Everything should be
as simple as possible,
but not simpler ~
Albert Einstein

"Oh, The Places You'll Go ..."

Alumni Association marks a half-century of alumni travel
Illinois Alumni magazine December 2012

Ever dream of watching wildebeests graze the Serengeti? Cooking in Italy? Whitewater rafting, swimming with sea lions or sampling beer at Germany's Oktoberfest?

University of Illinois alumni have done all these things and more via EXPLORERS, the alumni travel program of the UI Alumni Association. The program offers more than 50 trips per year, ranging from a small boat cruise along the Chesapeake Bay to an around-the-world trip in a private jet ($70,000; sorry, sold out).

Many of those trips have been taken through AHI, a premier alumni travel company. Headed by Joe Small, MFA '83 (UIC), the firm originated the concept of group tours for alumni 50 years ago; it shares its longevity with EXPLORERS, as the UIAA was the first to offer this kind of travel experience.

“The Alumni Association has always been an organization of ‘if it can be done, we will do it,’” says Scott Williams, '76 LAS, MS '78 MEDIA, who has directed the travel program for the past 13 years. “If there is a benefit out there, we try to offer it to our alumni.” 

According to Small, Illinois is one of the top 10 educational travel programs in the nation, in terms of the number of participants. "They can be really proud of the great program they run," he says.

Most EXPLORERS travelers have three things in common: loyalty to Illinois, intellectual curiosity and time.  Because of those shared interests, the particants themselves become an added feature in the highly successful UIAA program.

More than 8,000 UI alumni have taken at least one tour with EXPLORERS, and  one-third to one-half of them have signed up multiple times. “We have an enormous and very loyal base,” says Williams. “More than 98 percent of our participants say they would travel with us again. I challenge any company to come up with any statistic like that.

 “It is a different level of traveler than the celebrity cruise traveler,” he notes. “They have an intellectual curiosity about where they are, what they are seeing and who they are with.”The questions they bring up, says Williams, "makes it more interesting for everybody.

While there are “no new destinations on the planet,” he says, what makes these trips special are the experiences tour operators can arrange.

For example, travelers may meet and listen to the insights of Lech Walesa (Poland) or Julie Nixon Eisenhower (China) and a descendent of Winston Churchill (England). They've been entertained by an Irish storyteller and accompanied by naturalists.

There is a long tradition of educational travel at Illinois," says Small.The one-of-a-kind experiences that EXPLORERS offers have alumni packing their bags again and again. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read more writings in my features, essays or books