26 Big Ideas for What to Do in Retirement

Thoughtful seniors plan for retirement
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Editor's Note: This story originally appeared on NewRetirement.

You’ve probably spent at least a little time thinking about what to do in retirement. How will you fill your days? Where will you go? What will you do? With whom will you spend time?

In retirement, you likely have more options for how to spend your time than ever before. And you certainly don’t have to settle on only one goal, hobby or pursuit. Maybe you’ll pursue painting. Or perhaps skydiving is more up your alley.

Retirees don’t live a static life. Things change, and that’s OK. These are your rules, and you get to adapt them as you see fit. What you dream about today might be radically different from what you want a few years into retirement. And, with Americans living longer now than ever before, it’s time to start dreaming bigger.

Here are many relaxing, exciting, rewarding, simple and challenging ways you could find a perfect retirement life balance.

1. Do What Makes You Happy

Portrait of a happy senior couple
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A lot of items on this list talk about doing something amazing. But that is not the real point. You don’t have to be the best, the first, the oldest or the most.

Retirement is the time when it should not matter if you are keeping up with the Joneses. Now is the time to do what makes you happy. You can enjoy the little things or you can swing for the fences. You can make a difference to your own loved ones or volunteer and change lives in your community. You might make a fortune doing what you love, or you can make ends meet while pursuing your passion.

The scale of your endeavors should not matter.

Think hard and make sure that what you do after retirement matters to you.

2. See the World, or Your Corner of It

Senior couple hiking outdoors
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Travel ranks near the top of a lot of what to do in retirement wish lists. Some retirees have a certain city they’ve always wanted to visit. And for others, a more consistent schedule of travel is a lot more exciting.

You don’t have to cross an ocean to have a great travel experience. You could travel through North America and never see it all. Even travel within your own state could yield experiences that you didn’t know were there.

The life of a traveler is varied. Some people buy an RV, and some love to take a train. Of course, flying will take you practically everywhere. As for lodging, retirees can get creative. Book hotels, if that’s your thing. Or check out Airbnb, a service that connects travelers with private B&B experiences in the U.S. and around the world.

You might even consider becoming an Airbnb host and rent out your home while you travel the world, letting your home pay for your adventures.

Here are 20 Ideas to Make Great Retirement Travel Your Reality.

3. Become an Entrepreneur

Senior man with money
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Didn’t you just leave a steady job? Why would you think about working again? Many retirees do.

The idea of being your own boss can be awfully appealing. Your business can be anything you’re good at or want to try. Open a shop or provide a service. It’s your ballgame.

4. Head to Summer Camp

Senior couple
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Summer camp isn’t just for kids. It is as fun to do in retirement as it was as a kid. The grown-up version is less likely to give you a case of poison ivy, and more likely to offer a range of experiences that far outpace any wilderness camp your kids might have gone to. There are grown-up camps for fishing, fitness, race car driving, acting and more.

Chances are if you have an interest, there’s a camp for it. How about a spa camp?

The list of possibilities is enormous. Have you ever wanted to learn about crime scene investigation? There’s a camp for that.

5. Don’t Retire, Take a Sabbatical Instead

Happy senior woman
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What to do after retirement? Go back to work! More and more people in their 50s and 60s are taking anywhere from a few months to a year off from work. The sabbatical or temporary break from work could give you the chance to enjoy the benefits of retirement without taking the official plunge.

A sabbatical could be a week, a month, three months, a year, or it could be longer.

How much time you take off for your mini-retirement might depend on your goals for the sabbatical. The length of time might also be determined by your finances and the needs of your employer.

Learn more about this sneaky way to get an “early retirement.”

6. Relocate Seasonally

happy and successful retirement
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Heading south for the winter isn’t a new idea, but what about going north when the heat is too much? Maybe you want to live closer to the kids, but not all the time. Or if you’ve never experienced the holidays in the mountains (or at the beach), that’s a possibility, too.

Buying a vacation home someplace else lets you have the best of everything without giving up your roots. But that’s not the only way to relocate seasonally.

