The early years of retirement can be more fruitful, fun-packed and adventurous than any that went before, with the time and space to explore the countless possibilities that life still holds. But what should you do and where should you start? Drawing up a list will help to concentrate you mind and energise you.
What that list comprises will depend on you, but ideally it will contain challenges that stretch you mentally and physically, activities in which you give back to the community, opportunities for adventure, and some pure larks, close to home and as far afield as you wish to go.
Keep notebooks, photos and videos throughout your adventure. Take selfies at significant moments. Add mementos such as travel tickets, souvenirs, menus, postcards, street maps, photos of people you meet. Don’t just record what you did, but also describe how it made you feel. It could be life-changing.
Below we offer an ideal mix of 25 stimulating, altruistic, joyful and demanding endeavours Try them all, or pick and choose the ones that most appeal. Only be sure not to omit number 25!
1. Speak up
Learn the art of public speaking or simply improve your communication skills and gain the confidence to articulate your views, by joining a dedicated club. Toastmasters International and the Association of Speakers Clubs are two of the best-known bodies in the UK, with networks of clubs. Both offer members constructive feedback on prepared and impromptu speeches. The aim is to instil confidence and to hone leadership skills by teaching, for example, the use of vocabulary and body language, to hold, move and motivate an audience. Members share stories from their lives in a sociable atmosphere that encourages firm friendships.
2. Give some puppy love
If you are fond of dogs and are not in full-time employment, but can’t commit to a pooch for life, why not become a puppy parent? Guide Dogs, Hearing Dogs for Deaf People, and Canine Partners (which trains dogs to give practical help and companionship to people with physical disabilities) all need people to foster puppies from around the age of six to eight weeks until they are 12-16 months. You will help to train and socialise them with the aid of expert trainers, and will expose them to all sorts of environments. There may be tears when you say goodbye, but it will be with the knowledge that your dog will transform someone’s life.
3. Capture the memories
Bring your family tree to life by recording the memories of the oldest generation, who often have crystal-clear recall of their earliest years, with stories going back several generations. Gather old photos to act as prompts, and prepare your ‘interview’ like a professional to gather as much detail as possible. Commercial companies will do this for you, but it’s much more personally rewarding to do it yourself. Make recordings – video or audio – in short, manageable sessions, teasing out those precious details. You can learn techniques from a number of online sites.
Soon you’ll be enticed by lands you’ve never thought of visiting, along with those you’ve always dreamed of seeing
4. Find a foreign home from home
Visit a different country every year by home-swapping. This not only saves on accommodation costs, but encourages you to try new destinations. If you’re nervous, start with near-neighbour countries, but soon you’ll be enticed by lands you’ve never thought of visiting, along with those you’ve always dreamed of seeing. Your own home doesn’t need to be in a tourist hotspot – sell its attractions by viewing them through a visitor’s eyes. Always use an authentic home-swap organisation and get to know your prospective swap partner before committing. As well as direct exchanges, some larger sites allow you to accrue points and stay at a home without swapping. Useful sites include Nomador, House Carers and Mind My House.
5. Share your wisdom
Pass on your hard-won work and life experience to someone younger. If you belong to a professional body, it may be able to put you in touch with a potential mentee – or you can put the word out on social media. The Coaching and Mentoring Network offers advice on how to go about this, on both a paid and voluntary basis. If you’re especially good with kids, Chance UK can match you with a child. You’ll meet once a week with the aim of developing your young charge’s skills and self-confidence through a wide variety of activities, with regular support from the charity. Grandmentors pairs volunteers aged 50-plus with care-leavers aged 16 to 25 in north London, Ipswich and Folkestone, helping them with anything from opening a bank account to applying for a job.
Leo Tolstoy was 67 before he learnt to ride a bicycle
6. Become a virtuoso
If you’ve long held a passion for something – the violin, the Tudor period, native birdlife – but have never had the leisure to acquire the expertise in your pet subject, now is the moment to aspire to mastery. You will need commitment, focus, constant practice and time.
Author Malcolm Gladwell, who studied the secrets of success, maintains that it takes 10,000 hours of ‘deliberate practice’ (pushing your skills to the maximum) to become world class in any field. That’s 250 40-hour working weeks – but don’t despair. Various academics have dismissed the 10,000-hour rule, and Gladwell’s main contention is that natural ability alone is not enough; you need to put in the groundwork. Then, remember, Grandma Moses was 76 before she even picked up a paintbrush. Leo Tolstoy was 67 before he learnt to ride a bicycle (not that he became world class, but you get the point).
