Sometimes the best trips are the easiest—no packing, no passport, and you get to sleep in your own bed. Sometimes those day trips fulfill dreams and expectations hidden for a lifetime. The adventure starts here.
Not Your Grandma’s Bus Tours
Forget any preconceived idea that county-planned travel programs are bland or predictable. From beaches to vineyards and history to theater, Arlington County’s Department of Parks and Recreation has one of the most popular and creative day-travel programs for active seniors.
Past trips have encouraged participants to walk in the footsteps of F. Scott Fitzgerald at Princeton while seeing where T.S. Eliot and Einstein hung out. When cut loose for lunch and solo shopping, travelers might hit charming Palmer Square shops and the Nassau Inn’s venerable Yankee Doodle Tap Room, imagining the literary figures who quaffed ale there in the past.
For the theater buff, trips have included productions of Tony Award-winning shows like “Once” at Kennedy Center, “Cabaret” at Arlington’s Signature Theatre and “1776” at Toby’s Dinner Theatre in Columbia, Maryland.
Upcoming excursions include historic salutes like the recreation of Patrick Henry’s “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death” speech in Richmond. Cultural enthusiasts will soak up centuries of art from the third millennium B.C. through the 20th century at the world-renowned Walters Museum, in Baltimore. Water buffs go for the Bay Lighthouse Cruise from Annapolis. Seafood, anyone? Travel to Kent Narrows across the Bay Bridge and savor the freshest at Fisherman’s Crab Deck in Grasonville. Or maybe an excursion to Hollywood Casino in Charles Town, West Virginia rings your bell.
So how do you find out about the day trips, where do you sign up and what does it cost?
“To take advantage of our trips, participants need to have a 55+ Pass,” says Jennifer Collins, acting program manager for senior adult programs. “For as low as $20 a year, you get access to these great trips, as well as lots of interesting programs.”
There is online registration for trips—visit parks.arlingtonva.us and search for senior travel. You don’t need an ID to check on upcoming trips. You will need to become a member if you want to sign up and an ID if you want to sign up online. Registration for trips opens the second Monday of each month, either online or in person at Culpepper Garden, Lee, Thomas Jefferson and Walter Reed community centers. At this writing late summer/fall trips have not been scheduled. Check the site—trips fill quickly.
“Meetup” with Your Travel Buddies
To those not in the know, Meetup.com groups are a well-kept secret worth discovering. With a mouse click and a login, you’ll have access to an array of get-togethers with like-minded folks. Whether your passion is architecture or zoology, Meetup proves you are not alone.
And you don’t have to travel alone. Just over a year ago, the Friends Travel With Friends Meetup was born. More than 100 members quickly joined. Today, the group has over 600 members who have enjoyed 60-plus meet ups.
Since its inception, Friends Travel With Friends groups have visited Frank Lloyd Wright’s iconic Fallingwater house in Pennsylvania as well as destinations like Poplar Island, St. Michaels and New York City. They’ve savored a guided tour of the Capitol by night, unique and unavailable to most. Members have been entertained by The Capitol Steps, jazz in the Sculpture Garden, a free performance at Wolf Trap and the Maryland Renaissance Festival. Ethnic dining and happy hour experiences are popular, as are special museum and site visits, like the U.S. Botanic Gardens at Christmas and the Pope Leighey house, another Frank Lloyd Wright gem on the grounds of Woodlawn Plantation.
The Friends Travel With Friends Meetup group does not limit its activities to local travel; organizers provide opportunities for travel outside the Metro-D.C. area. This year groups will go to Southeast Asia, Iceland, national parks in the U.S. and Christmas markets in Germany. There are also a few cruise options available for next year to places like Alaska, Hawaii, Bermuda and the Caribbean.
A member may not be ready to travel just yet, but the group is a great way to learn from others about travel plans and trips already taken. This helps to develop and refine a travel bucket list.
And why should you join? Organizer Marsha Davis says it best: “People who express appreciation of the day activities posted on the Meetup site have said that the activities afford the opportunity to go with another person rather than alone and sometimes to participate in an activity that was previously unknown to the member. The power of the group is that different people can share different ideas on educational, entertaining and fun activities in this area. For me the fun is seeing the group experience—something that would not be without the Meetup.”
Friends Travel With Friends Meetup members can help the group by suggesting activities and maybe even hosting an upcoming event.
Most members are active, travel-intrigued solo adventurers over age 50. There is no set fee for membership. To begin, log in and peruse what may become your future outing plan and attend a meetup. Organizers ask that you post a photo for identification, but they do not share member information.