Try a House Swap: If you’re in the north and want to head south (or any other configuration), house swap services match you with another homeowner who wants the opposite, and you trade houses temporarily. There are also international house swappers like in the movie “The Holiday.” Try HomeExchange.com, HomeLink.com and IntervacHomeExchange.com.

Explore Seasonal Jobs: Worried about money? If you migrate seasonally, it is likely you can find employment offering services to the vacationers! You might look into being a campground host, ski slope attendant, lifeguard and so on. Try the following services for seasonal employment opportunities and ideas: Coolworks.com or BackDoorJobs.com.

7. Grow a Garden

Woman picking tomatoes in her garden
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Working outdoors when the weather is nice makes life worth living, at least for some people. And studies suggest that gardening is an activity that can add years to your life.

Gardening comes in many forms. Some people love growing vegetables, and some prefer the beauty of a flower garden. Or you could do both, and there is a lot of variety in either direction. There’s so much to learn about growing plants. If it’s your passion, you might create new plants through grafting, become an expert at composting, or pamper roses and vegetables that you sell at a market.

8. Write a Book

Older woman working
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There’s no education requirement for writing a book, and you can write anything that you like. Life experiences might be great inspiration for a how-to book. If you’ve led a most interesting life, you might have plenty of fodder for a compelling memoir. And what about the next Great American Novel?

You’ve got two basic approaches for writing.

  • If you want to self-publish, Amazon lets you write, upload, create a book cover and more.
  • If traditional publishing is more your style, the road is a little tougher but you’ll have a team on your side.

9. Remember That You Are Actually Only as Old as You Feel

Happy senior couple
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Your age is only a number. It should not define what you do in retirement. Don’t believe me? Look at these amazing accomplishments by 70-, 80- and 90-year-olds that prove growing old is truly optional!

Furthermore, consider that Pablo Picasso was still producing art in his 90s. Thomas Edison invented the telephone at age 84. And “Little House on the Prairie” author Laura Ingalls Wilder published her first book when she was 64.

10. Become a Teacher

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Some brand-new teachers enter the arena as a second career. Is this something you’d like to consider? If you want to teach in a traditional setting, whether public or private schools or colleges, you’ll probably need additional education. Learn more about certification, salaries and more here. And, if you really want to make a difference, the U.S. Department of Education publishes a list of which areas of the country have teacher shortages.

But the traditional classroom is not the only way to earn a living as a teacher:

Create an Online Course: Create an online video course and earn money by teaching people around the world. On Udemy, You decide what to teach and create the curriculum using their software, and they help students find you. Maybe your family’s cooking is the best on Earth, or maybe you’re an expert-level knitter. In whatever you’re an expert, you can be a teacher.

Become a Tutor: In person and online tutoring is another booming opportunity. Try signing up for a platform like Wyzant that matches tutors to students who need help.

11. Volunteer for a Worthy Cause

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Volunteering lets you give back to the community in ways that often benefit the volunteer just as much. And because you’re not in it for a paycheck, you can be much choosier about the organizations that you help.

A study by researchers at the George Warren Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis reports, “Older adults who volunteer and who engage in more hours of volunteering report higher levels of well-being.” This study says that the benefits of volunteering are the same no matter your gender, race or social status.

12. Remodel Your House

Senior couple
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If you intend to retire in your own home or even if you want to sell, retirement is a good time for remodeling. You can alter your home to fit a new lifestyle or improve it to boost value and get a better market price.

Improvements might include a new master suite on the first floor, a safer bathroom, kitchen upgrades, a new workshop for hobbies or anything else your heart desires. This is also a good time to be sure that your home is in top condition. If you need a new roof or HVAC system, replacing it now means less to worry about later.

13. Downsize and Find the Best Place for You to Retire

Seniors Moving
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Maybe remodeling isn’t for you. Maybe your home isn’t for you either!

Most of us live in homes that we bought with dreams of raising our children. Now, most of our children are grown and gone (hopefully…), and we can think about where we want to live for retirement.

Moving when you retire can be great for your lifestyle, it can also be great for your finances. If you can buy a less expensive home, then you can lower your monthly expenses and maybe even use home equity for retirement expenses.

