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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Travel has been my greatest joy in retirement, so I relate well, thank you for the article. The only part I find surprising is RoadScholar mentioned as a nonprofit. I have been looking at their offerings and find the tour prices often greatly exceed the prices of profit oriented tour operators offering comparable trips – so I guess I am missing something and scratching my head.
Agree. Road Scholar seems vastly overpriced, especially for U S tours. In Europe, I would love to do a Rick Steve tour.
Excellent article and thanks for mentioning Road Scholar. My part time job in retirement is a RS bus driver for the five National Parks in Utah. As you mentioned, the hiking trips range from recreational to demanding. The best part of the job is getting to know all the great people on the tour and watching them experience the beauty of Utah. Hard to believe they pay me to do this.
I’ve looked at the Utah trip…. looks like it would be good.
Howard, thanks for a fun article. We love to travel also. We usually plan our own travel, but we scheduled a Road Scholar trip next summer to Alaska. It will be our first trip with them. We are going with two of my wife’s brothers and their wives.They have both taken RS tours before and enjoyed them.
Maine, and Acadia in particular, is one of our favorite places. We camped there twice when our children were young, and have been back since. One of our favorite trips in Maine was a 4-day cruise on the Stephen Taber (https://www.stephentaber.com/). I highly recommend it. We combined it with a stay at an Inn in Camden, ME, and some hiking at Camden State Park.
I hope you enjoy the RS tour. We have met fellow travelers on each of our RS trips who used the trip as a way to meet up with other family members. Some made it an annual thing.
I agree, travel and the opportunities it brings for adventure and education can’t be beat.
I’m a history buff and I really enjoy history related travel. At this stage of life our hiking days are over, but there is always a way.
As you may have read, a few months ago my wife and I completed our third tour of the US – 7,000 miles the last trip. Now with have visited all 50 states and forty-four countries. Interestingly we followed part of the Lewis and Clark trail on one trip.
Keep traveling as much as you can.
Even our annual drive to Florida gives us an opportunity for side trips each way – Monticello and the Biltmore among them.
I did read about your 7000 mile trip. I haven’t convinced myself I would enjoy even half that much driving on a single trip. I do like the idea of making stops on the way to a destination, as you do with your Florida trip. On the way to our Acadia trip, driving from Ohio, we made stops on the way there and back.
We stop to see things along the way for sure. On the way west we stopped in Ohio to see Edison’s birthplace and in Iowa the Herbert Hoover historical site. Sometimes we plan a stop, more often we just find things along the way. Try to limit driving to 300-400 miles a day.