Each year, nearly 100,000 adults participate in a Road Scholar educational adventure. The not-for-profit organization, whose mission is the inspire adults to learn, discover and travel, offers 5,500 programs in 150 countries and 50 states. But those figures don’t tell the whole story.

What makes Road Scholar programs unique isn’t just the quality of the programs, the types of adventures, the exceptional value or the number of countries participants can visit. What truly sets Road Scholar programs apart is its participants. People like the finalists from the organization’s 2015 Friendship Stories contest.

As Road Scholar celebrates 40 years as the leader in lifelong learning, the organization invited participants to share stories that highlight friendships and relationships that were made or strengthened on its iconic learning adventures. The response was overwhelming, with more than 100 stories submitted for consideration. After selecting 12 finalists, the organization sent videographers around the world to capture the stories of the candidates and their friends. They each have an incredible story to share, all centered upon friendship and camaraderie.

“When we thought about how to commemorate our 40th Anniversary, we knew that friendship and learning would be at the core of our celebration,” said James Moses, President and CEO of Road Scholar. “Stories of friendship, love and personal growth from the 12 Road Scholar participants are uplifting and wonderfully illustrative of the deep relationships that form when people come together to learn — friendship and learning are integral parts of the Road Scholar experience.”

Here is a brief description of a few of the finalists:

Eva M.: The Next Charter: Making a New Start with an Old Friend

Eva and her longtime friend Margie hadn’t seen each other for years after Margie moved to Saskatchewan to retire. Both women had been through tough times; Margie was battling a health issue and Eva had lost significant loved ones in a short period of time. Last year, they finally joined up for their first trip together — a Road Scholar program in New Mexico.

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Sonia Ascher: It Started With ‘No’ and ended With ‘I Do’

For several years, Sonia wanted to take a long, exciting adventure. She’d traveled solo with Road Scholar for several years but, in 2011, embarked on the experience of a lifetime: a 78-day adventure aboard ship around South America. On the second day, an English gentleman asked if the seat next to her was taken. The rest is history.

Patricia Timpanaro: ‘When I Said, “Tennis, Anyone?” They Said, “Yes!”’

Patricia’s 41-year-old son was in desperate need of a kidney transplant. Her daughter-in-law traveled extensively for work, so Patricia was indispensable as a nanny for their four children, ranging in age from 3 to 7. An avid tennis player, she signed up to attend a Road Scholar learning adventure at Indian Wells as a solo female traveler to take a much-needed break during a very stressful time.

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Sheila Bracken: From Online Support Group to Real-Life Travel Companions

Eighteen years ago, long before Facebook and Twitter, Sheila used the Internet to find a support group to locate information and resources to help her care for her ailing husband. While online, she met Marsha Smith, whose husband was also suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Although Marsha lived in Charlotte, North Carolina, they became fast friends who supported each other through the death of their respective spouses.

Rosemary Sieve: Zen and the Art of Making Next Friends

A few years ago, Rosemary signed up for a Road Scholar adventure at the Land of Medicine Buddha in the forest south of Santa Cruz, California. Sue and Barbara, like Rosemary, arrived seeking peace through meditation. That week, the three women became fast friends, sharing their own personal stories and finding shared joy.

Carol West: ‘Dixie Chicks’ Focus on Friendship, Not Age

Several years ago, Carol and two friends, Kathleen and Barry, enrolled in a Road Scholar adventure that took them to Zion, Bryce and the Grand Canyon. While there, a fellow participant dubbed them the “Dixie Chicks” and the name stuck. Even though there is a 20-year age difference between them, they’ve developed a bond that has provided support and solace, laughter and love.

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These are a few of the 12 finalists from around the country who, if selected, will win a $5,000 Road Scholar gift certificate. The winner will be announced in September, 2015. If you’d like to learn more about the Road Scholar friendship contest, visit their contest page.

Also, learn more about Road Scholar. We bet you’ll find your dream learning adventure!

Have you met someone amazing while traveling? Do you agree that traveling is one of the best ways to make friends as an older adult? Why? Please join the conversation.

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