Use the NewRetirement Retirement Planner to model downsizing as part of your retirement plan.

14. Become a Consultant

Senior man working from home
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Just because you’re retired doesn’t mean your skills no longer have any value. Many employers are faced with a conundrum. New, recent grad employees are on the cutting edge in many ways. But seasoned pros with loads of experience will eventually retire. A happy medium for you might be consulting, which lets you work less and call more of your own shots.

A Merrill Lynch study on working in retirement explains that the concept of retiring has fundamentally changed. Before, there was a sharp delineation between work life before retiring and leisure afterward. Now, there are various phases:

  • Pre-retirement
  • A two-year period of “career intermission” (which more than half of retirees take)
  • Then a brand new stage that could take you a number of different directions, including back to full time work, a part time job or consulting work
  • And, finally, a complete end to work

15. Maintain Your Retirement Plan

Senior couple doing retirement planning and math
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No matter what else you are doing on this list, maintaining your retirement plan is something that all of us must do.

It is important to assess your financial situation every three to six months. You need to know if you are going to have enough money to do what you want to do in retirement — for as long as you live (no matter how long that turns out to be).

A good retirement calculator can help you with these assessments.

16. Stay Vital

Senior exercising in a park
Jacob Lund / Shutterstock.com

Having a place to go. Having people (or animals) that rely on you. Maintaining a schedule. Being social. Having a purpose. Learning new things. These are all activities that are scientifically proven to keep you healthy and happy.

Make new friends and keep the old!

17. Learn to Play an Instrument — Learn Anything!

A bearded senior in a hat sings and plays piano music
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Even if you don’t think that you have a musical bone in your body, you might find an instrument that you really love to play. Piano is a common starting point, and so is guitar. Don’t forget that your voice is also an instrument. You could take banjo lessons and voice lessons, too.

Not only does learning to play an instrument help enrich your life, it’s also a pursuit without end. Even the greatest musicians in the world still practice frequently and learn new things.

And learning new things is a great way to keep your brain healthy and functioning.

18. Get in the Best Shape of Your Life

Senior exercising with a hula hoop
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As the saying goes, if you’ve got your health you’re already rich. Fitness is another lifelong pursuit, and this one can make retirement life better in almost every way. You’ll have more energy, a healthier body and a happier mindset, too.

Fitness offers so much variety that you never need to grow bored with it. There are classes for yoga, Pilates, spinning and more. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control also says that weight training relieves arthritis, improves balance, increases bone density, manages weight and diabetes, strengthens the heart and makes sleep better and more restful.

19. Grow Your Friend Base

senior couples spend time outdoors
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Too often, retirees stick progressively closer and closer to home as time moves on. What might have been a rich circle of friends could dwindle more and more until only a few remain in your life. While there’s nothing wrong with enjoying being alone, friends help you stay connected to the world and give you a greater sense of purpose.

It’s also a good idea to find some younger friends. Spending time with someone in a different age bracket exposes you to new experiences, and it works the same for them.

20. Attend Your 35th, 40th or Any High School Reunion

Group of seniors at the beach.
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There is nothing like a high school or college reunion to get you thinking about what you have accomplished and where you might be going.

Taking stock of our lives and setting new goals is exactly what we need to do as we consider retirement.

A reunion can be an excellent way to connect with old friends and maybe be reminded of what we are passionate about which can help remind us of how we might want to spend part of retirement.

21. Become an Expert at Anything

A senior worker in eyeglasses stands in his carpentry workshop
Jacob Lund / Shutterstock.com

You’ve probably had a lot of life experiences and dreamed about others that never happened. Did you ever think about becoming a brilliant chef but didn’t have the time to go after it? Or did you once think about developing your mechanic skills but couldn’t follow through?

Retirement is the perfect time to turn an interest into something that you master. You could create the next great thing in pottery, or fine-tune your woodworking skills. Whatever you pursue, plan to become an expert. And then pass that knowledge on.

22. Think About the Future

Senior woman at home
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With longer lifespans, most retirees enjoy a longer retirement than any of their ancestors did. But living to 100 doesn’t mean you’ll feel the same at 98 as you did at 70. In time, everyone loses at least a bit of drive to go-go-go.

