It’s difficult for Joan Kritzberg to pinpoint exactly when she was bit by the travel bug, but her lifelong enthusiasm for the road is undeniable. Every summer, she embarks on a road trip from California to Maine, going wherever the wind takes her and participating in Road Scholar programs along the way. We recently sat down with Joan to find out why she drives thousands of miles across the country every year, and what continues to motivate her to learn, travel and age adventurously!

What inspires you to drive across the country every year?

Growing up, my family couldn't afford to travel, but with grandparents in Illinois and New York and an uncle's family in Ohio, my parents would drive us to visit family every other summer and never have to pay for lodging. My parents were “wannabe travelers.”

What are some of your favorite memories or stories from traveling as a child?

My father worked on his PhD for most of my childhood, and he did research at the Iowa Lakeside Laboratory in northwestern Iowa. Our family sometimes joined him for part of the summer. We lived in a two-room cottage with mice in the rafters and restrooms down the trail and ate meals in the dining hall. Some summers we took a ride on the Okoboji Queen, a real steamboat. That's where I learned to love boating.

We took one real “vacation” to Yellowstone Park when I was nine. My parents borrowed a tent, cots, and a camp stove, and my mother put together bedrolls for everyone. They took $150 out of the bank, and everyone knew that when the money was half gone, we would turn around and start home. That summer, I was given a map of the U.S., and I colored in the states according to the license plates I spotted.

When I was a junior in high school, my father got a sabbatical to study with one of his mentors at UCLA, which provided an opportunity for another road trip, this time sharing the back seat of the car with my brother and the family German shepherd. There were 3,000 kids in my high school during my time in Los Angeles, compared to 1,500 people total in my hometown. At my high school in Los Angeles, one of my assignments was to write about a career. I chose the U.S. Foreign Service, because I liked foreign languages. In retrospect, I see that I was infected by the travel bug.

After I returned to my hometown of Parkville, Missouri, the American Field Service accepted me as a summer exchange student in Berlin, Germany. The $750 participation fee must have been a burden on my parents. That was before most people flew, so AFS chartered ships to get 700 sixteen-year-olds back and forth across the ocean. The ocean voyages were the best part of the whole summer. I was too immature to absorb all I should have from living with a German family, but I learned a lot and expanded my horizons in spite of myself. That was the summer before the Berlin Wall was built, and it was a good place to be a teenager.

What do you enjoy most about traveling by car?

Most of my friends don't want to drive, but they don't have any idea what they're missing by flying over this great country. I realize that road tripping isn't for everyone, but I don't understand how people can think the road is boring. I enjoy discovering sights I would miss if I weren’t so focused on the passing countryside. I look at the livestock or crops in the fields and see whether there are people working in the gardens. I watch for hawks on electric poles, meadowlarks on fence posts and herons on the creek banks. I see how long the passing trains are, how many engines are pulling them and what they're carrying. I check whether the woodlands have been cleared beyond the sight of passing cars and whether they've been replanted; I notice whether windmills and oil wells are pumping or idle. I mourn the collapse of old barns and the abandonment of farmhouses, celebrate the survival of small towns and lament boarded storefronts.

Who do you travel with?

My youngest daughter is more interested in adventurous travel than her sister, who prefers to travel by ship (which is fine, because I never met a boat I didn't like). I travel with them and, occasionally, with a friend from high school. I also travel with other friends and women I have met on trips. When I go on Road Scholar programs by myself I always request a roommate match. My theory is that anyone who signs up for a Road Scholar program I'm interested in will be compatible. I'm usually right.

What’s waiting for you in Maine every summer?

My destination every summer is the same. In 1997, a professional acquaintance sent me an ad for the Maine Windjammer Association. I signed up, blindly, for a trip off the coast of Maine aboard a windjammer. I’ve been back every summer since then, and no two trips are the same. This year I marked trips number 44 and 45 on the schooner Heritage.

