If you’re feeling like it’s the “same old same old” when it comes to your vacations, you’re not alone. Many of us who are fortunate to travel are seeking more out of our vacations. Lying on the beach or traipsing from city to city, while amazing, is losing its appeal, especially as we are getting to be more experienced travelers. Luckily, there’s an option where you can relax, have fun, and actually learn something while you’re at it! Learning vacations let you have it all.
Educational travel is actually a rapidly growing industry that serves travelers who are seeking first-hand experiences and knowledge. Educational tourism is all about interactions. Whether it’s counting penguins in Antarctica, encountering falcons in a Scottish castle, learning how to cook pasta from an actual Italian chef, or scuba diving in Belize, learning vacations provide a unique way to pursue your interests while also gaining a unique perspective of the world. It’s the ultimate way to immerse yourself in the destination.
So, if you are yearning for more from your next vacation, here are a few of our favorite learning vacations that offer more than just beach chairs and margaritas. You can even combine your learning experience with a more traditional vacation at these great locales.
Whether you want to make an amazing Spaghetti Puttanesca, master the art of a souffle, or learn to cook vegan for your newly converted daughter, there are so many options for a cooking class vacation. We have taken classes on cruise ships, at a resort in Tuscany from an Italian chef, and at resorts in the Bay area and Rhode Island. This has become a very popular hands-on vacation by people searching to hone their culinary skills.
Many have chefs on the premises who head the cooking schools and/or will bring in guest chefs for special demonstrations. Most do charge a fee for the classes. And finally, many coordinate the classes with wine tastings. Here are three of our favorites.
Cavallo Point resort is located about an hour from San Francisco Airport with a fascinating history. It sits at the base of the Golden Gate Bridge across from San Francisco, so the views are simply stunning. It is located within the Golden Gate National Parks and the historic army post, Fort Baker. In fact, much of the hotel IS the refurbished army post. Of course, there is no shortage of activities in the area, which makes it an ideal destination for couples and families with kids. Plus, Napa and Sonoma Valleys are just a short hop north of the resort.
But one of the most amazing amenities at Cavallo Point is the cooking school. The kitchen itself has 1,200 square feet, four workstations for hands-on classes, and two flat-screen televisions for demonstrations. The classroom showcases cuisine from around the world and utilizes products from local farms, fisherman, artisan producers, and winemakers. It features an ever-changing roster of cooking classes, chefs, and programs and all classes have a focus on seasonality, sustainability, and stewardship.
Ocean House Resort
Ocean House Resort is located in Watch Hill, Rhode Island. Living in the New York City area, this resort makes for the perfect weekend get away. What makes it even more special is that it has a sister property, Weekapaug Inn, located 15 minutes away. Both properties are reminiscent of days gone by and sit on water, but have very different atmospheres. The Ocean House gives you a more posh feeling like you’re aboard a luxury liner, whereas Weekapaug Inn is like being on a summer vacation on the lake, but only so much nicer!
The cooking classes are located at Ocean House where they have created the Center for Wine and Culinary Arts, a 3,000-square-foot education and entertaining space for wine and cooking classes. From signature culinary events to a classic french cooking class paired with wine to their Farm and Vine Dinner Series, the array of classes offered is astounding. And they work with local farms to ensure only the freshest ingredients are used.
Regent Seven Seas Cruises
The Culinary Arts Kitchen is an exclusive to the Regent Seven Seas Explorer. Located on Deck 11 with amazing views as you cruise, it is the perfect place to spend some time learning new skills and recipes whether you are a beginner or expert. The room is divided into 18 individual cooking stations and each station is fully equipped. I have taken a total of three classes and hope over time to take many more.
On my most recent cruise, my best friend and I took the Mediterranean class. We had so much fun! It was extra special with Chef Kelly stopping in to mix up one of her favorite cocktails from the region. My friend also bought the Regent Culinary Cookbook for me as a gift and I have used it many times.
Always wanted to learn to sail, but didn’t know where to start? Have a hankering to see a coral reef up close and personal? Or perhaps you’ve always wanted to hang 10? Whatever your heart desires and however active you want to be, you can learn it on vacation. Here are three of our favorites.
