Why Educational Travel Is What Your Retirement Is Missing

A group of seniors exploring a new city|Annika Jasperson an educational travel trip with Road Scholar

For older adults looking for a way to travel safely, educational travel agencies offer a wide range of opportunities and experiences that include special accommodations for everything from physical limitations to relationship status. Whether learning and travel are your retirement reason for being, or something you’re starting to explore, specialized agencies can offer just what you’re looking for.

Chicago resident Annika Jaspers, 77, retired early so she could travel. After putting her adventures on hold during the pandemic, she was excited to get out her luggage again in 2021, starting with two trips to New England. She also booked six trips in 2022 with Road Scholar, an educational travel tour company for older adults. 

“I started traveling internationally back in the ‘70s,” she says. “It wasn’t until my son got into college in the ‘90s, though, that I started traveling seriously. I’ve done 51 Road Scholar trips. I know this is a cliche, but travel really is my passion. It’s what I love to do and what I do as often as I possibly can.” 

The Benefits of Educational Group Travel 

Taking part in a tour offers multiple benefits for travelers. The itinerary is designed by local experts who know the popular highlights you don’t want to miss as well as hidden gems that you wouldn’t find as a regular tourist, says Kelsey Knoedler Perri, director of public relations for Road Scholar.  

“Your group leaders take care of all the logistics, and everything is included in the price of the program,” says Knoedler Perri. “So, you can sit back, relax, and focus on learning.” 

Jaspers says she loves educational travel tours because all she has to do is show up. “I’m at the stage in my life now where I am more than happy to have someone else do the planning,” she says. “They take care of all the details and pick you up at the airport. It’s a very stress-free, worry-free type of travel.” 

Tours are also suitable for solo travelers, like Jaspers, who find it reassuring to travel with a group. “Not only is there safety in numbers and a group leader to keep an eye out for you, but traveling with a group also provides opportunities to meet other folks who share your interests,” says Knoedler Perri.  

“And I meet such wonderful people, who have a love of learning,” says Jaspers. “They’re interested in having new experiences, and I have made some very wonderful friends through these trips that I have subsequently traveled with on other trips.” 

Annika Jasperson an educational travel trip with Road Scholar
Annika Jaspers on a Road Scholar trip to see fall foliage in New England

Where to Go With Road Scholar  

Road Scholar’s best-selling U.S. tours for 2021 included Utah’s Grand Circle of Parks and Monuments, Zion, Bryce, and Grand Canyon National Parks, scenic railroads of Arizona, Chautauqua, and Mount Rushmore, the Black Hills, and Badlands. 

“National Parks programs have been very popular, as well as other outdoor programs,” says Knoedler Perri. “When you travel with Road Scholar, you’ll learn from knowledgeable local experts about the history and culture of the destination you’re visiting. Plus, you can choose from a plethora of specific educational topics, from birding to theater, so you can tailor your travel experience to your interests.” 

Off the Beaten Path With Elder Treks 

Running educational adventure tours for more than 30 years, ElderTreks is another popular educational travel agency. “There was this notion that adventure travel was only for young people,” says Gary Murtagh, CEO and founder. “Many of our travelers did backpacking when they were younger and want to relive those adventures.” 

ElderTreks offers a variety of tours, including a trip to Brazil with a stop at the Pantanal, the world’s largest tropical wetland that Murtagh says provides the best opportunity for jaguar sightings.  

Another popular ElderTreks destination is the Galapagos Islands, where Darwin formed many of his theories. “We help our travelers get to know the people, the culture, the history, and the cuisine,” says Murtagh.  

Local Travel Agents Can Offer Curated Experiences 

You may also find family-owned tour operators in your state or city, says Jeanie Johnston, owner of St. Paul, Minn.-based Jeanie’s Journeys. For example, Jeanie’s Journeys has a visit to Gettysburg on their tour of Washington D.C.  

“It is made special by a 1st Minnesota Civil War reenactor who shows the travelers around the Gettysburg Battlefield and explains where the men from Minnesota fought and charged,” says Johnston. “Of course, he explains all of this in a full Civil War uniform. Small touches like this sneak education into travel, and everyone enjoys themselves.” 

What to Expect From Educational Travel  

If you’re the kind of vacationer who wants to sit by the pool reading a book, educational tours may not be the right fit. Activities are planned all day, keeping travelers busy. But that’s the point, says Jaspers. “If I want to rest, I can stay home,” she says. “I don’t travel so that I can rest up. I travel to see things and do things.” 

Both Road Scholar and ElderTreks offer a variety of activity levels, depending on the traveler’s mobility. Road Scholar rates their trips from easy going to outdoor spirited. And ElderTreks screens travelers, asking about their capabilities before booking. “We want to make sure that if someone gets on a hiking trip, they enjoy it, and it’s not going to be the worst experience of their life,” says Murtagh.  

One of the best things about being retired is having control over your time. From volunteering on an archaeological dig to touring Civil War battlefields, whatever you dream of doing, there’s probably an educational travel tour that can take you there.  

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