For retired people, Road Scholar is roughing it lite

Published on Wed, Oct 14, 2009 by Jack Kintner

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Road Scholar, long known as 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 the 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 and the outdoor adventures are diverse  - you can sign up for a bike trip in France, learn to play tennis or get into a serious hike, one of the many activities where locals can take advantage of this area’s popularity as many outdoor activities that draw from a nationwide audience happen close to home. Such programs are usually more than just a hike or a bus trip since northwest Washington state is a prime destination for many who are interested in outdoor recreation.

An example of a nationally supported trip that’s close by is their five-day Olympic National Park outing offered last August. The group stayed at Rosemary Inn on Lake Crescent, a facility run by co-host Olympic Park Institute, and hiked in four different biological zones that were discussed at evening campfires by park naturalists.

The outings included mile-high Hurricane Ridge, lush low elevation old-growth forests near hot springs 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 hikes each day in this example are from two to seven miles. There are easier options for people who may need barrier-free trails or other kinds of accommodation. The cost for the five-day program is about $600.

A bit higher in cost, at $3,660 per person, is an annual ten-day September cruise on the 217-foot Spirit of Endeavor that leaves from Seattle and visits 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 dinning room or on the sun deck. It’s a luxurious way to see country close by that many think they already know, but can still learn more about.

Those interested in picking a trip from Road Scholar are told beforehand what to expect by activity level, that is, for each program a level is assigned.

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