Ah, college. Four years of meeting people you know will be friends for life. Going on road trips. Enjoying Spring Break. Why can’t the easy camaraderie attending the shared learning experiences of youth be recaptured later in life?
The quick answer is that they can.
Most colleges and universities have an array of alumni programs. It matters little whether the institution is a small liberal arts college or a massive state university. Chances are it has an alumni association that offers former graduates an opportunity to travel together in small groups to exciting destinations.
Texas Exes is an independent, non-profit organization serving alumni of the University of Texas in Austin through paid memberships. With over 110,000 members, Texas Exes provides participants with access to an extensive alumni network, campus news and features on leading students and professors delivered in a monthly magazine called the Alcalde.
In contrast, the Syracuse University Alumni Association has more than twice as many members, but since no dues are collected the number of programs it offers is limited.
Both groups cater to a completely different audience, are home to two different alumni groups and are associated with two different schools. But one thing that they do have in common is an alumni travel program with university-sponsored journeys designed and implemented through professional travel companies.
UT’s Flying Longhorns
Flying Longhorns is the Texas Exes’ travel division that organizes excursions throughout the year for members. Excursions range from trips to Antarctica and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade to an Adriatic cruise from Venice to the Greek islands with stops in Istanbul and Ephesus. This November side visits to Jordan, Alexandria and Cairo will precede a 14-day voyage down the Nile with stops in Luxor, Aswan and the Valley of the Kings.
Depending on the trip, one can expect to pay anywhere from $1,000 to $10,000. But what do these trips offer that a similar unbranded tour doesn’t? Dorothy Guerrero, the VP of Communications for Texas Exes says it’s the people that make the trips worth it.
“It is the comradery, the shared connection travelers have with Austin and UT that make our voyages really special,” she explains. “We take every opportunity during the trip to foster that connection.” Reawakening old friendships and hopefully forming new ones starts with group activities, meals together and maybe even hanging a school flag on the cruise ship. Another unique aspect of alumni travel programs is that often professors travel along to add an academic perspective.
Do Professors Fly Free?
David Bartell, the Executive Director of Alumni Outreach Programs at Syracuse University says his alumni travel programs are not limited to Syracuse alumni. “One advantage of partnering through a third party like Orbridge, is that if enough Syracuse graduates sign up for the trip using the alumni code presented in the brochure we then have the opportunity to include a professor or member of the university staff at a greatly reduced rate.”
Programs like Flying Longhorns or the alumni travel program for Syracuse University are centered around both personal and professional connections. An affinity for the travel company organizing the journey, the popularity of a particular destination or the spontaneous decision by several couples from the same graduating class often determines the popularity of an excursion.
Guerrero says the partnerships between the program and travel companies like Oxbridge and Premier World Discovery, both of which specialize in alumni travel programs, are integral to providing opportunities to travel the world.
Some of these relationships have lasted longer than a decade, and it is trust acquired over time that allows alumni travel programs to be confident that private travel companies have their best interest at heart.
Kimberly Torres is one of 20 District Sales Managers for Premier World Discovery. Torres is in charge of a region extending from Southern Texas to New Orleans. Her job is to establish relationships with customers and offer travel packages to those who are interested. Because of Torres, Premier World Discovery today handles most of the Flying Longhorns’ domestic alumni trips.
“The relationship between our company and Texas Exes is very symbiotic,” says Torres. “UT alumni are engaged with the school and their state. They really want to travel together. There’s something special about Texas Exes.”
One of the more prominent members of Texas Exes who has gone on several trips is Jennifer Stansbury. Despite meeting and marrying her husband on the University of Texas at Austin campus, and then having both daughters graduate from the school, Stansbury says she and her husband weren’t members of Texas Exes until later in life.
Empty Nesters Fly the Coop
“When we were bringing up our children we’d receive brochures and think ‘maybe someday we’ll be able to afford one of these trips.’ When the children got married and moved away we began looking more carefully at the brochures and thought, ‘well, maybe we can afford this.'”
