Elderhostel Passes the Vacation Test

<i> Kovell is a veteran journalist in seniors' interests. </i>

The pursuit of knowledge combined with a yearning for travel by mature people throughout the United States has resulted in the overwhelming success of Elderhostel, the program that combines travel and education at modest cost.

The program has resulted in rewarding new personal relationships and in some instances has rekindled interests that may have been long ignored.

Last year more than 100,000 Americans over age 60 signed up for Elderhostel, which in 1985 observed its 10th anniversary. Through Elderhostel, mature people attend more than 850 college campuses worldwide, mostly for one-week sessions.

During the program’s formative years, attendance was limited to the summer season when most college campuses saw little use, but Elderhostel now offers courses all year.


Every one of the 50 states plus Washington, D.C., has at least one educational institution in the program (more than 45 in California) as well as colleges in every one of the 10 Canadian provinces.

More than 24 foreign countries have colleges and universities involved including Australia, Mexico, Great Britain (Ireland, Scotland and Wales), Israel, Bermuda, Greece, Italy, Egypt, Spain, Portugal, Holland and Scandinavia.

Specialized Classes

All Elderhostel courses are in the liberal arts and sciences, and each institution decides on the courses it wishes to offer. Courses are not for credit and there are no examinations, grades or homework.


Courses vary depending on the location and type of college, and some are specialized. For example, at the University of Northern Alabama you can study the history of the Tennessee River Shoals, while at Dickenson State College in North Dakota you can learn of the Nature of the North Dakota Badlands.

A mind-boggling choice of courses includes such diverse subjects as bird watching, American Indian studies, calligraphy, landscape design, American history, storytelling, the Broadway stage, literature, opera, anthropology, religion, antiques, Mark Twain, Ozark folklore, acid rain, computers, ancient Egypt, U.S. Presidents, drawing, kayaking, body awareness . . . these examples just touch on the thousands of subjects available.

Campuses in the United States and abroad include small institutions in the countryside, high-rise city buildings or self-contained, sprawling colleges in metropolitan centers.

Comfortable Quarters

Elderhostelers, as the senior students are called, occupy clean and comfortable quarters on campus, usually dormitory style. Bathrooms featuring rows of washbasins and showers are usually a short walk from your room. Some schools have bedrooms for two, but it is rare to have quarters all to yourself. Pets are never permitted on campus.

The physical characteristics of universities vary widely, as do the physical limitations of participants. School staffs help to make necessary adjustments for those who have difficulty coping, but it is wise to check on the availability of elevators, distances to public areas from classrooms and other features.

The quality of food served in the college cafeteria or dining hall is often surprisingly good, although not gourmet or luxurious. It is seldom possible to arrange for special diets, and those who require supplements or other dietary needs must provide their own. Smoking in dorms or cafeterias is not permitted, nor is the consumption of alcoholic beverages usually tolerated.

Elderhostelers come from all walks of life and from every professional background, mostly from upper educational levels. More than one-third of Elderhostel students are single and most are women. You will find that most of them are first-timers, although the program boasts a high rate of repeaters.


Ample Free Time

Extracurricular activities are offered by most schools and include cultural, educational and recreational events. Programs are designed to allow you ample free time to spend with your fellow hostelers. These activities are included in your registration fee.

Travel to and from the learning institution of your choice is your own responsibility, although the school will provide you with information on available travel alternatives to reach it, whether by bus, plane, train or ferry. Pickup service to and from stations and depots may be provided at a nominal charge.

The fee for U.S. attendance for one week is $205. That includes registration, six nights’ accommodations, all meals (Sunday dinner through Saturday breakfast), five days of classes and extracurricular activities. Fees for Canada are $210; Alaska and Hawaii are slightly higher. Prices on European and Far East campuses vary, but are moderate. In a few cases, two- and three-week courses are offered.

As one Elderhosteler said: “I benefited not only from the wisdom of the teachers, but also from inspiration and discussion with hostelers from entirely different backgrounds.”

A catalogue of courses, educational institutions and a description of how the program works is available free. Write to Elderhostel, Dept. K, 80 Boylston St., Suite 400, Boston, Mass. 02116.