the road to a care home for people who mostly had AIDS. I talked, did some art, listened to CDs. Some Spanish was needed; mine is basic, but it was ok… plus miming!

Buenos Aires, Argentina: Lovely place, but project not so good. Tim was unable to find English teaching, and my placement didn’t start till 5 pm, as the children in the small family-like orphanage were at day camp all day. They got home and were all so tired that they just wanted to watch TV! However, a small handful did enjoy a bit of fun, and we made biscuits, art, paper folding (aeroplanes) games, and all tried to speak English.

Calcutta, India: Lived in the student accommodation. Interesting experience! Tim taught in language school, and I joined a women’s project, found on the internet. Women attended for a year to learn Batik, tie dye, cooking, woodwork, English, writing the local language, sewing, and making things to sell and export. Volunteers there just helped where we could: speaking English, teaching English, or helping with their work. All the women left equipped with skills to lead a better life.

Cambodia: Tim in language school again, and I ended up in a hospital as there was no nursery school work. (You do have to go with the flow a bit!) I transformed one little room into a playroom for use by visiting children and those not in bed, and went round the beds with a basket of art things, puzzles and games, and books, etc. Most children had a relative with them, so they joined in. I also bought a green plastic crocodile which sung its way up and down and all over the wards, blowing bubbles as it went! That was fun!

Among those experiences, what’s been your favorite and why?

Port Elizabeth, South Africa: I loved the xhosa women; we went there twice. Helping in the nursery school was lovely, and more organised than last time. The women in the afternoon did knitting, sewing, and a lot of chatting. Some people helped in the garden, too.

We always have a party at the end of our time anywhere, and these people especially love a party! They broke into spontaneous singing and dancing as a good bye, after a lovely large tea, and were all very sorry to say goodbye. The township centre was started some years ago by a wonderful energetic nun called Sister Ethel. I’d say this was a good place to start volunteering!

How did you find that opportunity? Any tips or advice for others interested in the same thing?

We found that Port Elizabeth placement through Tim — he knew the nun. If you don’t speak any other languages, don’t worry; miming works wonders, and most places you’re helping with, a teacher is with you. The children just love your presence and manage to make themselves understood somehow.

Share one awesome memory from your volunteering + travel experiences. Why was it special?

I think every experience we’ve had was special in different ways. Not everything we did was exciting, but every place we went was different. We were glad we’d met the people we did, and the children were, of course, always lovely. I think that we learnt also to be affectionate but somehow not get over involved, because we found that especially in orphanages, everyone gets really tearful when you go.

Looking back on our times away, small details — such as a memory of our regular tea time place with lots of tea and chocolate brownies — brings back the whole feel of the place in quite a different way than a sightseeing tour. These small things seem to trigger a warm emotional memory of the place, where you’d been lucky enough to live as a member of the community and get to know the people around you in a more intimate way.

Once in Port Elizabeth, we did have a scary experience. We had set off, as usual, for a weekend jaunt in the car, and we both fell asleep on a motorway. Amazingly, the oncoming lorry managed to avoid killing us, though we came to and the passenger side of the car was a total write off. We found ourselves dazed, on the wrong side of the road, with both lorry drivers hanging over the car thanking God for a miracle! Both they and the police were so calm and kind and helpful, offering us cold drinks, rides home (100 mls!) and great concern. It made me wonder what things would have been like if that was England.

What made you decide to make this your lifestyle? Would you recommend it to other retired people? Any regrets?

We felt that very little around you seems to change, and it seemed easy to slot back into normal routines. Our travels usually makes us feel more stimulated/refreshed/excited and with more of an insight into some of the different problems around the world.. Also, I now appreciate dependable hot water, electricity, and other comforts we take for granted!

I’d definitely recommend it, if only for a short time to give someone somewhere a break, or to offer a bit of help. It’s a two-way thing: you always seem to gain as much as you give.

Do you have any general tips for other people interested in volunteering abroad — to find and make the most out of their experiences?

Most have been mentioned above, but we realised placements are often quite different than you have been lead to believe, so you just have to trust that whatever happens will be absolutely the right thing for you! Also, if you can, try and do a little jaunt at the weekend, when you’ve gotten to know the place.We don’t book in advance, rather preferring to ask people when we get there.

What would you say to someone who is interested in volunteering or traveling abroad, but is scared?

Chose a country that you love, or one that speaks english. If on your own, accept offered accommodation with others, and find a project that will take volunteers for shorter spells. Plan a holiday, too — usually after working.

Don’t be scared, accept any help offered by the project, and remember that there are always some very good experiences, things to learn, and FUN when you get there. You’re never anywhere by accident! Fear evapourates when you’ve started! We have never yet regretted going… only perhaps that we didn’t go earlier!

Can you add any last words of wisdom for my readers, who are mostly young and adventurous souls?

If you are about to have a break before more study (Susan’s note: or work!), you will enjoy a volunteering experience at least as much as pure travel, so don’t miss out. Be open minded, talk to people everywhere, immerse yourself in what’s around you, make long term friends, learn anything you can… and have fun!

A MASSIVE thanks to Carrie & Tim for sharing their wisdom with us. Carrie typed this entire thing with two fingers, and scanned these photos just for this interview. That is dedication! If they don’t motivate you to do something awesome with your life, I’m not sure what will. 

Do you think someone you know would be inspired by this? Your parents, perhaps? Share this with them!