Living and learning out of a suitcaseJul 25, 2023 10:27AM ● By Rhonda Van Pelt
You’ve probably heard of road warriors—harried business people who are constantly traveling for work. That doesn’t sound like much fun, does it? But for seniors traveling with Road Scholar, it’s possible to live it up and learn while seeing the world.
Colorado Springs residents Penny Viescas and Allison Jones have each had their share of memorable adventures with Road Scholar, the nonprofit formerly known as Elderhostel. Road Scholar is the world’s largest and most innovative creator of experiential learning opportunities, guiding generations of lifelong learners from San Francisco to Siberia, and nearly everywhere in between. Historians, scholars and local experts offer insider access to experiences not available to the independent traveler.
“[Travel] is the best way to learn about another place,” said Viescas, 73. “No amount of reading or looking at photos can do a place justice. I always learn things by being there that I would never have known otherwise.”
A retired information technology “nerd,” Viescas has been a world traveler since age 10. Her father was a petroleum engineer and living abroad fostered a love for exploration that hasn’t dimmed.
Since 2000, she has traveled with multiple companies to all 50 states, including 313 National Park Service areas and 181 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. She’s explored 90 countries and landed at or taken off from 205 airports—126 foreign and 79 domestic. Viescas has traveled the world outside of Road Scholar, but keeps coming back because of the trips’ affordability and learning opportunities.
So far this year, she’s traveled with Road Scholar to Chattanooga, Tennessee, to learn about the Great Smoky Mountains and Cherokee and Appalachian culture, and from San Diego south along the Pacific coast to Mexico. She’s booked trips to Oregon, Pittsburgh, New York City, France, Greece, Albania and North Macedonia for later this year, and she’s filling her 2024 calendar as well.
Learning and travel also go hand in hand for Allison Jones. One of her most treasured experiences was studying abroad in Europe while she was in college.
At 85, Jones is the oldest Colorado Springs resident to travel with Road Scholar in 2022. She uses a cane, but she doesn’t let that slow her down. Her most recent adventure was a cruise to the Caribbean. Last fall, she took a Road Scholar trip to Prague with her daughter and two granddaughters.
“I wanted them to discover how easy travel could be,” she said. “I wanted to show them that first class was not the only way to travel and to have a broader awareness of the world and history. A café in France is not like a café in Germany or Greece. And I think we can learn a lot from the differences on many levels.”
TRAVEL MADE EASY
Road Scholar offers varying degrees of outdoor adventures that are clearly identified so travelers know what they’re getting into. Itineraries labeled as “easy going” usually require minimal walking and few stairs while “outdoor challenging” includes physical challenges over steep terrain. Some of the in-between levels require participants to be “on their feet” or on the move via metropolitan streets or public transit.
“I love that Road Scholar gives you a quick lesson in getting around. One of my favorite trips used ferries to island hop in the Aegean,” Jones recalled.
Jones finds it easy to use public transportation when exploring cities and enjoys renting a car when venturing out to the country. Viescas prefers sightseeing by train. Both women say they’re at the point where they like to have all the planning done for them, which makes Road Scholar’s all-inclusive programs so appealing.
Expert-led lectures, field trips, lodging, most meals, gratuities and group transportation are all part of the package. Road Scholar can even arrange airfare for some international trips.
“It can be as simple as pack your bag and manage to get to the airport on time,” Viescas said.
In addition to taking care of every trip detail, Road Scholar offers travelers peace of mind with its Road Scholar Assurance Plan. The plan, provided to travelers at no extra cost, provides 24-hour assistance in the event of an emergency, offering emergency medical evacuation; medical escort; assistance with lost or delayed baggage; lost, stolen or damaged baggage insurance; baggage delay insurance and more.
“I like having the kind of accommodations that I generally have at home,” Jones said, adding that travel guides are always available to help with problems, too.
Recent studies show that solo travel is on the rise, especially among females. With Road Scholar, almost 70% of travelers are women, and 30% of travelers go solo, with 80% of the solos being women.
But traveling solo doesn’t have to mean traveling alone. Road Scholar’s trips provide opportunities for connection with like-minded travelers, which often turn into lifelong friendships. Viescas has even organized trips for her singles club.
In many cases outside of Road Scholar, traveling solo means paying extra fees for the luxury of your own room. On some cruise ships or resorts, that can even double the price! But when you travel with Road Scholar, you have options to avoid those fees, whether by teaming up with a roommate or paying a small additional charge. Some programs even offer single rooms with no extra charge.
CHECK TRAVEL OFF YOUR BUCKET LIST
One location on Viescas’ bucket list is Easter Island. She booked a trip there once, but it was canceled. She also booked a trip to the Middle East with another travel company, but canceled it when the U.S. State Department designated the region unsafe for travel.
“Anywhere I have never been before is at the top of my list. I don’t do the same trip over again. I always want to see and experience new places,” said Viescas.
Immediate travel destinations on Jones’ bucket list are Quebec and the northeastern U.S.
The COVID-19 pandemic cramped Viescas’ style in 2021, but fortunately, “Colorado has a lot of wonderful state parks. I have my own camping gear, and I would go camping for several nights in our parks and get a lot of walking and hiking in,” said Viescas. “But I went a year without leaving Colorado.”
Jones also felt lousy when she couldn’t travel during the pandemic’s worst times. But if there’s anything COVID taught her, it’s that time is precious.
“The world is a very big place with fabulous things to see, and it’s probably about as dangerous as traveling on Academy Boulevard,” said Jones.
“Time is wasting, and prices won’t get any cheaper, so do it now,” Viescas added. “You’ll be glad you did.”
Want to go?
Explore over 600 “adventures” in countries all over the world at RoadScholar.org or call 1-800-454-5768 to request a catalog. You can browse adventures by region, activity level, hobbies, interests and more.
While there’s no minimum age to travel with Road Scholar, most lifelong learners are over age 50. However, the organization offers grandparent or skip-gen programs for grandparents and grandchildren to travel and learn together.