After graduating from Washington State University, Molly (Malone) Philopant (’76 Busi.) became a certified public accountant and spent 36 years in Spokane, 10 years as an auditor for an accounting firm and the rest in financial management with various nonprofit organizations.

Molly Philopant

She’s been traveling with WSU Alumni Association—to the Italian Riviera, Cuba, Iceland, Croatia, and more—since 2010. Here, she talks about her experiences and future travel plans.


How did you learn about WSUAA travel experiences?

If I remember correctly, I learned about WSUAA travel experiences from colorful brochures describing specific trips mailed to my home. I just looked and dreamed at first, then decided to try a trip—one of the best decisions of my life. Jim, my late husband, and I only made one international trip—to Australia when we visited our daughter during a semester abroad experience—before I lost him to cancer in 2005.


What was the first one you went on?

My first WSUAA trip was in 2010 on a program called “Chianti & the Italian Riviera,” spending a few days in Florence, then on to the region of Tuscany visiting towns such as San Gimignano and Siena. In addition to viewing fabulous art and medieval architecture, we visited a few vineyards, wineries, and olive groves, sampling some of the region’s distinctive wines and olive oils. We made a side trip to Carrara to visit a quarry and museum that showcases the marble industry, complete with a demonstration by a local sculptor. We then headed to the Italian Riviera, where we spent time in Cinque Terre, Santa Margherita, and Portofino. The coastal scenery was beautiful, with olive groves cascading down steep hillsides to the Mediterranean. Throughout the trip, there was interaction with locals learning about the history of their region as well as their daily life.


How many have you been on since? 

After taking a break to move from Spokane to Olympia, and then helping with my first grandson, I traveled with WSUAA to Cuba in 2014, Iceland in 2016, Croatia in 2019, Tahiti and French Polynesia in 2022, Dutch waterways in 2023, and Scotland in 2023. Including Italy, I’ve traveled with WSUAA seven times so far.

Here are some memories of each:

Cuba—So many of the men are not employed. Many have become artists, taking items that amount to junk and crafting them into beautiful sculptures or murals. We visited one area where an entire alley was covered with a beautiful mosaic.

Iceland—I visited in early June when the flow over the numerous waterfalls was absolutely breathtaking.

Croatia—So many memories from this trip, just before the COVID lockdowns.  The natural beauty of Plitvice Lakes National Park. The well-preserved medieval town of Dubrovnik along the Dalmatian coast.

Dutch Waterways—Traveled the Dutch canals in a long ship, which carried about 100 passengers. The system of canals and locks was amazing. Also visited one of the massive dams and storm surge barriers built to protect the large portion of Dutch landmass, which is below sea level, from North Sea storms. The trip also included very hard-to-get tickets to a special exhibit in Amsterdam featuring 28 of the 37 paintings of seventeenth-century Dutch master Vermeer, including “The Girl with the Pearl Earring.”

Scotland—The highlight was securing a hard-to-get ticket to the Edinburgh Military Tattoo performance, a spectacular evening event combining Scottish bagpipes and drums, military precision, live music, and special lighting in an outdoor venue adjacent to the Edinburgh Castle.

Tahiti and French Polynesia—I traveled with eight others, including three Cougs and a couple that was instrumental in introducing my late husband to me in 1973. This trip was on one of the first cruise ships (a small ship with about 250 passengers, or 50 percent capacity) to return to French Polynesia after the COVID shutdown. The locals were so excited for the return of one of their major industries: tourism.


What makes these WSUAA travel experiences different or special?

The trips I’ve taken were educational experiences. I learned about the local people, culture, cuisine, history, government, art, architecture, and natural beauty. I visited the best-known attractions of the area—museums, cultural centers, castles, and waterfalls, just to name a few. Many of the trips I’ve taken included visits to UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Each trip I’ve been on had a tour director who stayed with the group the entire time. Maggie, the tour director for the 2023 Scotland trip, was outstanding. We spent a fair amount of time on the motor coach traveling from site to site. In addition to providing background information for the next stop, Maggie would use some of the “motor coach time” to share Scottish music, humor, folklore, history of some of the clans, modern day issues, and much, much more!

In several of the larger cities we visited, a local expert would join us for the day and provide a local perspective.

The organizing tour company provides a reading list for those who have the time and interest in more serious preparation. Personally, I never had the time to read everything; I’d do a little reading before the trip and some more after. I found that the reading was more meaningful after I’d completed the trip.


Would you recommend them to others? And why?

I definitely recommend WSUAA trips to others! The cost is reasonable based on the quality of the tour directors, accommodations, meals provided, and admission fees included. There are trips to meet most travelers’ preferences.

Small or large group—I usually select trips with 25 to 40 participants when I am traveling solo. I have gone on a large group trip when I traveled with friends, such Tahiti and French Polynesia via small cruise ship.

More group dinners or more dinners on your own—For me, I prefer most or all dinners included when I travel solo. Trips offering more dinners on your own might be a way to travel for less cost.

Free time—Again, as a solo traveler, I prefer itineraries that have minimal free time. WSUAA also offers trips with a significant amount of free time if you want the flexibility of planning your own schedule.

Flights—The tour company usually offers to make your flight reservations for an additional cost. The benefit is if there is a problem with the airline or flights, the tour company steps in to handle the situation. Personally, I prefer to book my own flights so I can use frequent flyer miles to purchase the airline tickets.


What else is important for Cougs to know about these travel experiences?

While the trips are offered by WSUAA, the participants end up being from a variety of colleges and universities. For the small group trips, I think the most fellow Coug travelers was five or six. On the Tahiti and French Polynesia trip, we traveled on a small cruise ship; probably 20 of 250 participants were fellow Cougs. WSUAA usually hosts a dinner or social hour where the Coug participants gather.

Many times, there are optional pre- and post-trips offered in the brochure for an additional cost. I participated in this option for my 2023 trips. I recommend these options when the main itinerary does not have much time in the first or last city.  You are provided with a hotel room for two or three days, breakfasts, and maybe one or two group activities. You should be prepared to plan the rest of your pre- or post-trip activities on your own.

Many of the trips offer a “single supplement,” which keeps the trip affordable if you are traveling solo and do not want a random roommate.


Where else are you hoping to travel with WSUAA?

I visited the WSUAA Travel website recently and noted several new trips planned for the next few years. Specifically, the “African Expedition by Private Train” in August 2025 caught my eye. There are also trips to Spain, Portugal, and Austria that I plan to check out down the road. While not currently listed as trips offered by WSUAA, I’d like to travel to Switzerland and the Scandinavian countries, too. I’m not getting any younger, so I am trying to prioritize the trips with long overseas flights, such as the African Expedition. At some point when the long flights don’t work for me, WSUAA offers interesting trips right here in the United States; the National Parks and Lodges itinerary caught my eye once again.


More about the WSUAA Travel Program