Writer Robert Greene, who has examined the lives of towering figures from Mozart to Charles Darwin, advises, among much else, finding a role model from history.
Outliers: the Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell (2008); Mastery, Robert Greene (2012)
7. Make tracks for the continent
If you love trains, have a taste for adventure and want to see a lot of Europe, Interrail is the way to go. A global pass covers 30 countries and 44,000 destinations. Passes, valid on participating train, ferry and public transport companies, range from one for five travelling days within 15, to one allowing travel every day for a month. Brexit won’t affect them, but check for current prices, which include one outbound and one inbound journey in your country of residence. If you’re over 60 you get a 10% discount. All major cities have discount cards for museums and theatres to help you make the most of each destination. You need to make a reservation for most high-speed, international and night trains, but otherwise you can freewheel to your heart’s content.
8. Show how your garden grows
If you’ve been lovingly tending your garden for decades, and are devoting more time to it than ever, it must be at its beautiful best, so here’s a chance to show it off and help a good cause. Every year, around 3,700 gardens open to the public to raise money for charity via the National Garden Scheme. Even tiny plots qualify as long as there is plenty to interest visitors. You can dip your toes in the water by volunteering to serve teas or manage an NGS social media page before deciding to open your gate to the visitors.
9. Make up for lost teens
Perhaps the most difficult time to be a teenager is from age 13 to 18, when shyness, peer pressure, strict parents, pimples, exams, first love and heartbreak can take the shine off those ‘best years of your life’. If you look back on your teens and wish you’d had more fun, what’s to stop you from reprising them? Write a list of all the things you wish you’d done back then, and work through it. Here are some ideas.
Go couch surfing. Sleep on a sofa or in a spare room free in 200,000 cities around the world and make new friends.
Go backpacking and take temporary jobs en route.
Wait at tables, serve behind a bar or operate a checkout one day a week. You’ll see life from a different perspective.
Party all night and eat a greasy-spoon breakfast before going home.
10. Learn the kiss of life
Some 1,000 lives a year are needlessly lost to heart attack because too few of us (just four in ten bystanders) are willing or able to administer life-saving interventions. Imagine standing helplessly by, waiting for an ambulance, while a loved-one, friend or stranger becomes part of that woeful statistic! If you have never learnt resuscitation techniques, seize the day. Train to be a first-aider to gain the knowledge and confidence to cope with such emergencies as cardiac arrest, bleeding, burns, choking, anaphylactic shock and more.
The Red Cross offers separate four-hour courses in adult and paediatric first aid, from £45. St John Ambulance has a wide range of courses in first aid and emergency resuscitation from £28. Also check out the British Heart Foundation’s Heartstart courses, run by volunteers around the country, and at the very least study and commit to memory the online instructions.
11. Raise your quotes quota
Start a journal of words of wit and wisdom from the great, the good and the not-so-good. Each week choose a theme word and search online for quotations to live by, to learn from or to laugh at. One week you might plump for happiness, another week ageing, another week, famous last words. Copy down the ones that resonate with you.
Perhaps George Sand: ‘There is only one happiness in this life, to love and be loved.’ George Bernard Shaw: ‘You don’t stop laughing when you grow old, you grow old when you stop laughing.’ Bob Hope to his wife, Dolores, when she asked where he wanted to be buried: ‘Surprise me.’
12. Grow your onions
When you’re busy working or bringing up children, it’s tempting to pick up your vegetables from the supermarket, where ‘fresh’ can be a misnomer, or just to open a packet of frozen peas. But growing your own fruit and veg confers a multitude of benefits. You will eat super-fresh, chemical-free produce at a fraction of the cost of buying it, and get endorphin-raising fresh air and exercise.
If you don’t have a garden, find an allotment or share one, and start with the simplest stuff. The five easiest vegetables to grow in the UK, according to Which?, are salad leaves, courgettes, runner/green beans, tomatoes and potatoes. Our Fruit and Vegetables section of the website is a fertile source of advice.
13. Be crafty
Craft work brings multiple benefits beyond the creation of something useful or beautiful; crafting makes us happier, helps to banish anxiety and depression, and halves the risk of developing mild cognitive impairment. Such absorbing pastimes as painting and embroidering engender a zen-like meditative state of mind. If you are too cack-handed for fine needlework or calligraphy, try hooking a rug, throwing a pot, restoring old furniture, jewellery or candle-making. You might even develop a profitable line to sell at craft fairs. Get together with friends, join a crochet club or sewing bee if you prefer a social to a solitary environment.
