50 Fulfilling, Productive Things to Do in Retirement


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Some choose retirement, and some have retirement thrust upon them. When it comes to figuring what to do with the decades of free time facing modern retirees, retirement coach Steve Lesser of Delta Advisors suggests taking inventory of what you find most important, whether it be leisure, socializing, contributing to a community or cause, or pursuing hobbies. Work also may be the most important thing, either for the income or for the sense of identity. More than half of people over 60 say they will work after retirement, according to a CareerBuilder survey. Here are 50 ideas for retirees deciding what to do with their days.

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People with skills and knowledge to sell to individuals or companies can become consultants, a job with plenty of flexibility for free time. Consulting requires the ability to market and sell those skills, and it can take a while to build up a clientele.

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Some companies are finding that, by hiring back retirees part-time or as needed, they get the expertise of longtime workers, while the former full-timers get to keep up professional skills and develop new ones. It's best to plan this -- sometimes called "boomeranging" -- before retirement, but it's never too late to look. RetirementJobs is a database of jobs specifically for people over 50.

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For some, retirement from a day-to-day job just opens up time to try another business. Senior entrepreneurs don't need to go it alone. Look through your address book, find other smart retirees, and form a "mastermind group" that meets regularly to share connections, advice, and experience. It's like having an instant board of directors, while joining a bunch of other boards.

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Many retirees seek to turn work experience into a second career at a nonprofit. Organizations such as Encore tap into people's desire to find meaningful work that gives back to the community. They partner with groups all over the country, serving as a placement network for "second acts."

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Public schools have opportunities even for people without teaching degrees. Teacher's assistants, tutors, and crossing guards are all needed at schools and don't require experience as an educator.

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People with outgoing personalities can become tour guides in certain cities. It's not necessarily easy. In New York City, for instance, becoming a licensed guide means passing a background check as well as a rigorous test of arcane city knowledge. Although no one will become rich as a guide, some people can have a pretty good time and make money passing on their excitement about where they live.

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If working at a canoe lodge, ranch, ski lodge, Buddhist retreat, or bucolic inn sounds appealing, Cool Works might have just the job. Most are low-level, seasonal housekeeping, cooking, gift shop management, or janitorial positions, but they're in spectacular settings and most offer room and board, as well.

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Work isn't work if you love to do it, which some retirees discover by turning a lifelong passion into a paying proposition (easier when it's not the sole source of income). Bill Heather of Long Island, New York, loved restoring antiques in his garage as a hobby, and now he has a partner who helps him turn old barn doors into shelving and coffee tables for sale. A love of gardening could lead to a job in a plant nursery; a love for animals could translate into a reception job at a vet's office.

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Freewheeling seniors can take advantage of a loose schedule by touring the continent in an RV. Whether to buy or rent depends on whether this is going to become a lifestyle or just a one-time RV vacation. RVs run from little tow-behind caravans to huge mobile homes that sleep six. Is the expense worth it? Money magazine calculates that, at the very least, having a built-in kitchen and bed can save on meals and hotels during long-term travel.

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The National Park Service offers people 62 and older a $80 lifetime pass to all national parks, recreation sites, and historic homes run by the agency. It applies to everyone in the vehicle at parks where admission is charged per vehicle and up to three other adults where admission is charged per person. The pass also confers discounts on individual campsites, some guided tours, and other fees.

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One of the greatest advantages of retirement is the ability to go traveling at the drop of a hat (or the sighting of a great deal), with no work or school schedules to get in the way. AARP offers discounts on flights, hotels, car rentals, and cruises, as well as last-minute deals through Expedia. Members of its AARP Advantage program get additional money off stays at lodges in national parks, tours of Europe, and other choices.

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Another way to get away from it all is to go to camp -- a camp meant for seniors. Some concentrate on basic camp experiences, such as archery, boating, and campfires, while others focus on particular activities such as wine tasting, bird watching, or the arts. Some are adults-only, and some offer shared experiences with grandchildren. Adult camps aren't necessarily in the summer, and some last for only a weekend, including some pricey fantasy camps that indulge the inner child and let grownups be cowboys or train for spaceflight.

