Travel Companies Similar to "Road Scholar"?

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Small Law Survivor
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Travel Companies Similar to "Road Scholar"?

Post by Small Law Survivor » Wed Jan 09, 2019 3:26 pm

When it comes to travel, I'm a "free spirit" - no reservations, stay away from crowds, if I have to spend the night sleeping on a beach or a bench, no problem.

My wife, however, prefers to travel in comfort, and she enjoys organized/educational travel. Hey, that's OK with me - I have to compromise somewhere, right?

So, I've been looking at Road Scholar (formerly Elderhostel), and they have a lot of trips we'd both enjoy. But, of course, our first choice (French art tour in May) is already full, others take place on inconvenient dates, ... and so forth.

I have been vaguely aware of Elderhostel/Road Scholar for many years; forget how I first learned about them. But, my knowledge of companies that run educational tours of this sort stops there.

I'd appreciate learning about similar travel companies, so we can expand our travel options. Thanks in advance! Small Law Survivor
68 yrs, semi-retired lawyer, 50/40/10 s/b/c, 70/30 dom/int'l. Plan: 4% WR until age 70, 3% after social security kicks in. Boglehead since day 1 (and M* Diehard before that) under various other names

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ResearchMed
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Re: Travel Companies Similar to "Road Scholar"?

Post by ResearchMed » Wed Jan 09, 2019 3:35 pm

Small Law Survivor wrote:
Wed Jan 09, 2019 3:26 pm
When it comes to travel, I'm a "free spirit" - no reservations, stay away from crowds, if I have to spend the night sleeping on a beach or a bench, no problem.

My wife, however, prefers to travel in comfort, and she enjoys organized/educational travel. Hey, that's OK with me - I have to compromise somewhere, right?

So, I've been looking at Road Scholar (formerly Elderhostel), and they have a lot of trips we'd both enjoy. But, of course, our first choice (French art tour in May) is already full, others take place on inconvenient dates, ... and so forth.

I have been vaguely aware of Elderhostel/Road Scholar for many years; forget how I first learned about them. But, my knowledge of companies that run educational tours of this sort stops there.

I'd appreciate learning about similar travel companies, so we can expand our travel options. Thanks in advance! Small Law Survivor
For starters, keep an eye on the "cancellation penalty schedule".
There are some reservations that might get cancelled just prior to the cancellation fees kicking in.

Also, do they take a wait list? (This might not work, depending upon your flexibility, etc.)
There could always be later cancellations due to illness or unavoidable work conflicts, etc.

RM
This signature is a placebo. You are in the control group.

Topic Author
Small Law Survivor
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Re: Travel Companies Similar to "Road Scholar"?

Post by Small Law Survivor » Wed Jan 09, 2019 5:03 pm

Yes, on the wait list for the trip we want in May, and we are second in line. But, they told me they get very few cancellations, and our chances of getting that trip are "2%" ! :)

We should know by late this month, since there is a cut-off date then that would make it very expensive to cancel after that date.
68 yrs, semi-retired lawyer, 50/40/10 s/b/c, 70/30 dom/int'l. Plan: 4% WR until age 70, 3% after social security kicks in. Boglehead since day 1 (and M* Diehard before that) under various other names

obgraham
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Re: Travel Companies Similar to "Road Scholar"?

Post by obgraham » Wed Jan 09, 2019 5:58 pm

I had the opposite problem with RS. Trip to Rome, art focus. RS cancelled the trip 30 days out, due to not enough signups.
Since I had booked a private week in Florence after it, I was not happy. Lost my deposit for that sector. RS claimed not their problem, please see the fine print.

Swimmer
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Re: Travel Companies Similar to "Road Scholar"?

Post by Swimmer » Wed Jan 09, 2019 6:28 pm

obgraham wrote:
Wed Jan 09, 2019 5:58 pm
I had the opposite problem with RS. Trip to Rome, art focus. RS cancelled the trip 30 days out, due to not enough signups.
Since I had booked a private week in Florence after it, I was not happy. Lost my deposit for that sector. RS claimed not their problem, please see the fine print.

Yes. That is one significant drawback—-LOTS of fine print. I’ve been burned by their canceling trips as well. And If you’re tempted to buy trip insurance through RS, check AON’s online reviews first! RS won’t help you when AON denies your claim or is unresponsive.

I love their trips but it’s a business (er, not-for-profit, ahem). My experience has been they have great group leaders in the field, but HQ staff is bound by policies designed to enhance revenue to the detriment of the customer who didn’t hire a lawyer to read the fine print. And often they have the chutzpah to ask for donations.

I use RS with caution because IMO the good outweighs the negative for me. As a solo traveler I really enjoy fellow RS travelers and, as I said, group leaders have been outstanding. That means a lot.