Travel with the Largest Museum-Based Educational Program in the World
If you live in Northern Virginia and are not taking advantage of Smithsonian Associates programs, you’re missing out on an incredible resource. You don’t have to join the Associates to select trips, though members typically save significantly. If you chose to visit the popular Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia, often considered the greatest post-impressionist and early-modern art collection in the world, you would spend $139 as a member; nonmembers pay $179. The minimum Smithsonian Associates membership fee at this writing is $45 per year.
Upcoming day trips include Gettysburg, the Dawn of Flight in D.C. and the Barnes visit, which includes a gourmet box lunch and is led by art historian Ursula Wolfman. Check online for the outing of your dreams.
Popular trips earlier this year have included Military Aviation Past and Present, an all-day tour of theMilitary Aviation Museum in Virginia Beach, plus a look into the future at Naval Air Station Oceania.
“The Smithsonian Associates, the cultural and educational programming division of the Smithsonian, has been producing exceptional programs for 50 years,” says educational and cultural programs manager Nichole Andonegui. “Local and regional study tours have played an important role in our history, taking groups beyond the National Mall. What sets our tours apart are the tour leaders who are experts in their fields and have access to places that are not always available to the public. Tours follow in the footsteps of history at Civil War battlefields, visit exhibitions at museums along the East Coast and enjoy behind-the-scenes access to Smithsonian museums and research facilities.”
Be a New Yorker for a Day
Sure, you can take a bus or train to New York City and round up all the usual sightseeing suspects. Or you can become a New Yorker for a day, seeing the city Mary Ann’s way.
Mary Ann Zimmerman was born and bred in New York City and has lived there most of her life. Now a self-avowed expat from the city (and founder of Single Women’s Travel), she considers herself a “refugee from the city’s high rentals, crowds and dizzying pace.” But she loves to go back, and she wants to share her special knowledge of the city with you on intimate guided tours that go beyond the Statue of Liberty and Empire State Building.
A group of four people can look forward to customized insider tours, such as Architectural Gems of the City: The Grandest Block in New York. What’s Up There? features famous roofs, stonework and new skyscrapers styles. The Great Outdoors covers Governor’s Island and the High Line. Maybe most popular is A Bite of the Big Apple, encouraging participants to sample tastes of New York’s best bites. Choose from among Lower East Side iconic favorites like Katz’s famous pastrami and other killer sandwiches, chopped liver, perfect pickles and egg creams. And if you ever wanted to rate pizza, break up your trip with a slice at Zimmerman’s choice of the three best pizza places in New York.
“When you travel, look beyond your guidebook,” Zimmerman says. “We offer alternative New York City tours that are private, personalized and your-pace travel. Choose from a variety of our tours or a customized tour to reflect your interests.”
The New York City tours can include the comfort of a Zipcar for transportation. Imagine having your own car in the city with no worries about driving, insurance or gas—that’s Zipcar. Zimmerman offers trouble-free access to car and driver.
Cost for the trip is $100 per person excluding transportation and cost of food and/or any entrance fees. For four-hour Zipcar with driver add $200 or an additional $50 per person.
The Ultimate Bucket List Day Trip
Sometimes you want more, be it excitement, adventure, extravagance or romance. Some occasions in life cry out for over-the-top uniqueness. Maybe it’s a landmark anniversary, your best friend’s secret birthday, a long-anticipated retirement. And maybe if money were no object, you’d all fly to Paris for lunch. Well, back here in reality you can design an unforgettable event that doesn’t break the retirement fund.
Denise Chaykun, president of Magical Mystery Tours, has you covered. The destination or event stays secret until guests arrive, but you as the organizer could be in on the secret. Clients fill out a very detailed questionnaire indicating budget, must-haves, never minds and fond wishes. The Mystery team will put together an occasion that seems to read your mind. Hot air ballooning, a girls’ spa outing, sailing or just savoring a vineyard view and wine—let your imagination run as wild as your group’s interests and abilities.
“Right now we’re working on a girls’ getaway birthday trip where we have a bunch of friends meeting up at a mystery location to celebrate a birthday together,” Chaykun says. “We’re also in the midst of planning a getaway for a very adventurous group that is looking to have a bucket list-worthy adventure. I’d love to tell you the details of the trip since we’re really excited about it, but at this point all details need to stay a mystery.”
There is a $300 research and planning fee, which will be included in the final cost, along with transportation and taxes. Allow six to eight weeks for the planning process. Ask about day-only arrangements. Magical Mystery tourists come in all ages and interests. Let them make your wildest dream a reality.