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  1. Health

Baby boomers have changed Road Scholar, CEO says

Back in January, I wrote about our plan to bicycle from Berlin to Prague, using it as motivation to keep our 2014 fitness resolutions.

The trip (which you can read about at tbtim.es/biketour), did indeed serve that purpose. But it turned out to be good for us in other ways, too.

On the physical side, it's the only time in my life I have ever eaten absolutely everything I wanted, and still dropped 5 pounds.

It was a real mind-stretcher too: Not only did we visit the sites of key events dating back to World War II, we also got to meet people who lived through those times.

And riding with new friends, some of them 25 years my senior, prompted another discovery: If we take care of ourselves and keep moving, we could enjoy traveling like this for decades to come.

With all this in mind, I recently spoke with Jim Moses, president and CEO of Road Scholar, the nonprofit educational travel company that organized our trip. Last year, around 100,000 people took trips in every state and 150 countries with the nonprofit — formerly known as Elderhostel — which next year marks its 40th birthday.

Reflecting the popular demand for adventure travel, some of the trips are physically challenging. Bike rides, hiking, kayaking and urban adventures everywhere from Florida to Alaska to Peru to Paris spill out of the Road Scholar catalogs and website. There also are plenty of options for those who prefer a more sedate pace. Trips that allow families to travel with two and even three generations are gaining popularity, too.

What all the trips have in common is education, be it cultural, ecological, historical, you name it.

Little wonder Moses calls it "the largest university in the world.''

You've been with Road Scholar 30 years. What's the biggest change you've seen?

We've gone as a society through such a transformation in understanding how great a time the "Third Age" is in people's life spans. I've always heard from professors fighting to teach these programs because the students are so engaged.

How have your customers changed?

The World War II generation's sense of what an Elderhostel program should be was universal. They didn't care that much about where they slept. Now with the baby boomers, the lust for learning is the same, but the expectations on accommodations have changed radically. By the mid '90s, we were almost entirely out of college campuses and into hotels. Now we're in much better quality hotels because that's what baby boomers desire.

Another difference is that baby boomers tend in general to like much more active experiences, independent experiences, and they really like the idea of learning with their grandchildren.

What's your newest program?

We've taken the junior year abroad experience and created a six-week language-culture immersion program with daily language instruction. We're testing it in Paris and Florence now.

What are your hottest destinations?

Italy is always very popular. One of the newest has been Cuba. I strongly urge you to go before embargo is lifted. Cuba will change dramatically when that happens. Now it's a land frozen in time. Domestically, our programs in New Orleans are always in demand because of the multicultural perspective. Our National Parks experiences are really unique — we work with incredible naturalists.

What's your personal pick?

My absolute favorite experience is to go to Africa on safari. It's like no other place on Earth.

The next one I really want to do is the Queen Mary crossing to Southampton. The ship itself is really like the old-time trans-Atlantic crossing. The programs we've had have been focused on the royals and history. Princess Diana's protection officer was a lecturer; so was Winston Churchill's granddaughter.

What's most exciting to you about this business?

Let's face it: You get to a certain age and your life is in transition. Losing a spouse, leaving a workplace … you have to find a new way to live. I think the biggest and most rewarding aspect of our program is that it's created a new life opportunity for people. I'm always surprised at how consistently the generations look at the transformational nature of being together in a learning community.

Did you drop the Elderhostel name in 2010 in order to appeal to younger people?

Not at all. The average age of our first-time adults is 62, and that has been consistent for 40 years. We have never wavered in our focus on adults. What's really happening is that baby boomers all think they're 40.

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