SuzBanyan
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Re: Travel Companies Similar to "Road Scholar"?

Post by SuzBanyan » Wed Jan 09, 2019 6:40 pm

I know you mentioned that your spouse wanted both “organized” and “educational”, but you can achieve the 2nd part on your own by booking small group tours through Context travel. They do half day and day tours in major cities with local guides. We really enjoyed the half day archeological tour of London led by a local college professor (just 2 of us on the tour), the architectural tour of London (4 on that tour) and the architectural tour of Barcelona (6 people, the max). https://www.contexttravel.com

oxothuk
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Re: Travel Companies Similar to "Road Scholar"?

Post by oxothuk » Wed Jan 09, 2019 6:48 pm

Not the same thing as RS, but if you and your wife are the active sort you might consider a walking or biking vacation. Here is a company we have used several time with great results http://www.inntravel.co.uk. They handle all the logistics of hotel reservations and carry all your luggage by day; you just have to carry yourself and your raingear.

quantAndHold
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Re: Travel Companies Similar to "Road Scholar"?

Post by quantAndHold » Wed Jan 09, 2019 7:02 pm

We haven’t used them yet, but our neighbor raves about OAT https://www.oattravel.com. Reasonably priced, small group tours to interesting places. He’s been on a bunch of their tours. Apparently the accommodations are simple but comfortable, and they’re capable of doing a lot of customization if you want something different than exactly what’s on the tour.

Bruce T
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Re: Travel Companies Similar to "Road Scholar"?

Post by Bruce T » Wed Jan 09, 2019 7:41 pm

Not a recommendation (no personal knowledge) but have heard about:
https://www.martinrandall.com/France
https://www.ricksteves.com/tours/france/paris-france
Have fun!
Bruce

PS - my parents have gone on several Road Scholar trips and have enjoyed them...

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ResearchMed
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Re: Travel Companies Similar to "Road Scholar"?

Post by ResearchMed » Wed Jan 09, 2019 7:46 pm

Swimmer wrote:
Wed Jan 09, 2019 6:28 pm
obgraham wrote:
Wed Jan 09, 2019 5:58 pm
I had the opposite problem with RS. Trip to Rome, art focus. RS cancelled the trip 30 days out, due to not enough signups.
Since I had booked a private week in Florence after it, I was not happy. Lost my deposit for that sector. RS claimed not their problem, please see the fine print.

Yes. That is one significant drawback—-LOTS of fine print. I’ve been burned by their canceling trips as well. And If you’re tempted to buy trip insurance through RS, check AON’s online reviews first! RS won’t help you when AON denies your claim or is unresponsive.

I love their trips but it’s a business (er, not-for-profit, ahem). My experience has been they have great group leaders in the field, but HQ staff is bound by policies designed to enhance revenue to the detriment of the customer who didn’t hire a lawyer to read the fine print. And often they have the chutzpah to ask for donations.

I use RS with caution because IMO the good outweighs the negative for me. As a solo traveler I really enjoy fellow RS travelers and, as I said, group leaders have been outstanding. That means a lot.
We had ONE "experience" with RS that completely turned us off, and we never even got to do the trip.
And it was very unfortunate, as we keep reading about how great the actual tours and experts are.

But it was perhaps The.Worst.Customer.Service.Ever.

It was for about a week in the South of France, just the places we wanted to visit. We spoke with them, and made our deposit.
Then we booked special tours before and after, plus our flights to fit those.
We were very excited about the trip! :happy

Then... then...

We always contact hotels in advance because of a serious allergy, and *every* hotel (or ship) has been wonderful to work with, from the least expensive to the top luxury versions.

The first hotel went out of their way, and also recommended a slight upgrade (extra charge, and it was perfect for us).

The next hotel?
They wrote back, "So sorry, but we have no Road Scholar group for those dates".
We then got into a casual back and forth of "Perhaps it's under a different group name", thinking perhaps a consolidator or other "middle person" had made the actual reservations.
Nope.

So I contacted Road Scholar, who first blamed the hotel in rather bad form (totally disrespectful - but they were putting their participants up there!??).
We contacted the hotel again, gently suggesting there must be some confusion, but the Group confirmed this *was* the hotel, etc.
This back and forth went on for more than a week.

By then, we had a remarkably nonsensical set of replies from RS, mostly following what HAD to be a template (from several different writers, presumably), that "We cannot assist you with accommodations after the tour has ended. You must make those directly with the hotels."
SAY WHAT!?!?

There were a few other nonsensical responses that seemingly came from Mars (and were presumably meant for the Moon, or ??).

But mostly it became very insulting variations about how "we already TOLD you that we can NOT help with hotels after the tour"...

