On the Road Again

Howard Rohleder

SEEING NEW PLACES is something my wife and I have enjoyed throughout our married life. Some families have a vacation home that’s their primary destination. I can see the appeal: a place to get away to, where everything is familiar and memories are made.

Others have hobbies that consume their free time. I’ve lived near the Great Lakes and know boaters who head there every weekend. Then there are the golfers. Enough said. Or the football fans who tailgate, wear team gear and go to all the home games—and maybe some of the away games, too.

When our children were growing up, we wanted to expose them to a host of places. Each vacation, we’d head off in a different direction from our home in Ohio. These included visits to Washington, D.C., Boston and Chicago, lake vacations in Michigan, and seaside vacations in North and South Carolina.

Then there were a couple of visits to Disney World, and big trips to Hawaii and London. Some families traveled more, certainly, but our kids got plenty of variety.

Regardless of how you spend your free time during your working years, retirement opens up the chance to double down on your preferred use of free time. Ten years into retirement, traveling has become the pastime we enjoy the most.

The No. 1 motivation for our travels is the grandkids. With six grandchildren in two families located two and six hours away, we spend a lot of time driving to see them. We’re a part of their lives even though they don’t live nearby.

On the way home from visiting our more distant grandkids, we make side trips to see places like Gettysburg, or Monticello near Charlottesville, Virginia, or state parks. We’re always looking for interesting places to stay where we can hike.

Our second favorite type of trip is short getaways to bed-and-breakfast places or small hotels. We started looking for unique places to stay when we visited Ohio’s Amish country. Then we stayed in B&Bs while visiting relatives in towns too small to have a chain motel. We enjoyed the smaller lodgings, and have planned vacations where we get to stay in B&Bs, even when there were other options.

Then there are bigger vacations with tour groups. We want active outdoor vacations, but not camping. We’re also interested in learning new things, whether cultural history, natural history or just seeing the sites.

We’ve settled on trips offered through Road Scholar, a nonprofit tour company serving adults looking to combine learning with travel. We’ve been on four trips, with the next one planned for this winter. We’ve been to the Canadian Maritimes, and on a river cruise on the Columbia and Snake rivers in Oregon.

Our most adventurous trip, however, was to Acadia National Park in Maine in what was described as a “small group walking and hiking outdoor adventure.”  We like to hike and this trip took us to the upper limit of our capabilities.

Road Scholar offers tours all over the world, of varying lengths and prices, as well as varying activity levels. Our Acadia trip was not its most physically demanding option—there’s yet one level higher. The other trips, which primarily consisted of bus touring, required much less exertion.

Each trip is focused on learning, with knowledgeable tour leaders, guest lecturers and hand-picked tour guides at each stop. They take us to events or venues that we never would have found on our own. And they do all the driving. I welcome giving up some control in exchange for the convenience of not driving, navigating or organizing the itinerary.

Road Scholar conducts some trips themselves, but most of their tours are contracted to local groups or organizations. This means there’s some variation in how each trip works, but we’ve found them all well done.

The contractor for the Columbia and Snake River cruise was UnCruise Adventures, a company with smaller cruise ships that sleep 86 guests or less. It offers a seven-day Columbia and Snake River cruise focused on visiting wineries. The Road Scholar trip we took emphasized the route of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, with a lot of geology thrown in.

History versus wineries? To each his own. My brother-in-law couldn’t believe that, given the choice, we took the history tour. On our trip, we stopped at one winery, and that was enough for us.

There are downsides to tours. On some occasions, we would have preferred to spend more time at a particular stop. Or maybe less time, such as at the winery. But when we were on a mountain trail in Acadia, and it wasn’t clear to me which way the trail went, I appreciated having a guide.

This winter’s trip is to Big Bend National Park and Guadalupe National Park in Texas, and to Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico. As with Acadia, this tour is hiking-oriented—which means we’re now in training.

Howard Rohleder, a former chief executive of a community hospital, retired early after more than 30 years in hospital administration. In retirement, he enjoys serving on several nonprofit boards, exploring walking paths with his wife Susan, and visiting their six grandchildren. A little-known fact: In May 1994, Howard was featured—along with five others—on the cover of Kiplinger’s Personal Finance for an article titled “Secrets of My Investment Success.” Check out his previous articles.

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