By Terry Bush
My parents loved road trips. By the time I graduated high school, I had set foot in all of the lower 48. (Some of those “visits” amounted to me touching the ground when dad pulled over for a minute but, hey, that counts, right?)
In years of traveling — alone, with family, with tour groups — I’ve learned that who I travel with is almost as important as where I go. When I go with people who travel to explore an interest – whether it is history or art or architecture or sports or whatever — and share a hometown, the group becomes more like a family.
We have assembled this list of local organizations and companies that sponsor and host tours. Think of it as a list worth watching for future travel inspiration. These are not endorsements.
And, if we’ve missed your favorite, we’d love to hear about other locally-organized tours you’ve enjoyed.
The store specializes in small group adventure travel for the Champaign-Urbana community. Beyond planning the itinerary and making all arrangements, they make sure their travelers are ready for the experience. They host informational events prior to each trip and private shopping events at the store to help you find everything you need. For more active trips, travelers train together to make sure everyone has the necessary skills and fitness level. Some itineraries, for example, include biking and walking, an activity level of 2 of 5. Summiting Mr. Kilimanjaro, on the other hand, is a 5.
OLLI is a community of adult learners dedicated to the pursuit of lifelong learning. They currently offer around 35 courses per semester. An OLLI membership is required to take classes or travel.
Travel opportunities often build on conversations started in courses and study groups, giving members the chance to bring their classroom experiences to life in places such as Chicago’s theaters and museums and Starved Rock State Park. Day trips explore topics such as the works of Frank Lloyd Wright.
Each year, the college tours some of the world’s most exciting places: London, Paris, Tuscany, Greece, Spain, Ireland, Scotland. They also offer a variety of day trips to museums, art exhibits, famous architectural sights, Chicago theatre, and other attractions, as well as multi-day trips within the U.S., such as the Kentucky Bourbon Trail and the Frank Lloyd Wright Housewalk.
For 50 years, U of I alumni and friends have traveled the world together. They have explored the lost city of the Incas, felt the spray of whales in Alaska and saluted the Terra Cotta Warriors in Xi’an. Several trips are scheduled each month.
U of I alumni and friends can also travel with Illinois Alumni Sports Tours to sporting events in some unlikely places. Attending a Cubs-Cardinals baseball game is pretty routine … except when they play in London, which is the case in June 2020. Itineraries generally include tickets to the event and guided tours of local landmarks; extended itineraries will take you to other destinations.
From British history to local gardening, WILL programs cover a range of topics which are reflected in their choices of tour destinations. England is a frequent source of Masterpiece Theater tales so WILL’s tours often visit Highclere Castle (site of Downtown Abbey), Windsor Castle, Hampton Court and other historic sites. Closer to home, Mid-American Gardener hosts day trips to nearby gardens such as the Missouri Botanical Garden.
Local Travel Agencies
These companies arrange tours for large groups and also sponsor their own. Trips are sometimes hosted by local journalists, artists, historians or photographers who share their expertise along the way.
Located in Savoy, the company plans and escorts small group tours of Italy, the American Southwest, Israel, Iceland and Greece.
A Bloomington-based company with an office in Champaign, the company’s itineraries have included small group tours of Ireland, Italy, New York City and a cruise visiting ports in Canada and New England.
Recent itineraries have included a five-night tour of Little Rock and Bentonville, Ark., cruises on the Danube River, and visits to Iceland and Northern Europe.