In 1975, two globe-trotting American educators formed a not-for-profit organization called Elderhostel, which specialized in offering educational programs and tours for older folks who appreciated both traveling and lifelong learning opportunities. The name “Elderhostel” was a play on the youth hostel concept, popular in Europe, which one of the two had experienced during his backpack-carrying wanderings.
Elderhostel trips, which combined various on-the-road classes with inexpensive lodgings, soon branched out from the U.S. into international travel, emphasizing learning about other cultures and their history and people through lectures, excursions and field trips.
While the organization – now nearing 40 years old – has been a success, it became increasingly clear that the name “Elderhostel” was becoming a drag on its growth. Baby boomers – who as they aged were becoming the key target demographic for Elderhostel trips – were reluctant to sign up for trips that sounded like they were geared for, well, somebody’s grandmother (even if they were, indeed, somebody’s grandmother).
Most of we baby boomers, even those closing in on age 70 — the new 50! — don’t like to think of ourselves as old. We were the generation that didn’t trust anyone over 30, after all (until, of course, we turned 30, but that’s another story). “Elder” – five-sevenths of the dreaded word “elderly” –just didn’t cut it.
As for the “hostel” part, well, that was all fine back in the day, but today’s baby boomers are seeking lodgings well beyond the images of dormitory-style rooms with bathrooms down the hall that the word “hostel” inspires: Something comfortable, even luxurious, which many baby boomers can well afford.
So, in 2010, following the death of one of its co-founders, Elderhostel changed its name to Road Scholar – an inspired choice, partly because baby boomers have demonstrated a deep interest in educational travel experiences.
As the Road Scholar website explains, “’Road’ connotes a journey and real-world experience, and ‘Scholar’ reflects a deep appreciation for learning”: Perfect for boomers.
All true – but the name change also reflects the demographic reality that many baby boomers wouldn’t be caught dead on an “Elderhostel” trip.
Now, “Road Scholar,” that’s another matter entirely. Sign me up! www.roadscholar.org
I’ll be doing more blog posts in the future on the “We’re not old!” baby boomer phenomenon, so stay tuned.