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The nonprofit Road Scholar (formerly Elderhostel) provides educational travel adventures all over the world, including intergenerational tours that let grandparents bring grandchildren along. The tours encourage learning and interacting with people wherever members go, not just sightseeing. Some trips to remote locations involve hiking, canoeing, or a lot of walking and climbing, which are indicated so people with limited mobility can assess whether a trip will be appropriate.

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Amtrak gives seniors 15 percent off the highest coach fares. Seniors can get discounts on trains in most European countries, too. The European Rail Guide helps make clear which passes are available to U.S. tourists for each travel destination. RailEurope offers discounts to seniors over 60 mainly for first-class travel. Interrail offers a 10 percent discount to seniors traveling in first or second class.

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For those with a taste for the exotic, unusual, and out of the way, ElderTreks offers trips with small groups specifically for seniors. Tours go all over the world, including the Arctic and Antarctic, Africa, and remote Pacific islands. There are hiking, biking, and boating tours, as well. None of this comes cheap, but the site offers discounts.

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One way to experience another country without having to shell out for so many travel expenses: Get certified to teach English as a second language. Demand for ESL teachers is high, including from U.S. companies with overseas branches, who often hire teachers for their foreign employees and pay at U.S. rates. Sign up with a reputable firm such as Go Overseas to make sure things go smoothly when you get to the host country.

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There are also plenty of people in this country who need to learn English as a second language. Tutors work with them one-to-one on reading, writing, speaking, and sometimes on just getting by in a new setting. Tutoring requires very little training, although teaching a class requires TEFL certification. Finding volunteer positions is easy, starting with classes, conversation groups, or tutoring at municipal libraries.

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For retirees, a volunteer position can mean supporting a favorite cause, helping people in need, or giving back to the broader community while building new skills, widening social circles, staying engaged, and broadening your point of view. Find a position through volunteer databases such as Volunteer Match and Idealist.

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Use professional experience gained through a lifetime of work to help people in other countries with Projects Abroad, which offers two-week group volunteer opportunities for people over 50. Projects range from working in schools to helping with sustainable development in far-reaching places such as Nepal, South Africa, and Jamaica. There are also programs for people with specific professional skills (such as teaching, business, journalism, law, finance, and medicine) to help others throughout the world.

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Habitat for Humanity has one- or two-week stints in locations all over the world to build housing, upgrade existing homes, help with disaster recovery, or bring stability to children in need.

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The Peace Corps is an excellent way to get immersed in another culture while doing good -- and it's not just for young people. The organization is making a play to recruit more mature volunteers, who bring lifetimes of expertise and experience. The Peace Corps often requires a two-year commitment and proficiency in another language, but there are many openings for English-language teachers in places such as China, Liberia, and Cameroon, and teachers of various subjects, including art, in other remote locales.

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The Senior Corps is similar to the Peace Corps but based in the United States and meant for people over 55. The volunteer opportunities available range from tutoring, mentoring, or becoming a foster grandparent to serving as a companion to a disabled adult or assisting victims of disasters.

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The Senior Corps of Retired Executives offers advice to people starting small businesses. Volunteers with entrepreneurial experience and professional skills lend their expertise by mentoring in person or by phone, leading workshops, and teaching skills such as accounting or writing a business plan. SCORE advisers can also serve as a sounding board and part of a startup team.

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People living near historical homes and other sites can volunteer as docents -- an opportunity to learn, teach, and spend time in lovely and significant locations. Damaris Botwick, who became a docent at the nearby home of a famous poet, said she learned more about the poet than she ever thought there was to know, and it's exciting to share the knowledge with a variety of visitors.

