Enormous college town that it is, Boston abounds with educational opportunities. Two nonprofit organizations -- one large, one small -- offer participants a chance to get comfortable with a destination or activity rather than trying to cram in as many attractions as possible.
Road Scholar programs offered by Elderhostel (tel. 800/454-5768; www.exploritas.org) no longer specifically target seniors, which is good news for younger travelers who appreciate their educational focus. Offerings include tours that focus on history, culture, science, and more; they incorporate scheduled activities led by local experts and free time for you to explore on your own.
Boston's beloved public-television station runs WGBH LearningTours (tel. 617/300-3505; www.wgbh.org/support/learningtours), which draw on the know-how of both the station's producers and the experts who appear in PBS series about such topics as the national parks. They're mostly multiple-day excursions to destinations spotlighted in the station's programming, but some offerings are shorter trips to local points of interest.
The Massachusetts Audubon Society (tel. 800/283-8266 or 781/259-9500; www.massaudubon.org), the largest conservation organization in New England, owns and operates wildlife sanctuaries across the state and offers programs that help people of all ages connect with nature. Classes, workshops, programs, and special events of all types, many designed specifically for children and families, take place throughout the year. Membership costs $44 per year for an individual, $58 for a family.
A good introduction to New England's diverse terrain is an excursion with the Appalachian Mountain Club (tel. 800/372-1758 or 617/523-0636; www.outdoors.org). The recreation and conservation organization is perhaps best known for its indispensable trail guides and maps, but it coordinates volunteer-led activities that range from walking dogs on a beach to multiple-day backpacking tours. Though closely associated with New Hampshire's White Mountains, the AMC has chapters all over the Northeast and offers many activities in the Boston suburbs. First-time membership costs $50 for an individual, $75 for a family, or $25 if you're under 30 or over 69.
Countless companies offer escorted tours that stop in Boston, especially during foliage season, when 5- to 10-day tours of New England are wildly popular with travelers from around the world. Few spend more than 2 days in Boston, however, meaning that you'll be rushing around trying to cram maximum action into minimum time, or skipping sights and activities you were looking forward to. If you plan to focus exclusively on Boston, most escorted tours won't meet your needs, but if a quick stop is all you can manage, most major tour operators can accommodate you.
Options include Liberty Travel (tel. 888/271-1584; www.libertytravel.com), Collette Vacations (tel. 800/340-5158; www.collettevacations.com), Globus and Cosmos (tel. 866/755-8581 or 800/276-1241; www.globusandcosmos.com), Insight Vacations (tel. 888/680-1241; www.insightvacations.com), Tauck World Discovery (tel. 800/788-7885; www.tauck.com), and Trafalgar Tours (tel. 866/544-4434; www.trafalgar.com).
Gray Line's New England presence is Brush Hill Tours (tel. 800/343-1328 or 781/986-6100; www.brushhilltours.com). Brush Hill operates Boston's Beantown Trolley and allows customers to build their own itineraries by choosing from a variety of half- and full-day escorted tours to destinations such as Plymouth, Salem, Cape Cod, and Newport, Rhode Island.
For more information on guided tours, including questions to ask before booking your trip, visit www.frommers.com/planning.
Volunteer & Working Trips
The Greater Boston chapter of Habitat for Humanity (tel. 617/423-2223; www.habitatboston.org) welcomes individual volunteers as well as groups to help construct and renovate affordable housing for low-income families. Be prepared and dress appropriately for up to 6 1/2 hours of construction work, which can be strenuous. Volunteers are responsible for their own transportation and should bring lunch, drinks, and work gloves. The minimum age is 16 years old, and 16- and 17-year-olds must have an adult with them. There is no maximum age. Note that you must complete a 1-hour orientation before you can start work, and those sessions fill up quickly.
The Massachusetts Audubon Society and the Appalachian Mountain Club rely heavily on volunteers. Most Mass Audubon activities are long-term commitments, but some are one-shot deals suitable for out-of-town visitors. AMC opportunities range from a day of trail clearing to leading a longer-term program.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.