After a while, I realized that it was a long way to go for one week, so I started staying on for a second week. Some summers, I made it three weeks. While I was in Maine, I started doing Road Scholar programs in the Northeast: the Freedom Trail in Boston, Grand Manan Island, New England maritime traditions and more.

Do you take the same route each time? Or mix it up every trip?

Occasionally, time constraints mean I have to take direct routes on Interstate highways, but my ideal situation is to never take a route I've taken before. And unless it's a destination, I don't stop in any cities at all. I don't use a GPS, so I plan my route on old-fashioned maps. I look for roads that will be winding, slow and interesting. If the weather is nice, I like to be able to stop early, camp in a state or national park and start late the next morning. My route is usually a zig-zag or circle, sometimes large, sometimes small. The point is the journey, not the destination. The ideal road trip is a series of Road Scholar programs 300-400 miles apart with two days to get from one to the next.

Sometimes my "road trip" has extended beyond roads. One year I left my car at the Philadelphia airport and spent a week in Spain walking the Camino de Santiago.

How did you hear about Road Scholar?

My parents participated in Road Scholar programs, and I drooled over their catalogs when I visited. My second husband was 20 years older than me, and we eventually started receiving catalogs, too. I couldn’t wait to participate. My first Road Scholar trip was a service program studying pink dolphins in the Amazon River, a couple months before my 55th birthday.

You’ve been on more than 100 Road Scholar trips! Can you tell us about a favorite memory or experience?

I think that question is like, "Do you have a favorite grandchild?" Name a topic or a destination, and I'll describe a fantastic Road Scholar program I have taken. And I would do every single one of them over again, if there weren't so many more that I still want to do!

Inca Trail to Machu Picchu? Wait for me! Raft the Grand Canyon? Let me ride in front! Antarctica? I’ll get my coat!

I've participated in several crafts programs at Snow Farm in Massachusetts, and I attended a program in Carmel Valley, California, that studied Steinbeck, the natural history of Monterey and Chopin. I thought I would enjoy Chopin the least, but the instructor was so wonderful that I enjoyed that part the most because it was such a pleasant surprise!

What do you like most about Road Scholar?

I especially appreciate that people travel solo and become part of a group. I always recommend Road Scholar to newly single people, because they can be sure to find others who share their interests and understand their situation. I like the fact that married people attend whose spouses have different interests or can't travel. Learning is also a critical part of my Road Scholar experiences — they're always full of “gee-whiz” moments.

What advice do you have for other people your age who hope to age adventurously?

I write down pithy sayings when I come across them. My favorite these days is, "The difference between an ordeal and an adventure is attitude." I say, go for it! What's the worst that could happen? Whatever it is, it's no more likely, and maybe less likely, than if you stay at home. The best thing that could happen? You can't even imagine, and the possibilities are limitless!

Want to learn more?

Ready to explore the U.S. and Canada on four wheels? Hit the road on a multi-city educational adventure with Road Scholar.

About the Author

Joan Hamilton Kritzberg was born in Asheville, North Carolina. She graduated from Western State College in Colorado, where she taught accounting for 10 years before moving to California. She is an avid Road Scholar fan and has participated in more than 100 programs. Every summer, she drives across the country from California to Maine, always learning something new and finding adventure along the way.

  • I certainly enjoyed reading about your travel adventures and how your childhood experiences helped shape your love of traveling.  I have traveled solo about 50% of the time (17 total, so not nearly as many as yours), and always request pot luck on a room mate if a friend or my sister don't travel with me.  If I always waited for a friend to have the time, money, and/or  inclination to go with me, I could have missed out on many adventures.  For my next program I am rooming with a lovely woman from Oregon I met while on the " Winter in Portugal"  trip last year.  We have similar enthusiasm, sense of humor,  and quest for learning traits.  I know we will have a fantastic time!  Thanks for sharing about your driving trips!!  

  • Love this story. I’m going on my first Road Scholar trip this September. Did not chose to get a roommate but maybe that will change the next time,  

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