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Retirement can bring to the fore things you may have puttered around with for years but never had time to really concentrate on. Paul Hubert of Ashland, New Hampshire, used to play guitar in a band when he was young but let the skill slip as he made a living as a middle school music teacher. Now that he has retired, he's back on the bar circuit, playing gigs all over New England, including every open mic night he can get to.

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Even people sidelined by disability or illness can write. If the act of putting pen to paper or fingers to keys is difficult, phones, tablets, and computers have software to turn speech into text. Writing the memoirs of a remarkable (or even ordinary) life can be cathartic for the writer and eye-opening to those who read it. People who have never written before might find it difficult to start such a project, but there's plenty of help out there from sites such as The Write Life, continuing education classes and workshops at colleges, and sometimes teleconferences.

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Revive a love of art by taking up drawing or painting. This doesn't require a lot of supplies to start -- for drawing, just a pad and a set of pencils or some charcoal will do. To begin, there are free lessons online on Craftsy and other websites, but taking a class opens up a new social circle. Almost every community college has some sort of art classes, and often a senior tuition waiver is available to lower the cost of those classes.

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Even a basic point-and-shoot camera is fine for newbie photographers, and sites such as PhotographyCourse.net can act as a beginner's class. Photo and camera clubs can pick up from there, offering companionship, mentoring, and a venue for exhibiting work. Talk to people at local camera stores to find out where the nearest clubs can be found, or try the Photographic Society of America.

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Knitting, sewing, weaving, embroidery, and quilting used to be done in social circles or bees -- and they are again. Knitting and fabric stores are often the sites of comradely needle artists, and libraries in some communities also offer classes and a place to share patterns, experiences, and skills. The Textile Artist organization acts as a network and a resource for classes and an online forum.

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Wheel throwing takes a bit of strength and physical dexterity, but hand building can be practiced for a lifetime. Ceramics is not the kind of thing that can be accomplished at home, as it requires a kiln to fire pieces, so the art form lends itself to socializing. Classes can be found at most community colleges or art schools.

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Some people turn the simple home movie into a real production. If that sounds familiar, perhaps moviemaking would be a natural fit. Start by auditing a class at a community college or municipal cable access station with basic equipment, where you can discover which part of film you prefer -- writing and directing, for instance, or the more technical aspects.

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The online, downloadable equivalents of radio shows are fairly simple to produce for people who are computer adept and capable of writing and recording a script on a consistent basis -- weekly, for instance. The folks at Digital Trends explain how to make any type of podcast, whether it be personal thoughts, a scripted show such as a serial, or a way to highlight music.

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Every person with a garden looks forward to having more time to devote to the earth once they retire. Retirees can turn their plots into habitats for pollinators such as honeybees and monarch butterflies, which are disappearing from the planet. This requires abandoning pesticides and growing certain plants to attract the creatures. The Xerces Society has information about how to do that and reap a garden full of butterflies.

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Take gardening expertise one more step and become a master gardener. Every state has master gardener training that accepts people who are passionate about growing and have some skills to offer; the American Horticultural Society has a guide. After the program, there's work to be had in arboretums and botanical gardens as a volunteer, and sometimes for pay.

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Pet sitters get to indulge the desire to be around animals, usually dogs or cats, which is especially helpful if the rules of their own home prohibit pets. Local pet-sitting companies often advertise for workers with signs in vets' offices or stores that sell pet supplies, but retirees can go independent and put up their own signs advertising for clients. Pet lovers who enjoy being outdoors and are strong enough to handle several dogs at once can also be dog walkers.

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Owning a pet seriously limits the time that can be spent away from home. If a lot of travel is part of the retirement plan, yet you love to have animals around, become a foster parent to a local shelter. Foster homes provide temporary care to rescue animals, those being treated for an injury, the very young, or those otherwise temporarily unfit for adoption into a permanent home. Petfinder has plenty of tips for potential foster parents.

