Hostels: Not just for youth anymore

Published on Wed, Jul 22, 2009 by Jack Kintner

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Elderhostel is one of the most popular programs available for retired people. Appealing especially for those interested in life-long learning opportunities, their programs combine educational excellence, comfortable accommodations, good food and travel opportunities with other people of the same age.

Since their founding in 1975 over four million people have participated in an Elderhostel program, many more than once. They have grown to where they now offer roughly 8,000 programs in 90 countries each year to over 150,000 participants, making the claims they have on their website easy to believe: “Our expert instructors, experienced group leaders and helpful staff create extraordinary experiences by sharing stimulating information, leading fascinating field trips and cultural excursions, and by taking care of details. As a result, our programs excite one’s mind and enrich one’s life.

There are no grades or tests. All that’s needed is an inquiring mind, an adventurous spirit, and the belief that learning and discovery are lifelong pursuits.”

Most participants are at least 50, the same age as that needed to qualify for membership in the Blaine senior center program. Programs are grouped into several major categories. Outdoor adventures are as diverse as a bike trip in France, learning to play tennis, or a hike the Olympic mountains.

Except that the local programs are usually more than just a hike or a bus trip. Since northwest Washington state is itself a destination for so many interested in the outdoors, local residents can take advantage of nationally known programs that are still close to home.

To take just one trip from their list to show what’s available locally, their five-day Olympic National Park outing begins August 8. The group will stay at Rosemary Inn on Lake Crescent, a facility run by co-host Olympic Park Institute, and will hike in four different biological zones on mile-high Hurricane Ridge, old-growth forests on the Sol Duc River, rugged Rialto Beach on the ocean near LaPush and into the largest temperate zone rainforest in the country along the Hoh River.

The area, as most of us already know, is not just diverse but spectacular, and will be interpreted by resident experts such as national park naturalists or academic experts who are in the area working on projects such as exploring the archaeology of ancient pre-contact native villages.

The hikes each day are from two to seven miles and there are easier options for people.
Journey into the American experience – the diversity of landscape and currents of culture that define the U.S. and Canada. With experts at national parks, in cosmopolitan cities and on the open road, explore the places, meet the people and discuss the events that have shaped these neighboring nations.

Cost for the five-day program is about $600.

A bit higher in cost, at $3,660 per person, is a 10-day cruise on the 217-foot Spirit of Endeavor that will embark in September from Seattle and visit Vancouver, Desolation Sound, Nanaimo, Victoria, Friday Harbor and Port Townsend.

All staterooms are air conditioned and have private bathrooms, and meals are taken in a spacious dining room or on the sun deck.

Participants are told what they can expect physically as an activity level is specified for each program. Level one, the lowest, says that those enrolled should be able to handle their own luggage, climb a few stairs and get from sleeping accommodations to classrooms and dining rooms.

At six, the highest level, participants must have a high level of physical fitness and appropriate expertise in the program activities, and should expect full days of fast-paced, strenuous physical challenges.

The program described above, hiking in the Olympics, is a level four program, which says that participants must be in good health, mobile and able to participate in 3-5 hours of physical activity per day, the equivalent of walking up to five miles at a 2.5-mph pace over uneven ground. A five-day sail on board the tall ship Adventuress is also a level four program.

There are a number of other programs available as well as scholarships and flexible approaches that allow for as much independence as a participant could want.

In return for your money you get a reliably designed and safe trip to an interesting place in the company of people your own age who have similar interests. For more information go to their website at www.elderhostel.org.