Traveling with a museum group

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The Smithsonian Institution may not have invented museum-sponsored travel, but with 360 tours to 250 destinations a year, the national museum is regarded as the granddaddy of education-related recreational tours.

"Educational travel is a rapidly growing field," says Amy Kotkin, the Smithsonian's tour program manager. "We see more and more alumni and museum organizations offering trips every year."

The appeal is simple: It's much easier to learn about a region or destination when accompanied by an expert. Travelers also know they're more likely to get an insider's perspective if their tour guide has connections.

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Trippers with Cleveland's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame & Museum, for example, know they might meet Hall of Fame inductees - including some of their musical heroes - and tread far off the beaten tourist paths. Since the rock hall opened five years ago, staffers have organized three trips. A fourth, to San Francisco, is being planned for October. Robert Santelli, the museum's vice president of education and programming, plans to take a group to London and Liverpool in 2001. He also hopes to train other guides so the program can be expanded with regular trips to musical destinations (216-515-1239).

The Smithsonian also offers music-related trips, such as a June 5-11 Roots of American Music seminar in Memphis and Nashville lead by author and music expert Tom Piazza. (Call 877-338-8687 for Smithsonian tour information).

Though entertainment is a key element of such travel, Ms. Kotkin says, "We only do itineraries in which we feel we can introduce a significant education component."

Althea McCalmont of the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh adds, "We don't do a trip unless it relates to one of our museums."

These member-only tours usually offer better deals than travelers could get on their own.

Often, universities and museums combine resources, teaming experts for special excursions. The Connecticut State Museum of Natural History and the University of Connecticut Alumni Association are offering a trip to Thailand (860-486-4460). The Smithsonian, the World Wildlife Fund and the National Audubon Society join together for trips to such exotic locales as Antarctica. But weekend and day trips to closer destinations are popular, too, according to Ms. McCalmont. The museum regularly takes travelers to the Cleveland Museum of Art, only 2-1/2 hours away (412-622-5774).

For more information about educational travel, check with your favorite museum or university alumni club. Or try these Web sites:

*Smithsonian study tours, www.si.edu/tsa/sst/start.htm

*Connecticut trip to Thailand, www.mnh.uconn.edu/travel.htm

*The National Trust for Historic Preservation http://12.17.21.20/studytours/advert.htm

*An extensive list of cultural tours is available at http://culture.shawguides.com

But keep in mind that not all tours mentioned by the Shaw Guides are sponsored by nonprofit organizations.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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