Senior centers arrange group trips both near and far

Travelers build lasting relationships.

Dale Kissell has traveled from coast to coast but often leaves the planning to others.

He and his wife Marilyn have visited California, Colorado, Hawaii, Georgia, Tennessee and more – all tours organized by United Senior Services in Springfield. USS is just one senior center in the area that offers group trips near and far for its members.

“It just makes for an amazing experience,” Kissell said. “You realize you’re there just to have fun.”

USS has offered group trips for more than 40 years, said Maureen Fagans, its executive director and chief executive officer. As they became more and more popular, the program partnered with a tour broker to get better rates. Trips are offered at many price points, starting at about $50 for a day trip to almost $5,500 for this year’s land tour and cruise in Alaska.

The tours are an especially hassle-free way to travel for those who aren’t comfortable vacationing alone or to destinations they don’t know, she said. Meals and activities are accounted for. They have no worries about where to park or catch a cab. And they get to visit places that they may have long wished to see.

“There’s a lot of people who have destinations on their bucket list and for whatever reason weren’t able to travel when they were younger and are ready to go to those destinations in retirement,” Fagans said.

Carolyn Freeman logged 33,000 miles traveling by bus, visiting 24 states and Canada in her 12 years as travel director at Huber Heights Senior Center. The volunteer position this year was handed over to Maggie Krupp, who will lead trips to destinations including New York City, Atlantic City and Philadelphia this spring, and Mount Rushmore, the Badlands and the Black Hills of South Dakota in September.

The COVID-19 pandemic canceled a full year of trips in 2020, and the center brought back day trips in 2021. Longer itineraries returned last year, and sold out destinations have followed.

The trips are both affordable and popular, Freeman said. One bus trip to Maine filled so fast that they organized another trip there two weeks later – and that trip had a waiting list, too.

“It’s good for mind, body and spirit,” she said. “It’s good for them to experience new things and be active.”

Trips usually are planned at least six months in advance, Freeman said. That gives enough time for the outings to be listed in the center’s newsletter and for participants to sign up and make payments.

A tour company plans the longer trips, but day trips are coordinated in-house, Krupp said. A popular day trip that always sells out is a visit to several upscale consignment shops around Cincinnati. A mystery trip is also planned for August that Krupp expects to sell out.

During long bus trips, stops are planned every couple of hours, Krupp said. The fun continues into the evening, as the travelers play games at the hotel. Near or far, the trips attract many repeat travelers.

“Most of them couldn’t or wouldn’t do it on their own,” Krupp said.

The Kissells, who are both 72, have traveled by plane, train, bus and ship on USS tours. They are active in the center in other ways – the choir, the pool and euchre, for example – and might recognize a handful of people when they first board the bus, Dale Kissell said.

But by the end of the trip they are on a first-name basis with so many more, he said. The Springfield residents, who have been married for 47 years, have made lasting friendships.

“It is just so well planned out and so well executed,” he said. “It’s such a treat.”

While visiting the interior of Alaska and watching the sunset at Waikiki Beach in Hawaii with friends have been two memorable experiences, Kissell said there are many options for travelers who want to start smaller.

“The variety that they offer is so amazing,” he said. “You can go for 1 day or you can go for 14 days.”

The Kissells also travel on their own, fitting camping trips into their schedule. But organized excursions through USS gets them further away from home and gives them the opportunity to see new things, like Jekyll Island on a trip to Georgia last year. They also repeat vacations they have enjoyed in the past, such as visits to Colorado and Alaska this summer.

“We go to many places with them that we probably never would have gone to on our own,” he said.

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