By Bev Bachel
Fifty-plus and looking to learn while traveling and making new friends?
Road Scholar and other similar programs could be your ticket.
Just ask Pauline Nelson.
“Road Scholar bills itself as ‘the university of the world,’ and that’s exactly what it’s been to me,” says Nelson, who’s been enjoying Road Scholar trips since the mid-2000s. Along the way, the now 62-year-old New Hampshirite has learned that whether you’re interested in seeing the United States or traveling the globe, there’s a program that’s right for you—plus plenty of people to enjoy it with.
Launched as Elderhostel in 1975, Road Scholar was founded to combine not-for-credit classes with inexpensive lodging for older adults. Today, the nonprofit offers thousands of experiential learning adventures in more than 100 countries and all 50 states.
You choose who you learn with—art lovers, outdoor enthusiasts, solo travelers and more, all of whom are both interested and interesting.
You can also choose your activity level; every Road Scholar travel adventure is assigned such a level to help you determine which trips best fit your physical abilities: everything from “easy-going” (minimal walking) to “outdoor-challenging” (you must be able to keep a steady pace on rugged and steep terrain).
Invite the grandkids
“There are also intergenerational trips,” says Nelson. She, her husband and their granddaughter Mackenzie have enjoyed several. “We took our first trip together in 2011, when she was 11, and we’ve gone on almost a trip a year ever since.” The trio has been everywhere from the Rocky Mountains to Peru, from Italy to Kenya.
“It’s been a great bonding experience for us,” says Nelson. “Traveling together not only helps us get to know one another, it’s more meaningful and memorable than a trip to the mall. Plus, sharing experiences gives us plenty to reminisce about.”
Each Road Scholar intergenerational trip includes both structured and unstructured time, plus the grandkids get time with other kids so they can form friendships on their own terms.
“I like the fact that when you’re traveling—whether on your own or with a grandchild or group of friends—you don’t need to worry about where you’re going to stay, how you’re going to get from the airport to your hotel or when or where you should eat,” says Nelson. “Instead, all the details are taken care of so you can focus on spending time together, making new friends, experiencing the world and enjoying your travels.”
“The trips are definitely life-changing,” says Nelson.
A world of options
Another company that prides itself on life-changing trips—primarily by connecting travelers with locals who live in the more than two dozen countries the trips explore—is Grand Circle Travel.
Established in 1958 by Ethel Andrus, the same person who founded AARP, Grand Circle offers high-impact experiences to travelers 50-plus while building local communities through philanthropy, social entrepreneurship and volunteerism.
Whether you sign up for a Grand Circle trip on your own or with a friend, sibling or child, you can look forward to traveling in comfort. This is especially true for Grand Circle cruises: the company’s cruise ships have been custom-built according to the specifications of older adults.
But what if you’re looking for a little less comfort in exchange for more adventure? ElderTreks may be the company for you. Billed as the world’s first “adventure travel company designed exclusively for people 50 and over,” ElderTreks offers active, off-the-beaten-track small-group adventures to more than 100 countries. Trek the jungles of Borneo, experience the magic of Sri Lanka, meet the great apes of Uganda or ski across Antarctica.
And if you prefer to travel from the comfort of your home or are reluctant to travel due to COVID, no worries. Road Scholar and other programs offer multi-day online adventures as well as one-hour virtual lectures on everything from the great whales to butterfly migration, from Chicago’s moveable bridges to Peru’s gold and silver.
Bev Bachel is a 50+ freelance writer who looks forward to once again being able to travel the world.
Note: The information included in this blog post does not constitute an endorsement.