I had some trouble, but I found the phone number of the President's Office, after having no luck getting past "operator types" at the main non-toll-free number.
I spoke with the President's assistant, who seemed alarmed. At the very least, she "got it" about what it was I was saying, which was: "Your group has NO PLACE TO STAY, and over a major holiday weekend in the South of France."
She asked us to be patient.
I did point out that we had checked around at similar hotels nearby, trying to "find" the group, and although we hadn't found "the" reservations, we also found NO availability anywhere in the area (no surprise!).

Suddenly, we got an "urgent" email from RS, notifying us of a [Surprise! Surprise!] "change of hotel" in <town>. And it was to a *much* lesser property, not really even acceptable (but no surprise... at least *that* hotel had "availability"!). The TripAdvisor comments were the worst we've seen in ages (bad customer service, filthy rooms, no breakfast available...)

Bottom line, although it was very close to the planned departure, we were offered our money back, after I made it clear that we had zero confidence in RS's ability to handle even routine problems ... if they won't even listen when a problem crops up.

We had to pay to re-book our awards points for the air flights.
We also cancelled plans before and after the RS tour.

But we found a "last minute availability" prime suite for an Alaskan cruise we had been thinking about (someone else must have gotten sick and cancelled with little advance notice?), and we had a fantastic Alaskan vacation.

But that Headquarters Office!
They definitely cannot find their way out of a paper bag with a fully open end. Even with a bright light...
And they were unbelievably rude, and got outright nasty, accusing us of making it all up.
And there was not a single apology, when they realized they had NO PLACE FOR THEIR GROUP TO SLEEP.
(They might have found a way to mutter a quiet "Thank you; we almost had a bus full of guests show up to a full hotel late at night on a holiday weekend...!" But noooooo....)

We keep reading wonderful descriptions of their tours.
But if it's the HQ that is "the problem", and they REFUSE to acknowledge even a serious problem... how can we trust them to handle anything that might "happen", and we all know that "things DO happen", etc.
It's "how you handle problems" that matters!

Note: I really wish I could now say, "April Fool's! I made this all up", but it all too true, and I left out a lot of the remarkably insulting verbiage, all nicely captured in regular emails they sent (and we forwarded to the President's office)......
This May, we are taking a Med cruise that will include part of the South of France that we didn't see about 3 years ago, and we are adding the main bits of the "before and after" plans we had to cancel back then.

And thanks: We'll check out OAT. Sounds promising, especially if they can customize, which can be nice sometimes.

RM
This signature is a placebo. You are in the control group.

carruthers209
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Re: Travel Companies Similar to "Road Scholar"?

Post by carruthers209 » Thu Jan 10, 2019 2:27 am

Be sure to check out Costco. They have a travel department and seem to be very flexible. We did the ten day tour of Italy "your way" or something like that. We stayed in lovely hotels in the center of Florence, Venice, and Rome, signed up for various day trips-Pompeii, Vatican Museums, etc. that were well done and there was even an airport pickup on the last morning of our ten days. You are not in a tour group-it's more for independent traveling with hotel, train, transportation arrangements made for you and tour sign up available. I talked to someone in their travel department and they are well traveled and very helpful. We just added this trip onto the end of our European vacation.

autolycus
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Re: Travel Companies Similar to "Road Scholar"?

Post by autolycus » Thu Jan 10, 2019 9:54 am

SuzBanyan wrote:
Wed Jan 09, 2019 6:40 pm
I know you mentioned that your spouse wanted both “organized” and “educational”, but you can achieve the 2nd part on your own by booking small group tours through Context travel. They do half day and day tours in major cities with local guides. We really enjoyed the half day archeological tour of London led by a local college professor (just 2 of us on the tour), the architectural tour of London (4 on that tour) and the architectural tour of Barcelona (6 people, the max). https://www.contexttravel.com
I second the recommendation for Context Travel. Had two excellent experiences with them in Rome.

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ResearchMed
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Re: Travel Companies Similar to "Road Scholar"?

Post by ResearchMed » Thu Jan 10, 2019 10:00 am

autolycus wrote:
Thu Jan 10, 2019 9:54 am
SuzBanyan wrote:
Wed Jan 09, 2019 6:40 pm
I know you mentioned that your spouse wanted both “organized” and “educational”, but you can achieve the 2nd part on your own by booking small group tours through Context travel. They do half day and day tours in major cities with local guides. We really enjoyed the half day archeological tour of London led by a local college professor (just 2 of us on the tour), the architectural tour of London (4 on that tour) and the architectural tour of Barcelona (6 people, the max). https://www.contexttravel.com
I second the recommendation for Context Travel. Had two excellent experiences with them in Rome.
Thanks to both of your for the suggestion!

RM
This signature is a placebo. You are in the control group.

TTBG
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Re: Travel Companies Similar to "Road Scholar"?

