Educational Trips Expand the Mind for Older Traveler

Retirees have a bevy of options to explore areas most tourists don't see.

Joe and Jo Ann Paszczyk, of Chicago, love unique travel adventures. Over the past decade, the couple have taken about 25 trips with educational organizations. “We have many interests—science, astronomy, history, nature,” says Joe, a former TV producer. Adds Jo Ann, a retired human resources manager: “These are not your normal souvenir shopping trips. You’re in small groups with curious people who like to learn.” In the past three years, they have gone on trips led by Chicago’s Field Museum to Madagascar, India and Tanzania. The expert guides “were always pointing out details that you would otherwise miss,” says Jo Ann.

Another good source of educational trips is alumni associations of universities and colleges. You don’t always need to be a graduate of the school to sign up. For example, in November 2019, Stanford University offers a two-week trip called “Unseen Japan,” led by a lecturer in international policy. At $9,695 per person plus airfare, the trip includes visits to temples in Kyoto, a tour of I.M. Pei’s Miho Museum and an overnight stay at an inn in the hot springs town of Matsuyama.

These trips can be expensive, so compare what’s offered before you sign up. For example, does the price cover most meals and drinks, tips for guides and drivers, special excursions, and medical, accident and evacuation insurance? Also, check to see if a professional tour manager will accompany the group to handle logistics and iron out any problems. Smithsonian Journeys always sends its own experts, Ledwin says.

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Select a trip according to whether you seek an active adventure or a more leisurely pace, says Jo Ann Paszczyk. Most trips are rated by activity level. African safaris tend to be more sedentary because you sit in a vehicle all day, while other trips require a lot of uphill hiking. “We are clear on expectations,” says Au, of the Field Museum. “Our Mexico trip featured horseback riding and hiking uphill in altitudes over 10,000 feet. But our Greece trip was geared to anthropology and you are on a cruise ship with some walking during the day.”

Another benefit to traveling with a local institution is that it often creates a bond between travelers and the organization that extends beyond the trip. “We’ve made some new friends and become more part of the Field community,” says Joe Paszczyk. To him and his wife, that’s a gift that keeps on giving.