Their first trip without children was to the Celtic Isles and it only took one journey to get hooked. Since then Stansbury and her husband have gone on over nine trips through Flying Longhorns. She even served three years on the board of Flying Longhorns, where she represented members in meetings and offered input on destination choices.
“Never in 20 years of travel have we ever had a bad experience,” says Stansbury. “It’s impossible for me to say ‘well, we should have done this or we should’ve stayed there.’ No, not on any trips.”
Guerrero says that if you compare the cost of an alumni travel trip with an identical journey purchased independently, “you’re going to get a much better value if you book through Flying Longhorns .”
The money earned from trips and tours goes back to both the tour providers and Texas Exes. The commissions are used to fund scholarships, provide alumni career support and subsidize the organization’s magazine, Alcalde.
There are hundreds of alumni programs across the country that offer travel opportunities. Stanford, Brown University, Ohio State University and smaller schools like New Jersey’s Rider University and the University of Buffalo all have alumni travel packages, and the list does not end there. Here are some of the travel highlights offered by some of the biggest schools in the country.
UCLA offers a seven-day tour of the Amalfi Coast, giving people a slice of Italy’s culture and history by passing through Naples, Pompeii, and everywhere in between, led by UCLA senior lecturer Teofilo Ruiz. One of USC’s many travel options includes an 11-day group tour through the majestic landscape of Iceland, exploring everything from breathtaking waterfalls and lava fields to the small farms and fishing villages that give Iceland its culture and character.
For those interested in rail travel, Northwestern University takes alumni on a 7-day train expedition through the Canadian countryside, starting in Toronto, ending in Vancouver, and providing access to the picturesque lakes, fields, towns, and mountains along the way. Indiana University also has a tour involving rail travel in Switzerland. The 8-day tour by steam train allows alumni to soak in the powerful scenery of the Bernese Alps, as well as taste some of the best chocolates and cheese the Swiss have to offer.
For $5,179 per person, Dartmouth University will place alumni on an Odysseys Unlimited excursion to Morocco that visits five UNESCO World Heritage sites in addition to Casablanca, Rabat, Fez and Marrakech.
The Footsteps of Charles Darwin
If you want something a little more exclusive and a lot more luxurious, contact Cornell University. It sponsors an eight-day boat tour of the Galapagos Islands, exclusive to Cornell alumni. The incredible flora and fauna seen among these islands off the coast of Ecuador captured the attention of Charles Darwin, and alumni get the chance to see these remarkable species up close. Whether spotting birds while hiking through lush rainforests or snorkeling in the reefs with some playful sea lions, the Galapagos is a paradise for any nature lover, and Cornell gives alumni supreme access to these unique islands.
The University of Washington provides its alumni the opportunity to take a ten-day immersive cruise around the islands of Japan with the per-person prices starting at $5,199 and going up to $10,999. The Oceania Cruise liner departs from Tokyo and will take its passengers to the sacred temples of Kyoto, the bustling streets of Hiroshima and the historical sites of Nagasaki.
Trips to Italy, Canada or East Asia are easy to find. Some alumni associations offer expeditions to some of the most exotic places in the world. Consider Madagascar, nicknamed the “8th continent,” home to over 200,000 species of flora and fauna, 70% of which are native to the island off the Southeast coast of Africa. For the hefty price of $7,475 per person, The University of Colorado will take a limited group of 12 people on a two-week private adventure of Madagascar. You’ll get to see lemurs, tree frogs, flying foxes and thousands more species. You’ll also get to experience the rich culture of the sacred royal village of Ambohimanga, as well as learn about the traditions of the Malagasy, the world’s only Afro-Asian culture.
Chances are, your alma mater offers great opportunities for exclusive vacations that give you the chance to experience a new part of the world, meet new acquaintances who went to the same school, or give the chance for retirees to cross a destination off their bucket list. But first, you have to make the call.
Jordan Geelhoed attends the Moody College of Communication at the University of Texas in Austin. Isaac Ryu studies at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.