14. Go UNESCO
From the mysterious stone figures of Easter Island, to the Victoria Falls on the Zambezi, to the mausoleum of China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huan, guarded by an army or terracotta warriors, there are UNESCO World Heritage sites to hold everyone in thrall. Visit the website to find those that best suit your purse and your passions, and resolve to see at least ten sites.
There is no need to journey halfway round the world if you don’t wish to, with so many marvels close to home, such as Stonehenge, Georgian Bath, the Forth Bridge (the painting of it finally completed in 2011), Thomas Telford’s vertiginous Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and Canal, the Tower of London, and Blenheim Palace.
15. Hit the open road in style
‘The poetry of motion! The real way to travel! The only way to travel! … O bliss! O poop-poop! O my! O my!’ You don’t have to drive like that menace Mr Toad to share his love of the open road and motoring as it used to be. Hire a classic car, whether veteran (pre-1914), vintage (1919-1930) or something more recent but distinctive and fine, and go for a spin, with a picnic hamper on board. Fans promise that you will experience a magical connection between yourself, the car and the landscape. The years will roll back and you’ll feel glamorous and stylish. The best hire companies provide a personal touch and give you notes on the idiosyncrasies and handling of the car you choose. More information: Classic Car Hire, Self Drive Classics.
16. Sing out
Our voices change as we age, and our hearing deteriorates, but Plácido Domingo, the ‘King of Opera’, is still performing at the age of 77, so you can’t plead that you’re ‘too old’. There is strong evidence that singing keeps you young and makes you healthy and happy. It provides a physical and emotional workout, strengthens the lungs and circulation, delivers oxygen to the brain, improves posture and breathing and reduces panic attacks, among a whole host of benefits.
Even if you’re not a great singer, you can be taught techniques, and there are lots of choirs that provide a warm, inclusive, supportive environment for the novice. Singing ensemble, in whatever style, from classical to pop, creates a great spirit of togetherness, and research has shown that choristers have a higher sense of wellbeing than those who sing alone. If regular choir practice is not for you, you can always go to your local church and belt out All Things Bright and Beautiful. More information: British Choirs, Making Music.
17. Keep a castle
Fancy caretaking a castle? Becoming a live-in museum guardian? The custodian of a Tudor half-timbered hall house or a great author’s former home? The National Trust, the Historic Houses Association and a number of historical trusts appoint people to live in their properties, from Modernist masterpieces to picturesque, centuries-old cottages. You might rent out your own house and experience life for a while in a unique home. You will share it with visitors on open days and may be responsible for upkeep, but every Christmas, summer or birthday celebrated there will be memorable.
18. Learn a language
Forget the canard about old dogs and new tricks. It is never too late to acquire a new language. The key to success, say experts, is motivation. And the secret? Application – yes, from Swedish to Swahili there’s an app for that! Indeed, there are now several apps and online tutorials, many of them free, designed to teach you a language in your own home. You could join a class and enjoy the social aspect, but the advantage of home learning is that you can practise whenever you have a spare ten minutes – all you need is your computer or smart phone. One of the leading providers, Duolingo, uses text, pictures and audio, and enables you to track your progress as you move through modules.
As an added incentive, speaking a second language has been shown to stave off dementia, and the more fluent you become, the more this holds true, as switching between languages, suppressing one and then the other, is great training for the brain – a compelling reason to get going right away. Useful websites: Duolingo, Memrise and Busuu.
19. Revel in the gaiety of nations
Give travel a new spin by celebrating St Patrick’s Day (March 17) in Dublin (or New York for the parade), Thanksgiving (the fourth Thursday in November) in the USA, Independence Day (4 July) in Washington, and Robert Burns’ birthday in Scotland (25 January) with a Burns supper of whisky, haggis, tatties and neeps. Norway celebrates Constitution Day on 17 May in Oslo with street parades, marching bands and events that kick off with ‘potluck breakfast’ where you eat what you fancy, however inappropriate. Peru celebrates independence on 28 and 29 July with Fiestas Patrias, a mix of music, dancing, parades and fireworks.