Post by TTBG » Thu Jan 10, 2019 10:28 am

Another possibility is BackRoads.com. Their trips are focused on activities like hiking or biking but they rate them by level of activity, eg how many miles of walking per day. I took one of their US trips several years ago and liked that they handled all of the logistics. They were well organized and the tour guides were great. Someday I'd like to take one of their international trips ... they're not cheap though.

The Wizard
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Re: Travel Companies Similar to "Road Scholar"?

Post by The Wizard » Thu Jan 10, 2019 11:09 am

I've taken four trips so far with a particular volunteer organization and have several more booked though 2020.
The trips I choose are generally international day hiking trips though one is bicycling along the Danube.
Each trip is run with two experienced volunteer leaders and often involves an outfitting company in the foreign country.
Each trip is breakeven financially, so we get refunds of $100 or so after final accounting is done.

I'm reluctant to name this organization publically since many of their trips fill up quickly already and only have around 16 spots available to start with.

With these sort of trips, we are told not to buy plane tickets or similar until we are given word that the trip is a "go".
I usually allow a few extra days before and after the group trip to do some exploration on my own. So I've not had any problems to speak of...
Attempted new signature...

Freefun
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Re: Travel Companies Similar to "Road Scholar"?

Post by Freefun » Thu Jan 10, 2019 11:32 am

TTBG wrote:
Thu Jan 10, 2019 10:28 am
Another possibility is BackRoads.com. Their trips are focused on activities like hiking or biking but they rate them by level of activity, eg how many miles of walking per day. I took one of their US trips several years ago and liked that they handled all of the logistics. They were well organized and the tour guides were great. Someday I'd like to take one of their international trips ... they're not cheap though.
+1 backroads. Did many trips with them and overall they’re great. Expensive but you get what you pay for.

I’ve been recommended to try VBT. From folks that have done >10 backroad trips they say VBT is much less expensive. Lodging may not be as fancy but overall very good and you get a lot more for your money. I have yet to try them but I intend to.
Remember when you wanted what you currently have?

Sahara
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Re: Travel Companies Similar to "Road Scholar"?

Post by Sahara » Thu Jan 10, 2019 3:34 pm

I’ve traveled in small groups with Gap Adventures (Peru), Intrepid (Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam), and Explore Worldwide (Mexico, Guatemala and Belize). These companies would be categorized as “small group adventure” tours rather than educational tours. I’ve found that they offer a variety of levels of service, support, and comfort as well as experiences. I’ve had excellent trips with all of them.

I also recommend smarTours, though their tours have larger group sizes and a larger footprint.

MJS
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Re: Travel Companies Similar to "Road Scholar"?

Post by MJS » Thu Jan 10, 2019 4:00 pm

No personal experience, but they fill up fast and sound fascinating: Atlas Obscura

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celia
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Re: Travel Companies Similar to "Road Scholar"?

Post by celia » Thu Jan 10, 2019 5:09 pm

I just googled: "one-week classes in Europe" (as an example) and these are some of the interesting classes you can find:

28 Awesome Cooking Classes Around The World To Take During Your Travels These classes appear to last for a few hours. You could also contact some of the places directly and ask if they have other classes

The International Kitchen

Culinary Vacations in Europe

Italian Culinary Schools

Pastry and Chocolate classes (in Paris)

art classes in Florence, Italy
Cheese Making in Italy
The above 2 courses are on a website that is difficult to search to find short-term classes and these may be "temporary" listings.

Art Workshops

International Directory of Art Workshops and Retreats

Flower arranging (in London)


If you want to volunteer in another country:
United Planet
Volunteer Forever
GoAbroad Study or Volunteer
Diverbo Help English-learners practice their English skills (in Spain, Germany)
Angloville Help English-learners practice their English skills (in Poland, Hungary, Romania, Czech Republic, Ireland, England or Malta)

DrGoogle2017
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Re: Travel Companies Similar to "Road Scholar"?

Post by DrGoogle2017 » Thu Jan 10, 2019 5:53 pm

Thank you for starting this thread. My post is to bookmark this thread for future trips.

Topic Author
Small Law Survivor
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Re: Travel Companies Similar to "Road Scholar"?

Post by Small Law Survivor » Fri Jan 11, 2019 9:30 am

Thank you all for these suggestions! Exploring some of the travel sites referenced here. Small Law
68 yrs, semi-retired lawyer, 50/40/10 s/b/c, 70/30 dom/int'l. Plan: 4% WR until age 70, 3% after social security kicks in. Boglehead since day 1 (and M* Diehard before that) under various other names

noupdjm
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Re: Travel Companies Similar to "Road Scholar"?

Post by noupdjm » Fri Jan 11, 2019 9:40 am

Same thing DrGoogle2017 is doing - bookmark for future use. Thank you all - very informative!

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