Part of what we do here at TourScoop is use our (human) travel expertise to vet tour companies so you have an easy way to get a bunch of trustworthy information all in one place. Today we’re digging into Road Scholar, a popular tour company that’s been around for nearly 50 years. Read on to find everything you need to know to confidently make the decision about whether it’s a good fit for you.
Road Scholar (previously known as Elderhostel) is a tour company with a difference: Since 1975 the company has been run as a nonprofit organization with an educational mission as its primary focus. That means a few things: since it’s a nonprofit, Road Scholar offers excellent value (tours aren’t priced for profit). I also like that it’s unusual among tour companies because it offers both financial aid and caregiver grants. And since it’s education-driven, the tour operator attracts a particularly curious and educated group of travelers, including many retired educators.
Road Scholar’s 4,000 offerings include small group tours, grandparent-grandchild trips, cruises, private jet adventures, and tours focused on passions including birding, food and drink, and history.
TourScoop Takeaways: Road Scholar
- Continents Covered: 7
- Tour Size Average: Road Scholar’s small group programs max out at 24 travelers, but the company also runs larger programs with hundreds of participants who are then broken into small groups for activities.
- Tour Types: Coach, ship, plane, train
How to Book
Road Scholar is a BBB accredited charity that meets the standards for charity accountability, and has a low complaint number and a high response-to-issues ratio. It has a rating of 4.2 out of 5 on Facebook. Tour-focused online travel agency TourStride past guests gives Road Scholar a 4.4 out of 5.
Road Scholar operates tours on seven continents and to nearly 100 countries. In the U.S., it offers itineraries to most states, and internationally, its most popular destinations include Canada, Costa Rica, Cuba, and Italy.
Road Scholar offers hundreds of programs on a variety of topics, with thousands of departures annually. Since it’s a nonprofit organization with an educational mission, everything it does is about learning, and it weaves in educational visits, lectures, and events into every trip.
On the website, you can filter trips by hobbies or what you want to learn about, from Military History to Native American Studies, Birding, Pickleball, or another topic. You can also filter the course catalog by activity level, from “Easy Going” to “Outdoor: Challenging.”
Road Scholar also offers Adventures Afloat (cruises), skip-gen programs geared to grandparents and grandchildren traveling together, and virtual tours that range from one-hour lectures to multi-day online adventures.
As an education-focused tour organization, Road Scholar refers to its group leaders and instructors as faculty. Faculty members–many of whom have been working with Road Scholar for a decade or more–are local experts with years of experience in travel and academics. Group leaders receive initial training and receive yearly professional development to ensure they’re at the top of their game.
In addition to faculty, tour participants meet a broad range of experts on tour, experts that range from shrimp boat captains to award-winning authors.
Road Scholar programs are all-inclusive and have no optional extras or hidden expenses. The price of a tour includes:
- Experienced Group Leader
- Expert-led lectures and field trips
- Most meals (some meals during free time not included)
- Gratuities throughout the program, including group leader gratuities
- Road Scholar Assurance Plan (24-hour assistance in the event of an emergency during a program and insurance for emergency medical evacuation)
Flights to and from the tour are not included in base program prices, but Road Scholar will book flights for participants traveling internationally. Flights booked through Road Scholar also include complimentary airport transfers.
If you don’t count kids in the mix on the Grandparent and Family programs, the average age of a Road Scholar participant is 72. But trips generally include a wide range of older travelers from people in their 50s through 90s. About 30% of participants are solo travelers, and of that 30% about 85% are women traveling on their own. Road Scholar trips are generally reported to be very welcoming to solo travelers.
Once you’ve booked a tour with Road Scholar, the company sends regular emails leading up to trip departures. You can also access your trip information online: once you’re enrolled in a program, all trip information is accessible via your online account.
Road Scholar’s U.S.-based contact center (800-454-5768) is open 9:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. (ET), Monday through Friday. Monday is the contact center’s busiest day, so to avoid long wait times, call midweek or at the end of the week if you can). Road Scholar has callback feature, which allows you to save your place in the queue without having to wait on the phone–a representative calls you back as soon as it’s your turn in line.
Because Road Scholar is a nonprofit organization, discounts are not offered, including for repeat travelers. But the company is dedicated to making travel affordable for more travelers, and offers financial aid and caregiver grants.
Groups made up of between 18 and 24 people can reserve private departures of existing itineraries with Road Scholar. If you organize a group of 20 or more, you can take advantage of group discounts or free travel for one person.
Road Scholar offsets some of the carbon emissions created through travel on its programs. It invests in projects including rainforest preservation in Brazil, methane gas recapture in Florida, and reforestation in Kenya. The company also tries to use sustainability certified hotels, locally owned services, and restaurants that serve locally sourced meals whenever possible.
Health and Safety Practices
Road Scholar has partners on the ground worldwide who monitor all areas visited by the company. If concerns arise, Road Scholar will find replacement content or cancel the program, depending on the severity and location of the issue.