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Boomer Bytes #67 Traveling to Learn

Editor’s Note: Below is another column in Steve Canipe’s series called Boomer Bytes. The column, as the title suggests, will focus on a variety of topics that may be of interest to baby boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964. But Canipe also hopes to start a conversation with younger generations, too. Check out an introduction and Canipe’s (first self-titled) column here.

Traveling to Learn

By Steve Canipe

To experience another person’s home directly is always a treasure, whether you know the person or not. To learn about the local customs, lives, and to see wonderful sights is something that is very precious. As we get older, and yes my Boomer colleagues—we are getting older, it becomes harder for us to manage travel totally on our own.

During our youthful years, we, or at least I, thought nothing of jumping in a car traveling to wherever and whenever. We often had either only a blanket or maybe a sleeping bag for stopping for a rest. What my sister, who is older than me and certainly not a boomer, used to do with her husband and another couple was to jump in their car and head toward the Great Smoky Mountains and end up sleeping on a picnic table before enjoying the hiking and adventure of being outside. This was during a safer time when what you had to worry about might be a black bear coming by at night.


Before I was married, a friend and I cut afternoon classes at Appalachian and drove all night from Boone to Myrtle Beach, SC. After we arrived in the early morning we slept in the car until mid-morning in the parking lot at the beach. This certainly was no big deal. I was 21 and so smart then that I knew nothing would happen to me. In retrospect, I was fortunate that nothing did happen. We had a great time at the beach; the girls we saw and met were very nice – much better than worrying about homework, assignments, and being in classes. It was the very first time I had cut class and it was during the last quarter of my senior year. We were on the quarter system back then!!

After spending most of the day there at the beach, we jumped back in the car in the late afternoon and drove all the way back to Boone. A total distance of nearly 600 miles and all done within a 30 hour timespan and having spent about 8-10 hours of the total hours at the beach!

OK so you know I had a screw or two loose back then – so what has this to do with the topic of this column – traveling to learn? Obviously I learned a lot at the beach! But this column is focused on a different kind of learning – one that is more formal.

In 1975, a social activist and self-proclaimed hippie named Marty Knowlton founded what was known as Elderhostel (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Road_Scholar). It grew out of a desire to help older adults continue to keep their minds active by learning new things and having new experiences. The non-profit company continued until 2010 when it became known as Road Scholar (http://www.roadscholar.org/).

During the early years it was necessary to be 60 in order to go on an Elderhostel trip. Those earliest trips actually stayed on college campuses and typically in dorms. The age limit was dropped to 55 in 1993. When the organization changed its name to Road Scholar, the age requirement disappeared but still the adults who attend are mature adults. Stays now are in hotels with regular restaurant meals – somewhat a change from dorm rooms and school cafeteria meals!

I have traveled with both the original Elderhostel and the current Road Scholar. My wife and I have been to such exciting places as Antarctica, Australia, and places within the United States like Williamsburg at Christmas, Native American sites like Chaco Canyon, Hualapai Reservation, and National Parks like Yellowstone and Isle Royale. We will depart soon on a trip to Greece and Istanbul, Turkey.

We have always found the programs well run and certainly educational in nature. The individuals who participate are excited to learn and even though they are not young they are young at heart. They have taken the idea of lifelong learning and made it real. The guides are always knowledgeable and accommodating to participants. If there is some activity that one does not feel comfortable with all that one has to do is to notify the guides and not worry any longer.

The original costs were pegged at about $100 per day for national travel and $200 per day for international travel. This has changed and our trip to Greece is about $500 per day; this does include airfare.

With the advent of boomers with more money to spend and more time to use to take trips, it has not just been the nonprofit organizations like Road Scholar that have tried to meet the growing desire to travel and learn. Of course some travel concerns are only about the travel – like cruises. Go and prepare to be pampered on such trips but learning, if it were to occur, is serendipitous.

There are some companies that are for profit that do focus on learning too. I am not a paid spokesperson for any of them but one that we have found is very good is called Overseas Adventure Travel. (OAT) (https://www.oattravel.com/). The advantage of this company is that it advertises that never more than 16 travelers are taken on any trip. This means that one can receive individual attention and it is possible to stay and visit in more intimate surroundings.

Our trips to Africa for safari, to Costa Rica, India, and to Machu Pichu and the Galapagos were taken with this OAT travel group. The small company called OAT Travel is part of the larger Grand Circle Travel. Education is still a key focus but it is just not done in small numbers. Most recently we did a Czech Republic and former Eastern Germany trip with Grand Circle. The trip visited many sites associated with World War II including Potsdam, the concentration camps, and Check Point Charlie in Berlin. We saw where the American and Soviet troops linked up at Torgau on the Elbe River and were able to look across the fields where the two powerful armies watched each other on the way to Berlin.

But lest one think that these are the only two companies providing travel and some education, definitely know that is not true. There are numerous companies that provide travel and learning can occur but it is not as much of a focus. My first international trip, which was to Europe, was taken with a large company and booked through AAA. There were nearly 55 people on the trip and I felt as if I were among a herd of cattle being led from place to place. It was not pleasant but my wife and I did our own learning, so it was OK.

An example of being on your own was in this taste of Europe tour and happened when we were in Paris near the Arc de Triomphe. The bus parked there and we were given free time to explore and also to have dinner. Without more guidance from the tour leaders, many of the group, which were generally older people, gravitated to a McDonald’s restaurant just a couple of blocks away from where the bus was parked. They did not move much from the restaurant but remained cocooned in the “safety” of McDonald’s.

My wife and I looked at each other and just shook our heads. We walked a couple of blocks in the direction opposite the McDonald’s and found this quaint little bistro where English was not spoken very much. Having taken French in high school, we were able to order our food and totally enjoyed ourselves with the exception of the fact that smoking was allowed in the restaurant! We explored around the area of the Arc and walked a bit down the Avenue des Champs-Elysées.

Other companies do a better job, including the one sponsoring the ASU Alumni riverboat trip down the Rhine/Main that we went on a couple of years ago. This could have been because the Alumni Association had provided a person who accompanied us the whole way and we were not left to figure out everything on our own.

Feeling comfortable on trips in strange surroundings or countries comes from exposure and experience. If someone is a newbie then one of the cattle-herd trips may be the most valuable and safest feeling. But if you want a little more adventure and learning then look at one of the companies more specifically focused on learning as a key component. If you want the deepest experience, look for companies that will have you share a home-hosted meal in someone’s home in the country where you are visiting.

Traveling to learn is a great thing to do as you age with both more time and money to do it. Hopefully health issues are not detrimental to your travel but just remember there are companies that cater to older folks and know about our collective ailments.

Do you have some adventures you can share with the readers concerning educational travel — either locally, nationally, or internationally? If so, please share them in the space below or send them to me via email at boomerbytes@yahoo.com.