January 19, 2010

Setting a course for adventure

Johns Hopkins Alumni Journeys program travels the world

Johns Hopkins travelers on the October 2009 ‘Classic China and the Yangtze’ trip stop for a group photo at the Temple of Heaven in Beijing.

Johns Hopkins travelers on the October 2009 ‘Classic China and the Yangtze’ trip stop for a group photo at the Temple of Heaven in Beijing.

Last May, P. Kyle McCarter led a 16-day tour across Turkey. The 15-person group started in Istanbul and then traveled the country’s Aegean and Mediterranean coasts. They hiked, bused and spent about half the trip cruising on gulet yachts.

McCarter, the William Foxwell Albright Professor of Ancient Near Eastern Studies at Johns Hopkins, fondly recalls the days anchored in quiet coves off the nation’s famed Turquoise Coast. His group would take a few hours to sightsee, learn about the area’s ancient past and then head back onboard for a sunset dinner of local delicacies prepared by the boat’s chef.

McCarter’s co-travelers were not colleagues, friends, students or family: They were Johns Hopkins alumni looking for a foreign adventure infused with the spirit of lifelong learning.

The Turkey trip was part of the 2009 Johns Hopkins University Alumni Journeys travel program, unique vacation opportunities that included a lodge-based adventure in Alaska, a dude ranch experience in Wyoming, a cruise to Antarctica, a hike up the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, a family safari in Tanzania and nearly 20 other experiences.

Alumni Journeys, which began in the 1970s, has steadily grown in popularity and this year features 28 one- to two-week trips to such locales as the French countryside, the Italian Riviera, Morocco, the Amazon River and the Galapagos Islands. Several of the trips will be hosted by Johns Hopkins faculty, including McCarter, an expert on the eastern Mediterranean world of antiquity, who this year will lead trips to the Greek Isles and Sicily. The program—which is open to staff, faculty and friends of the university, as well as alumni—attracts hundreds each year, including many repeat travelers.

To promote the 2010 program, the largest to date, the Johns Hopkins Alumni Association will host a travel preview and wine and cheese reception at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 24, in Mason Hall, located on the Homewood campus. The event will feature a talk on modern Latin America by Franklin Knight, the Leonard and Helen R. Stulman Professor of History and an Alumni Journeys veteran, who this year will lead a 10-day trip to Argentina and Chile, and a two-week tour of Spain and Portugal.

Participants can meet representatives from the five travel companies that partner with Johns Hopkins to offer the tours, some of which are co-hosted with other universities. One partner is Alumni Holidays, known as the premier operator of deluxe travel programs sponsored by U.S. college and university alumni associations.

Marguerite Ingalls-Jones, senior director of alumni services and the JHU travel program director, said that Alumni Journeys is intended to engage alumni, keep people connected to Johns Hopkins and each other, and provide structured travel experiences with an educational bent.

“We do hundreds of alumni events in a year, and typically when you see a fellow alum, you get to talk to him or her for an evening. On these trips, you’ll spend a whole week or more with alumni from across the divisions,” Ingalls-Jones said. “You really get to know the people and build a relationship with them. And with the faculty member, there is that tie back to the academic side of Johns Hopkins.”

The program offers a mix of structured travel opportunities to all points of the globe, including luxury cruises, traditional programs with deluxe lodging, all-inclusive trips, classic rail journeys, adventure travels and family-friendly vacations. The trips include a welcome reception, ample sightseeing to area highlights and off-the-beaten-path destinations, lectures and more.

A common thread among all the trips is the educational lectures. In addition to Johns Hopkins faculty–led trips, the program has vacations that feature faculty from other universities, local field guides or area experts. Last year’s trip to China featured a stop in Shanghai that included a reception with Johns Hopkins alumni based in the area and scholars from the Johns Hopkins University–Nanjing University Center for Chinese and American Studies.

In the trip to Turkey, the group visited the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, the ancient ruins of Troy, the WWI battlefield of Gallipoli and traditional fishing villages. McCarter said that for that trip, his first with Alumni Journeys, he was able to impart his knowledge of ancient medicine, which traces its roots to Greece and western Turkey. In fact, McCarter’s group sailed past the island of Cos, the birthplace of Hippocrates, the Greek physician known as the founder of modern medicine. McCarter said that he had an engaged audience, as several members of the group were Johns Hopkins physicians.

“The whole trip went well. The group was very congenial, and, although nobody knew each other beforehand, they hit it off really well,” he said. “I have to say that I enjoyed the experience very much, too. I travel a lot, but I normally go to the Middle East. I was able to visit places that I normally don’t go to, or haven’t spent as much time in as I’d like.”

The travel groups vary in size. JHU-only trips tend to draw 10 to 40 individuals, while the cruises feature 100 to 200 alumni from several institutions. The packages range in price from $2,000 to $6,000 per person, which includes high-end accommodations and most food, but not airfare. Most trips feature several stops, although sometimes the groups will stay for a week or longer to immerse themselves in the local culture.

Ingalls-Jones said that the destinations historically attract retirement-age alumni, but recently an increasing number of younger JHU affiliates and families have registered.

Lisa Auchincloss, travel program coordinator in the Office of Alumni Relations, said that all participants should expect to receive a lot of personal attention in a very collegial atmosphere.

“You’ll find many like-minded folks. I hear back that many people get to be friends on these trips and want to meet afterward, or travel again with each other. Or they will enjoy the host or professor so much, they want to go again with them,” she said. “Most of all, they love that it’s all put together for you. No work, just come and soak in an-often-exotic location.”

To register for Sunday’s travel preview, which costs $10, and for a full list of the 2010 Alumni Journeys and more details, go to alumni.jhu .edu/travel.