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How to Live for Free As a Second Career Volunteer

Category: Adventurous retirement

How to Travel Around the Country, Be Fulfilled, and Live for Free
Note: This is the 5th in our series of interesting baby boomer retirements. Here is the link to the other Retirement Lifestyle Profiles in this series.

Barbara Traynor was resigned to working until she was 110. Although this single mother had been an administrative assistant for 40 years, her savings were low. She had no pension, and knowing her expected social security payment would be minimal, Barbara had all but given up hope of enjoying experiences like visiting the national parks.

Then one day she got an email from friends that changed everything in the most delightful way. As a result of that contact she soon set out for Sitka, Alaska, where in exchange for her professional skills, she received room and board for 12 months. She worked hard, made friends, explored the area, and came back home to New York State a very happy woman. As a matter of fact, she met so many wonderful people
that when she took 7 weeks coming back from Alaska, she only had to buy a hotel room 1 night. All of the rest of the trip back she stayed with friends she had met up north.

What She Did Before Retirement
Barbara spent most of her working career as an administrative assistant in education and health care. Since she moved 18-20 times while raising her family, she had accumulated no pension. She did, however, develop a formidable arsenal of professional and life skills.

Retirement Plans
With age 65 looming, and knowing that she would be depending on Social Security income, Barbara didn’t think retirement was going to happen … until she received that email explaining there were organizations who supplemented their staff with volunteers – offering FREE room and board in exchange for workplace skills! This seemed like the ideal solution to the financial pressure she was feeling.

Another thing that worked out well for her came when one of sons offered to add an in-law apartment to his house for her. She agreed, provided that it have a separate entrance. This allowed her to sell her condo, which greatly improved her finances. Because her living expenses are now minimal, she has much greater freedom, such as just walking out the door when a new assignment starts.

Singing for her supper
The job at the college in Sitka turned into a long term retirement strategy for Barbara. There she was

introduced into the world of organizations that are only to happy to bring in willing and skilled volunteers in exchange for room and board. Mostly available by word of mouth, there is a wide range of opportunities to choose from in locations all across the country.

Now in her 6th year as a volunteer, Barbara has loved almost every minute. Her subsequent gigs have been at a host of interesting places and institutions, where she has been able to contribute her skills in a variety of assignments. She has worked for Heifer International in Arkansas as their main receptionist. Her second assignment was at Arnolds Wildlife Rehab & Butterly Haven in Lake Okeechobee. Another job was at the Menaul School, a college prep school in Albuquerque, NM where 50% of the students are Native Americans from the pueblos and 25% Hispanic. An assignment coming up in 2012 will be at the Russell Cave National Monument in Alabama.

What to Expect
In exchange for working close to a full time position you can expect room and board. You will get your own room, often with its own bathroom. Most jobs have married and single housing available. You will be welcomed into a multi-cultural, multi-generational community. Volunteer tours last for 4 weeks up to months or even for years. The organization gets valuable help that it would find it hard to pay for, and you get a feeling of contributing valuable work to a worthwhile organization.

Generally you need to be at least 18 years old to participate. Many people are retired, but a growing number of college grads are taking these volunteer jobs to gain valuable experience and build their resumes. You also have to be willing to work – these are not part jobs with no expectations. You generally can’t bring a pet, which is a problem for some people.

If You Decide to Do This
Barbara has written a guide to volunteer employment, SECOND CAREER VOLUNTEER, a passionate, pennywise approach to retirement. Her book is an A to Z index to the volunteer lifestyle. In the book Barbara lists organizations that offer jobs for volunteers. In between each chapter is an interview with someone who has participated as a second career volunteer. She also suggests doing Google searches on keyword strings such as “work for room and board” as a way to research opportunities. Some typical volunteer possibilities include organizations like the United Church of Christ, the Presbyterian Church, schools, and state and national parks.