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While running for local office might not have been possible during the working years, retirees have a new opportunity to get involved. School boards, town councils, and local commissions are good places to start. Generally these are not full-time positions, but running for even a part-time office takes a certain kind of personality -- outgoing enough to go door-to-door for votes and thick-skinned enough to lose gracefully or deal with the occasional angry or pushy constituent. Sometimes an application for a commission seat is all that's needed to get started. Check with the local board of elections.

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Many people become more attuned to the spiritual as they age, and some studies show that people with deeper spiritual connections have more positive relationships with others, and greater mental and physical health. Churches, synagogues, and other religious institutions welcome newcomers, but some people may prefer a non-affiliated spiritual experience of the kind identified by Retreat Finder.

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There is little that will keep retirees younger than beginning the exercise regime they always meant to establish. One of the best exercises, requiring nothing more than a good pair of shoes, is walking -- even people who have been sedentary all their lives know how to do it. Beginners can start with a regimen such as the one proposed by the Mayo Clinic. If bad weather is a deterrent, joining an inexpensive gym or the local Y is an option.

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AARP, among others, touts yoga as an ideal form of exercise for older people. Because it is gentle and there are no jerky movements, it is unlikely to lead to injury. Pilates is a similar form of exercise that is meant to strengthen the core, and the Mayo Clinic says it promotes the flexibility that seniors might start to lose. Although both can be done at home with a video, it's probably a good idea for beginners to take a class with an instructor who can help with proper form and alignment.

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During the work years, a lot of time that could be spent with family gets limited to vacations and stolen moments. Retirement gives people the opportunity to renew family ties and spend quality time with grandchildren, and meet friends for lunches that last as long as the conversation does. Rather than going out on weekends, groups of friends can visit during the week, when gathering places are less crowded.

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Of the many things that can be passed down to family members, the most memorable often have to do with food. A cookbook of family favorites is a good way to bring family members together with shared recipes and memories. Copy centers can bind these recipes together into keepsake books.

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Making a family tree is a chance for each member to tell their stories. The National Genealogical Society has tips on how to bring historical documents and family artifacts into the tree to make it more meaningful, and where to look for information that goes back further in time than any living member can recall.

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There are 120 Lifelong Learning Institutes on university campuses throughout the country, all designed for people over 50. The courses vary from one institution to another and are not free. The program at the University of Massachusetts Boston, for example, costs $225 a year, but the fee entitles members to attend three classes at a time, ranging from tai chi and yoga to digital photography. Brown bag lunches, museum trips, and other social activities are included.

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Every state has at least one college or university, usually public, that offers courses with low or no tuition for seniors, and many states have tuition waivers for seniors who audit classes. The site Seniorresource.com can help find them and explain each school's requirements for enrollment and selection of classes.

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Open Education Database is a directory of thousands of free courses on every conceivable subject from providers of massive open online courses, or MOOCs, and universities all over the world. Although some of these are audio or video lectures, some have full syllabuses with all the attendant reading and homework and the option to earn a certificate (sometimes for a fee), although not college credit.

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Many universities, including MIT and Yale, allow anyone to audit classes for free online. Often these fall into the category of MOOCs that can be joined in real time. There are also archived or "evergreen" classes that can be visited at the participant's convenience.

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This catalog of more than 1 million free lectures and other educational content from universities, libraries, and museums around the world can be used on any computer or device with Apple's iTunes. These range from intro-level college courses such as psychology, philosophy, basic writing skills, and film to higher-level courses on every conceivable topic.

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Retirees can take the time to learn a new language, perhaps before traveling to a country where the language is spoken. ITunes U is a good resource for language learning, which can be done at the participant's own pace. Among the classes available is an MIT OpenCourseWare video class called "Speak Italian With Your Mouth Full," which combines language and cooking lessons. Languages available range from French and Spanish to Chinese, Arabic, and Russian.

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The 48 FSI Languages Courses have been used to train U.S. government embassy, Peace Corps, or military workers in languages ranging from Amharic (the official language of Ethiopia) to Yoruba (an official language of Nigeria). But they're not just about language -- the modules also provide basic information for getting along in a country.

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