Road Scholar (once Elderhostel) still offers rewarding trips for seniors

07/27/2014 12:00 AM

07/25/2014 2:34 PM

Although it widely publicized and explained its change of name several years ago, when it went from Elderhostel to Road Scholar, the resulting organization is not always fully understood by the people it serves. So I’m attempting to describe what it does in today’s column.

Elderhostel was a more easily interpreted name – it referred to a travel organization and program designed for mature Americans, a group initially limited to people over the age of 60.

But though they knew what it was, a great many senior citizens regarded the reference to “Elders” as demeaning, while others felt that the reference to “hostels” was not an accurate description of the excellent hotels it usually used. And others felt it was unfair for travelers over the age of 60 to be prevented from bringing along a spouse, relative or friend who was under 60.

So Elderhostel, in changing its name to Road Scholar, also changed its minimum age requirement. It announced, with great fanfare, that seniors would now be able to bring along a spouse, relative or friend under 60, if such a companion were needed to enable travel by the older person.

That theoretical loosening of the minimum age was widely misinterpreted; it was widely taken to mean that Elderhostel wanted to change the very nature of its clientele. Nothing could have been further from the truth. Road Scholar continues to insist that its major aim is – and always has been – to service the mature American over the age of 60, but to be flexible about doing so, and to recognize that many seniors need on occasion to be accompanied by a younger person over the age of 40. Except for a few, specific intergenerational tour programs enabling grandparents to travel with their grandchildren, in a tour group made up solely of grandparents and grandchildren, Road Scholar is – and remains – a program deliberately designed for senior citizens of a mature age.

There are other widely-held misconceptions about Road Scholar, including one that believes the accommodations on a Road Scholar program are in youth hostels. In actual fact, Road Scholar’s clientele almost always demands to be placed in comfortable hotels, but not in pretentious ones of a five-star rating; the audience is cost-conscious, and prefers moderately priced hotels of comfort and charm. Those quality hotels are used on virtually every Road Scholar tour, but they always are mid-level hotels with reasonable rates. Because of that policy, Road Scholar programs almost always are priced lower than those of most group operators. While Road Scholar’s prices are never rock-bottom, they are never in the stratosphere, either.

And Road Scholar’s programs are almost always all-inclusive. Except for the airfare that brings passengers to the destination, everything else is included: not simply meals (in addition to accommodations), but also transportation within the destination, travel insurance and gratuities to tour leaders.“You leave your wallet at home,” is one of Road Scholar’s most frequent slogans.

Finally, and most important, the goal of every Road Scholar program is – and remains – learning, just as in the Elderhostel days. Every program is under supervision by a person of special experience with the city, country, region (or culture) being visited: either an academic scholar, an author, a local community leader or a person with profound ties to the area. A Road Scholar tour or visit is thus night-and-day different from those standard group tours led by a“personality kid” of no special education but full of anecdotes and quips – a recent undergraduate who actually knows little more than the average participant about the place they are touring.

So if you’re an American who once was on an Elderhostel tour, be of good cheer. Road Scholar retains all the best advantages of Elderhostel. It is the same praiseworthy organization that has excelled at enabling people of age to benefit from world travels. What a shame that Americans under the age of 60 don’t enjoy the same sort of inspiring, nonprofit travel organization.

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