Traveling With Road Scholar (Formerly Elderhostel International)

Tamsen Butler
Contributor: Terry Hurley
Senior couple hiking

Do you want to add some education to your travels? Road Scholar, formerly Elderhostel International, is a world leader in educational travel for adults. Even with the name change, however, it is still the same great service that will let you discover and learn about the world via travel.

A Brief History of Elderhostels

Founded by Marty Knowlton and David Bianco in 1975, Elderhostel International began as just an idea as the two men spoke after Marty returned from a European walking tour that lasted four years. During that time, Marty traveled with only a backpack, staying in youth hostels.

Creating Senior Hostels

After returning home, the former educator and free-spirited activist told David Bianco, a university administrator, about his journey. He also talked of the affordable youth hostels where he met fellow travelers and of the folk schools of Scandinavia. In the folk schools, senior citizens shared their skills and traditions with the younger generations, passing down their country's folklore, music, dance, and folk art. He told of seniors throughout Europe being active in their communities, and the two men wondered why American seniors quietly disappeared into retirement.

Inexpensive Elder Hostels and Education

It was then that David Bianco decided that his campus did not need a youth hostel. It needed an elder hostel instead. The two men developed a program combining inexpensive accommodations with interesting not-for-credit classes. The first year, 1975, five New Hampshire universities and colleges hosted 220 senior citizens in campus elderhostels.

Growing Into Elder Hostels in Europe

woman looking at beautiful waterfalls

Word of Elderhostel programs quickly spread, and by 1980 there were programs in every state and most provinces of Canada. The following year Elderhostel offered international learning programs in Great Britain, Scandinavia, and Mexico.

Growth of Programs

As Elderhostel International continued growing in numbers, they introduced types of travel learning adventures including:

Today, Road Scholar offers a vast array of different programs in more than ninety countries, all fifty states, and aboard ships. Travelers no longer stay in college dorms; instead, accommodations are in hotels and inns throughout the world.

Elderhostel International Becomes Road Scholar

Although the Elderhostel International Corporation still exists as the parent company, beginning in 2009 all the programs of Elderhostel International became known as Road Scholar. Remaining a not-for-profit 501c corporation, Road Scholar depends on private donations.

Learn Through Travel

Road Scholar excursions are appropriate for seniors who enjoy travel and who want to explore interests or learn about different cultures or locations. Though many of the trips are meant to be active, there are some trips designed specifically for lower activity seniors.

Road Scholar Offers Thousands of Learning Adventures

Each year, Road Scholar offers more than 8,000 learning adventure programs in ninety countries throughout the world including:

  • The United States
  • Canada
  • Cuba
  • Europe
  • Africa
  • The Middle East
  • Asia
  • The South Pacific
  • Australia
  • The Caribbean
  • South America
  • Central America
  • Antarctica

Types of Road Scholar Programs

The following is a very small sampling of the thousands of educational adventure programs offered by Road Scholar.

Adventures Afloat

Adventures Afloat provides a wonderful way to gain knowledge, explore new areas and have fun. Adventures take place aboard riverboats, ocean liners, and small ships. Popular Adventure Afloat programs include:

  • Enchanting Rivers of Europe: Amsterdam to Budapest - small ship
  • Discovering the Jewels of the Mediterranean: Athens to Istanbul - small ship
  • Beyond the Pharaohs: Egypt Past and Present - riverboat
  • Ancient Portugal: Life Along the Douro River - riverboat
  • The South of France by River: Wine and History from Sarlat to Bordeaux - riverboat
  • Voyages to Antiquity: Athens to Rome - ocean liner
  • An Insider's Perspective of the London Theater Aboard the Queen Mary 2 - ocean liner
  • The Southern Caribbean and Panama Canal: A Journey Through History and Nature - ocean liner

Independent City Discoveries

Independent City Discoveries combine independent discovery with structured learning. These programs include accommodations, lectures and field trips by local experts, outlines for self-guided tours and some meals. Programs include:

  • Mystical Lands: The People and Culture of India and Nepal
  • The Greatest Road in Europe: Camino De Santiago
  • Exploring Natural Wonders: The Real Costa Rica

Day of Discovery

Day of Discovery programs are one-day programs in various American cities such as:

  • Molly Brown: A Look at Life and Legend, held in Colorado
  • Sidewalk with a View: An Exploration of Downtown Los Angeles Architecture, held in California
  • Preserving Museum Treasures at the Mütter Museum, held in Pennsylvania

Intergenerational Adventures

Intergenerational adventures include special programs for grandparents and grandchildren, or families with children:

  • Family Ties: Grandparents, Grandchildren and Great Times held in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania
  • Adventures on the Sea of Cortez: People and Wildlife
  • Rocky Mountain New Year: A Family Ski-In, Ski-Out Adventure in Park City, Utah

Women-Only Programs

Women-only programs provide a variety of educational travel adventures such as:

Small Group Programs

group of friends laughing

Small group programs limit the number of participants to ten to twenty-four. The programs are grouped into eight activity levels. Examples of these types of programs include:

  • Wolves in Winter: Track the Pack in the Minnesota Northwoods
  • Autumn Whales and Seabirds, Exploring Tide Pools, Lighthouses of Grand Manan
  • Walking the English Countryside: the Cotswolds and Cornwall

Individual Skills Adventures

Examples of individual skills adventures include:

  • Learn to Play the Appalachian Dulcimer in West Virginia
  • Photography and Natural History on the Oregon Coast
  • A Culinary Voyage in Victorian Cape May, New Jersey

Cost of Traveling

The cost of the trips through Road Scholar vary widely depending on:

  • The location and experience you choose
  • Whether you book travel through Road Scholar or another provider
  • Whether you qualify for a scholarship or grant
  • If you select an experience that is on a special sale

The "Value Promise"

Road Scholar makes the claim that their excursions are around 20% less expensive per night than comparable trips from other providers.

Pros and Cons

Reviews appearing online of the Road Scholar experiences are largely positive, yet some criticisms appear. Among the negative comments, the purchase of additional insurance is mentioned as a negative aspect of the program as is rude staff; however, the positive comments far outweigh the negative comments on Yelp. Stride Travel reviewers give a cumulative 4.5 out of 5 with 87% of reviewers recommending Road Scholar. Again, reviewers on the site mention problems with the additional insurance as a concern. Insurance is brought up again by reviewers on SiteJabber, though the overall reviews are mostly positive.

The Insurance Issue

Optional trip protection is offered through Road Scholar, and it's a fairly standard policy. It reimburses you if a covered problem prohibits you from taking the trip or forces you home early. Most of the negative reviews mentioning the insurance are about people who had to cancel their trips but hadn't purchased the trip protection, and as a result, felt taken advantage of when their money wasn't refunded. Trip protection is typical when booking trips through any provider, so this is not an issue exclusive to Road Scholar.

Travel Opportunities for Seniors

Since its beginning, Elderhostel International was, and still is, dedicated to continued learning through travel. The organization is one of few that encourages seniors to travel the country, as well as the world, and provides many programs to help seniors do just that.

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Traveling With Road Scholar (Formerly Elderhostel International)