RANCHO SANTA FE — A recent visit from a Road Scholar Ambassador attracted many attendants to learn about the history and travel adventures of this unique organization. Jill Swaim, Road Scholar Volunteer ambassador, chatted with visitors at the Rancho Santa Fe Library about its humble beginnings which started as Elderhostel and transformed into a colorful platform of adventure and education.
Swaim chatted about the founders, Marty Knowlton and David Bianco, having many chuckling with enjoyable stories. Known as the unlikely pair, Knowlton was the “free-spirited one” while Bianco was the “organized one” who worked at a university.
The name change from Elderhostel to Road Scholar happened in 2010 and it appears it’s here to stay. What has remained the same is it is a not-for-profit entity.
“I’m very passionate about the program. I love it,” she said. “I’ve been on many Road Scholar trips as a group leader and as a participant. So I’m going to share some of those trips with you.”
According to Swaim, in 1975, it had 220 educational participants. Now, they are international, peppered around 150 countries around the world.
Today, Road Scholar has 8,000 classes, also known as departures annually, with a total of about 100,000 enrollments.
The program is attracting baby boomers.
“We have adults that want to explore the world,” she said, adding how roughly 4 million people have taken part in the program since its inception. “If you’re somebody who enjoys learning new things, exploring interesting places, and meeting the most wonderful people, all in a comfortable and safe environment, this might be something for you,” Swaim said.
The educational component of the travel series varies with university and museum connections.
“I group lead a program out of Los Angeles called Art Collectors and Their Collections. We go to the L.A. County Museum of Art, Getty Center, the Huntington and the Norton Simon, but we use the docents from those museums because they are so well trained,” she said.
Swaim also wanted people to know how their organization teams up with cultural institutions, nonprofit and for-profit organizations. She described Road Scholar as the leading educational travel source of its kind.
“You make lifelong friends, and you never stop learning with us,” she said.
Those in attendance were anxious to learn of where Swaim visited. She shared her very first experience on a trip to Costa Rica.
On her itinerary, it said she would visit the home of a local Costa Rican.
“Well, I found myself in the home of an ex-president of Costa Rica and his wife. They had us for tea, and they spoke to us about what life was like as president and first lady and what their life was like now,” Swaim said.
That first trip made an indelible imprint.
Trips range from local destinations to around the world. Swaim noted how they have very inspirational instructors and it’s also a welcoming environment for solo travelers. According to Swaim, sometimes half of the trip equates to solo travelers.
Getaways with Road Scholar are educational experiences of a lifetime, and for many, shifted the way people embark on their own travels.
To learn more, visit roadscholar.org.