By Sam McManis, The Sacramento Bee (TNS)
She is 84 and, much to her dismay, doesn’t get around as well as before. Only rides her bike 15 miles a day, now. In her younger days, she would navigate a sailboat to far-flung locales such as the Baltic and South China seas, hike in Tibet and Egypt, traverse the Great Wall of China, take off in an Airstream to search for America.
Aging, however, hasn’t slowed Nancy Sinclair’s yen for travel.
When Sinclair and her friends at Roseville, Calif.’s Sun City feel especially adventuresome, they will hit the road with Road Scholar, the educational travel service that for 40 years has provided trips and lifelong learning programs for older adults — 5 million or so, at last count — be it exploring the geologic masterpiece that is El Capitan with a naturalist in Yosemite National Park or ogling artistic masterpieces such as Michelangelo’s “David” in Florence, Italy.
For Sinclair, her Road Scholar experiences took her to Sedona, Ariz., and on to the Grand Canyon via train in one extended trip, a long visit to the Canadian Maritime provinces the next.
“Everything is done for you,” she said. “Every day is organized. You don’t get lost. You have people pointing out history. What I like, in any trip I take, is … to get the knowledge of the local area. They’ll bring in artists and local people who live in that area. They take you to places you might not find on your own. Plus, you learn what’s going on now. I’d never heard of it before my friend, a tour organizer, told me. Of course, back then, it was still called Elderhostel.”
Right, about the name: For its first 35 years, the nonprofit was known by the name Elderhostel, modeled on Scandinavian folk schools by two American academics. But in 2010, the organization underwent the marketing equivalent of an aging diva getting plastic surgery — a total branding makeover. Its name was changed to Road Scholar, which certainly seemed to better reflect the true nature of the program’s evolution, giving it an almost Kerouacian romantic sheen, coupled with high intellectual purpose.
With the first wave of baby boomers now comfortably ensconced in senior citizenship, and millions more hitting the Medicare threshold every year, Road Scholar CEO James Moses said the original name was a “misnomer,” at least partially. Sure, many of the participants could be classified as elderly, though many a boomer may blanch at that designation, but “people were never staying in hostels.”
Indeed, when you think Elderhostel, you think of granola-munching people bedding down in dingy dorm rooms and walking around in shorts, black knee-high socks and Birkenstocks. Truth is, these “experiences,” as Moses refers to trips, often are on luxury buses or trains, and the accommodations are plush, not spartan, the food gourmet and the wine certainly not guzzled out of smelly goat-skin bota bags. A name change had been batted around for years, since the American version of Elderhostel had long since morphed beyond its Scandinavian-inspired roots.
“The problem for years was, (Elderhostel) had became so iconic,” Moses said. “Everybody knew the name, and it was difficult for us to contemplate utilizing a different name. Ultimately, in 2010 we made the decision that this next generation of ‘elders’ was finding such difficulty with the name that it made sense for us to take the plunge.
“Probably the real transitioning started 10 years ago, when the World War II generation started to give way to the silent generation, to use demographers’ term. People, while they still have learning as their primary objective, began to become more interested in experiential learning rather than classroom-based learning. We started shifting the academic and lecture portion to be more on-site.”