20. Dine with the fishes
The local chippie is all very well, but there are more magical places to go for a fish supper. Dubbed ‘the world’s most beautiful restaurant’, Ithaa (it means ‘mother of pearl’), Maldives, is the world’s first undersea, all-glass diner, situated five metres below the surface, affording kaleidoscopic views of vibrant coral gardens, as iridescent fish swim by and over you.
Descend by a dramatic, chandelier-lit staircase, and you will discover a veritable mermaid’s grotto, six metres deep in the Indian Ocean
Or you might take a speedboat across a lagoon to Subsix at Per Aquum, also in Maldives. Descend by a dramatic, chandelier-lit staircase, and you will discover a veritable mermaid’s grotto, six metres deep in the Indian Ocean, where parrotfish, Moray eels and Moorish idols peer in, goggle-eyed, as the funny humans in anemone-inspired chairs, tuck in to a champagne breakfast or lunch under a ceiling of shimmering capiz shells.
Or you could see some very big fish indeed at the fabulously expensive, seven-star Burj Al Arba hotel in Dubai, where Al Mahara (‘the oyster shell’) restaurant brings the cuisine of the Michelin-starred chef Nathan Outlaw to a setting with a floor-to-ceiling aquarium. Closer to home and more affordable, enjoy a coffee and pastries in the Atrium bar at the Berlin Radisson Blu hotel, seated at the foot of the world’s largest cylindrical aquarium, stocked with 1,500 tropical fish from more than 100 species.
21. Go around the world in 80 ways
‘To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive,’ wrote Robert Louis Stephenson. ‘Tell that to Southern Rail passengers!’ you may riposte, but once you’re free of the daily commute you can discover the truth of the saying, by experiencing as many different modes of transport as come to mind. You might start in and around the UK – ride the Snowdon Mountain Railway, steam along the tracks from Settle to Carlisle, take it slowly on a canal barge, mount a bicycle made for two, try a Segway, a helicopter, a hot-air balloon, amphibious vehicle, tank (yes, you can!). Or quest farther afield. Dhow? Gondola? Caïque? Camel? Cable car? Husky sled? Rickshaw? Funicular? Paddle steamer, zip line, junk…? Such transports of delight!
22. Become an extra
Sorry, that should read ‘become a background artist’, or ‘supporting artiste’. You won’t make a fortune, you’re unlikely to rub shoulders with the stars, and it’s not a route to the big time (though it can lead to something more substantial). You have to be flexible, available, prepared for early starts, might get a haircut, willy-nilly, and must expect to spend time hanging around. But you will earn some money, be fed, gain an insider’s view of the business, meet people, get to dress up, have some fun, catch a fleeting glimpse of yourself on screen and be able to dine out on the tale of how Robert de Niro once said ‘Good morning’ to you on the stairs.
The BBC will occasionally advertise for extras and walk-ons in the local press, but the best way forward is to approach a specialist agency. Some will take 15% of your earnings, others may charge a registration fee but charge a lower commission. Check Spotlight’s website to find an agency near you.
23. Travel far and fare well
Think beyond the Brits’ favourite foreign destinations – Tuscany, Ibiza, the Dordogne, the Algarve… Decide, instead, to discover somewhere off the tourist/second-homes beat. To inspire you, the website Your Amazing Places lists some of the most beautiful and astounding places on earth (Blue Moon Valley, China; Lake Louise, Canada, Pom Pom Island, Malaysia; Golden Bay, New Zealand…)
Or if you want to be really different, check out the Garfors Globe list of the 25 least-visited countries, among them the Pacific Island Kingdom of Tonga, surrounded by coral reefs.
24. Get out of your comfort zone
Complete a list of activities that will bring you adventure. For instance:
Go to a railway station and take a train journey randomly.
Be a contestant on a game show or a ‘real person’ model on a TV show like ITV’s This Morning.
Try white water rafting.
Go to all the properties on the Monopoly board and photograph yourself beside the street sign.
Take a ride in a hot-air balloon.
24. Get with the program
If you don’t have one already, start a blog. It takes no time to get started (ask a young person to help you, or read up online) and, once you commit to it, it will allow you to get your thoughts and feelings out there, and give you the practice and discipline of regular writing. You can use your blog to promote good causes, to influence opinion, to share your knowledge and beliefs, to challenge received wisdom, or just to make people smile. Hit the right note and your blog could even earn you a book deal or a steady income.
25. On to the next phase!
With so much accomplished, and with broader horizons, you will be raring to go. So, your final challenge? To draw up a list of 25 things you must do before you’re 80.