Re-evaluate your retirement periodically and make adjustments as you see fit. The more you plan ahead, the less likely you’ll find yourself in a situation where you need care but can’t pay for it, want to be near family but can’t move, or any other of the number of surprises that might creep up over the years.

23. Become Your Own Financial Guru

Happy retiree reading a newspaper
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While you’re in the active saving and investing stage before retirement, you might look to an expert to help guide you in the right direction. But the time will come when you glide into maintenance mode. From there, you can probably manage it on your own as long as you keep learning and stay in touch with what’s happening in the financial world.

It’s entirely possible to become a self-made financial expert. Read everything that you can, including good blogs. And start watching TV shows about finance. Soon you’ll know what disintermediation, econometrics and other terms mean without calling a financial planning expert, because you’ll be the expert.

24. Keep Up With Technology

A senior video chats on a laptop computer on his living room sofa
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The millennial generation is the first to grow up in a world where the internet has always been around to some degree. Older generations had a lot of life experience without it, or any of the usual gadgets. And sometimes technology is quite confusing.

Keeping up with technology throughout retirement gives you a lot of freedom, and it also helps you enjoy more of the benefits of living in a rapidly advancing era. So be afraid of it. Embrace technology, and keep on learning.

25. Spend Time With Your Grandkids

A senior Asian couple with their grandchild
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A Welsh proverb says: “Perfect love does not come until you have your first grandchild.”

If you are looking for things to do in retirement, you might want to think about things you can do with your grandchildren. There is something unbelievably special about being a grandparent. You get all the magic of the child and not as much of the burden.

Retirement can be a wonderful time to spend time with your grandchildren. You can share experiences that are important to you and learn about things that are important to them. They can keep you young, and you can help them grow up.

26. Find a Hobby

By Rawpixel.com Royalty-free stock photo ID: 1110917186 Senior couple riding a classic scooter - Image
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You are nearing the end of this list. Are you still looking for what to do after retirement?

Here is a long list of possible hobbies.

ABCs of Hobbies: Activism. Amateur radio. Antiquing. Aquariums. Archery. Art. Astronomy. ATVs. Badminton. Baking. Baton twirling. Baseball. Basketball. Beekeeping. Beach clean up. Biking. Birding. Board games. Book club. Boomerangs. Brewing beer. Bridge. Calligraphy. Camping. Cartooning. Casinos. Chess. Collage. Collecting. Composing music. Cooking. Crafting. Crochet. Crossfit. Crossword puzzles.

DEFGHIJKL of Hobbies: Dancing. Darts. Daydreaming. DJ. Drones. Electronics. Entertaining. Fashion design. Fencing. Fishing. Flower arranging. Football. Flying. Four-wheeling. Genealogy. Geocaching. Geology. Golf. Graffiti. Hot air balloons. Hiking. Horses. Hunting. Inventing. Jewelry making. Joining a band. Journaling. Juggling. Kayaking. Kites. Knitting. Lawn bowling. Letter writing.

MNOP of Hobbies: Mahjong. Make movies. Marathons. Martial arts. Metal detecting. Mixology. Museums. Models. Motorcycles. Mycology (mushrooms). Orienteering. Origami. Paintball. Painting. Paragliding. Playing an instrument. Photography. Ping pong. Poker. Pottery. Printing in 3-D. Puppetry.

QRSTUVWXYZ of Hobbies: Quilting. Reading. Remote control cars. Road trips. Rock climbing. Robotics. Roller skating. Rowing. Running. Sailing. Sandcastles. Scuba. Sculpting. Sewing. Singing in a choir. Skiing. Snorkeling. Snowboarding. Soccer. Socializing. Storm chasing. Swimming. Surfing. Tai chi. Tennis. Theater (try out for a local production). Trampolines. Topiary. Upcycling. Volleyball. Watercolor painting. Wine making. Wine tasting. Woodshop. Wood carving. Writing. Yoga. Yo-yos. Ziplining. Zoology. Zumba.

Maybe you make it a goal to try all the above! Or, just choose one or two and get really into it.

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