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Get Out of Town: Travel programs for creative agers

Category: Ad Summa: Museums and Creative Aging
A group of older adults poses in front of a sign that reads "Rainbow Springs Nature Park"
Travel programs are perfect fit for museums and historical societies looking to provide active older adults with the immersive cultural experiences they crave.

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.”

– Mark Twain

An increasing number of museums are introducing travel options to their members. Such programs, usually lasting between one to two weeks, offer an opportunity for the museum to expand on some themes within its mission that, through travel, provide extremely meaningful experiences for the participants. As well, they offer travelers an opportunity to become acquainted with one another and, together, strengthen their support of the museum itself. Here are just two examples from my own experience: Colonial Williamsburg has offered its supporters behind-the-scenes tours of great houses of Britain, while the Nantucket Historical Association has provided tours of the Azores and New Zealand, places rich with whaling connections.

Travel programs are a natural fit for active older adult patrons of museums or historical societies, who crave experiences that are culturally in-depth and immersive. While there are myriad offerings already out there, I think you would be impressed with the reaction if your museum invested in one. It almost goes without saying that older adult supporters of your museum are also key prospects for legacy gifts and bequests, and memories of a wonderful travel experience can provide inspiration for such gifts, which is at least partially what many museums have in mind when they undertake such programs.

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I myself serve sometimes as a “Lecturer” on travel tours called Cal Discoveries for UC Berkeley alumni, and have accompanied groups to Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, to name a few. During these tours, I ask participants questions regarding creative aging and how museums can better serve their needs. It’s my way of doing double-duty with the Aroha Fellowship, and it is very helpful to learn the opinions of my fellow travelers. They reaffirm my belief that travel options have so very much to offer for older adult learners, and are a natural fit for adjunct museum programming, not only because of the quality of the experience but also because of the added loyalty it engenders for the museum or university. Berkeley alums seem already to have an impressive allegiance to Cal, but following CalDiscovery tours that allegiance only increases, and so many new friends are made that reunions are as common as repeat participants for other tour offerings.

If you are considering beginning a travel program as an extension of your offerings, I recommend that you work hand-in-hand with an agent who understands your institution and, even more importantly, understands how to make all of the arrangements that lie between your idea and the departure date for your group(s). There will be more “arrangements” than you can possibly imagine, and while trying to make them all yourself might save a little money, you will someday need to invest it in therapy! All to say, start off simply, and with the help of some travel experts. Secondly, study the large number of existing institutional travel programs, be they from our own sector or for universities. I recommend looking at the offerings from the National Trust, National Geographic, Stanford University, or UC Berkeley for starters, though there are hundreds from which to choose. See what they offer and where they offer their tours; study the pricing, particularly to see what kind of donation they request for the museum or alma mater; and finally, look at the length of the tours, their degree of difficulty, and how much travel there is within the country or region of the tour. All of this is helpful information for those who are investigating potentials for travel programs.

If you yourself have experience with travel tour programs at your museum, and would like to further promote this program option, please let me know. Perhaps you would like to offer a guest blog on this or other aspects of creative aging in museums.


Mark Your Calendars: The American Alliance of Museums is holding a national convening on museums and creative aging at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta from November 5-6, 2020.

We are receiving excellent feedback on our survey regarding those topics you believe to be of most importance to their work. Let us know your thoughts! It only takes a moment!

Also, we are seeking guest bloggers who would like to share their thoughts and experiences in creative aging efforts. Just let me know if you have something you would like to contribute. It could be anything relevant: an upcoming conference, a program you have developed, a perspective you would like to share, etc. We are greatly enjoying the conversations these blogs are engendering!

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