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Learning to travel, and traveling to learn

Banner Staff
Learning to travel, and traveling to learn
Through Road Scholar, psychiatrist Dr. Cindy Carter will visit Paris this summer for both relaxation and a new experience. (Photo: Elderhostel)

Author: ElderhostelThrough Road Scholar, psychiatrist Dr. Cindy Carter will visit Paris this summer for both relaxation and a new experience.

Louise Myers has been quite busy since retiring from the Social Security Administration a few years back.

She lives in North Chelmsford, but she’s been traveling all over the place — in San Francisco one week, Philadelphia the next. There was the trip to Hilton Head, S.C., and of course, the one to New Orleans during Mardi Gras.

For Myers, the travel is not just about getaways to warmer climates. That’s clearly part of it, but what she finds more important is the education, the opportunity to learn about a different culture and history.

That’s where Elderhostel, a nonprofit travel agency, comes in. Started in 1975, Elderhostel has helped more than 4 million people see the world, organizing trips to destinations ranging from Natchez, Miss., to Paris, France, all with an emphasis on giving travelers an authentic local experience.

“It’s the best value for someone who wants more than a vacation,” Myers says. “Everything is taken care of for you, and you also have access to experienced leaders who take you inside and out of the place you’re visiting.”

During Mardi Gras, for instance, Myers says she was able to attend many of the celebrations and parties, but also take part in a behind-the-scenes look at how floats were made and learn the history of the colorful costumes.

Myers has traveled with Elderhostel for the last 16 years. Back then, she says, she had few, if any, African American traveling companions.

Kathy Taylor wants to change that. Taylor, a former television advertising executive, joined Road Scholar, the Boston-based subsidiary of Elderhostel, in 2007 in part to increase African American participation.

“I have traveled up and down the Eastern United States spreading the gospel about educational travel and lifelong learning,” says Taylor, Road Scholar’s associate vice president of community development.

“I’ve received the same enthusiastic response from so many people I’ve met: ‘Thank you for creating learning and travel opportunities for an African American audience,’” she added.

Travel has benefits beyond simply escaping. In today’s world, travelers want to get the most for their money, and they’re looking for something well beyond a tour.

Numerous studies have shown that learning is beneficial at all ages. With more and more Americans living longer, more attention has been placed on increasing the health of the brain as a way to prevent the onslaught of Alzheimer’s disease and other debilitating mental conditions.

For African Americans, maintaining a healthy lifestyle has been a longstanding challenge. As early as the 1800s, W. E. B. Du Bois first identified health disparities between African Americans and the general population. In both 1899’s “The Philadelphia Negro: A Social Study” and 1906’s “The Health and Physique of the Negro American,” Du Bois documented the differences in quality of health between African Americans and whites.

Today, health disparities continue to be a major problem. The incidence of Alzheimer’s, for example, is much higher in the African American population than it is among whites.

“Our hope is by sharing information on the significance of lifelong learning, African Americans will pursue options such as experiential learning and educational travel,” Taylor says.

Bob Hayden is the president of the Martha’s Vineyard chapter of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. He knows a thing or two about educational travel.

Hayden recently attended a program in Daytona Beach, Fla., that focused on golfing and local history. Now in his early 70s, Hayden says he recalls giving an Elderhostel group a history lesson about Boston more than 30 years ago.

“Elderhostel was a relatively new organization then, and ‘learning adventures’ for adults was an interesting concept,” he says. “At the time, as a much younger man, I wondered if some day I might take an Elderhostel program myself, and here I am — what a great experience.”

Dr. Cindy Carter is a psychiatrist and a relative newcomer to the notion of educational travel. But that’s not holding her back — she is going to Paris this summer.

 “When I travel, I like to relax and have new experiences,” Carter says. “I think learning is important as long as it is not under pressure — you learn differently when you travel than when you are reading a book.”