If you decide to pursue volunteer positions Barbara has plenty of good advice. If you own a home you might want to volunteer for a shorter stint, rent out your home, find a caretaker, or stay closer to home. Expect to work hard – the organization needs you and is providing for you as well. The specifics of the job like hours and length of stay are usually very negotiable – whatever you can work out mutually with the organization’s volunteer coordinator. For example, you might commit to a month tour but then renegotiate to a longer time if things work out better than expected.

Bottom Line
According to Barbara, each experience is different. Hers have all been pleasant ones, although once in a very long while you might find another volunteer with a bad attitude. If there is a problem with the job or environment, she says it is almost always possible to work it out by discussing it with the coordinator.

Barbara says she will “Keep doing this as long as i can, for as long as i am healthy. I get back far more than I give. I never thought i would be able to see the things I have enjoyed – the Southwest, Mesa Verde, Chaco Canyon. I always wanted to see all the National Parks – I only have 47 more to go!”

Finally, if you do this Barbara has 3 words of advice for you to keep in mind:
– Patience
– Flexibility
– Compromise

Second Career Volunteer is Barbara Traynor’s A-Z guide to the journey from constraint to freedom, irrespective of finances because there are organizations who utilize volunteers to supplement staff and offer housing, meals, and even stipends. It is a lifestyle worth investigating. Her book is available at Amazon – print and ebook.

More Exciting Retirement Adventures
Peter and Sally’s Retirement Adventures 
John’s Next Chapter – Afloat 
Why Betty Loved the Mobile Lifestyle in Retirement 
Living the Cowboy Life in Retirement 

For further reference:
More Baby Boomer Retirement Lifestyle Profiles

Comments: Have you done something similar – or wanted to? Please use the Comments section below to share your experiences and ask your questions.

Posted by John Brady on November 1st, 2011


  1. :smile:Thank you for writng this book. I will look for it on Amazon. This type of second career sounds very promising.

    by BJ — November 2, 2011

  2. I am anticipating retirement in a year and this sound interesting and have ordered the book from amazon. thanks for the wonderful info from eNewsletters top retirements.

    by Lth — November 2, 2011

  3. Sounds so very interesting, I am very interested in finding out more about this second career volunteer work, I am full bilingual English/Spanish and would love to help others, and travel around the US. I will look for the book in Amazon. Thank you.

    by Sandra Edghill — November 6, 2011

  4. An organization of the Methodist church called NOMADS (jokingly an acronym for Northern Old Methodists Avoiding Deep Snow) allows you to camp for free in your RV while doing small construction and painting projects. I understand they also provide housing for folks w/o RVs. I believe the projects can last up to 2 months.

    by Mike — November 7, 2011

  5. The Caretaker Gazette at is a newsletter and website devoted to this kind of lifestyle, paid and volunteer. They offer various types of caretaking opportunities as paid ads by people offering them, usually from around the world. They range from a week or two housesitting/petsitting somewhere to long-term work situations for room and board with or without stipends, depending on the situation. There are a lot of seasonal jobs in campgrounds, including state and federal. There are a lot of opportunities in Europe, around the US (including Hawaii and Alaska) and in the Caribbean and Latin America. You must subscribe to see more than a teaser selection, but you can then get all the ads by mailed print or email/HTML to website, with new ads emailed to you in-between main monthly or semi-monthly listing. the website is, I subscribed for several years and probably will again soon, once some personal stuff is straightened out.

    by Mindy — June 29, 2012

  6. […] reading or talking to senior citizens. We profiled Barbara Traynor’s exciting adventures as a professional volunteer in our Adventurous Baby Boomer series. Once you decide on what interests you, start looking around […]

    by » 5 Dream Jobs for Your Retirement Topretirements — August 12, 2014

  7. […] Traynor “How to Live for Free as a Second Career Volunteer“, and Tom and Harriet Linskey, “Seafaring Couple Starts International Literacy […]

    by » The Ultimate Downsize – Get Down to a Suitcase and Hit the Road - Topretirements — September 8, 2014

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