Sailing has quickly become a great pleasure for me. We have great friends who have been sailing all of their lives and were happy to share their expertise with us. While we learned to sail in the BVI, your choices are limited only by your choice of destinations. You can easily stay in the United States or venture abroad to places off Greece and Croatia or sailing around the United Kingdom and the Seychelles.
Scrub Island in the BVI
I love Scrub Island Resort and was so devastated to learn they suffered a lot of damage from Hurricane Irma. While not totally recovered, the resort is pretty close to being renovated. And they are excited to welcome tourists back. Your dollars will have a great impact on the lives of the residents who lost so much. I fell in love with the relaxed hospitality, astonishing natural wonders, spectacular views and that unbelievable, crystal clear water. I hope you find the British Virgin Islands as mesmerizing as I did.
In terms of learning to sail, you have quite a few options. From a 5-day learn to sail course with certification to an accelerated 2-day course which will provide you with the basics to get started to sailing a catamaran, you should be able to find the right course for you. The waters are crystal clear and amazing and make for perfect sailing whether you are a beginner or an experienced helmsman. You even have live aboard or stay ashore options.
Whether you want to learn downhill or cross country or whether you have never skied or are an expert, there will be a ski school just right for you. Plus, skiing vacations are fun for the whole family. There are even quite a few women-only ski camps these days that offer intensive 2-5 day packages for intermediate on up skiers to hone their skills. They are really not geared towards beginners. One of the top camps is the women’s program at Alta Lodge in Utah, where you’ll actually share meals and a roof with fellow skiers and instructors. And guess what…this camaraderie leads to making lifelong friends and a lot of repeat guests.
The Deer Valley area has been a favorite destination of ours for many years. We love to ski here because it’s great for all levels, offers ski in ski out, and has an amazing ski school. You can take private lessons, specialty classes like off-trail skiing, and classes especially tailored for kids, women, and men. They even offer the Mahre Training Center Ski Camps with 3 to 5-day ski camps for the diehard skier in some of us.
This has become one of Dana’s favorite vacations ever and she’s not alone. Fly fishing is quickly becoming a popular choice for people who love to be active outdoors. And with the popularity has come many great vacation spots that will teach you to fly fish.
Copal Tree Lodge, Belize
Copal Tree Lodge IS where we have spent more days on and off the water than anywhere so has to top the list. Formally known as Belcompo, Copal Tree Lodge is located in Punta Gorda, Belize, the furthest spot south you can get. It is located at the top of the jungle rainforest, yet minutes from the water. The fishing grounds are some of the more sacred for those searching for the Grand Slam — permit, bonefish, and tarpon — but in a true serene setting.
The fishing takes place for the main part in the protected marine reserves and national parks. This is considered a world-renowned permit territory and the hunt is as much the game as landing and releasing that permit. A quick ride to the reef or one of the local islands will also put you in excellent bonefish grounds. And if you are looking for the grand slam, the patient, kind, professional, and just unbelievable guides will get you to tarpon as well.
I’m sure there are many budding artists out there who have not had the opportunity to test their creativity, but would love to. In addition to our favorites, just a few other avenues to explore off the top of my head are music, pottery, and writing.
Travel and photography go together perfectly. There are few things as inspiring as visiting remote and beautiful places and capturing those images to take home and bore our friends and family with! But taking great photos isn’t something that comes naturally for most of us. Sure, we all can take pictures, but getting that jaw dropping shot takes time, patience, and a good eye. Plus, someone to teach you all of it…
You can learn so much on a Lindblad Expedition well beyond photography, but it doesn’t hurt if you pick up a few tips from some of the best photographers on the planet. You can travel with Lindblad Expeditions on their photography tours to places like Alaska, the Amazon, and the Galapagos. On those tours, you’ll get to take classes from National Geographic photographers, learning a lot more about your equipment and what it takes to capture the perfect shot.
On a trip to Antarctica, we were fortunate to have 2 photographers on board with us, one from NatGeo, Chris Ranier. Not only did we get classes before heading out to see mother nature, but you actually got instruction as you were preparing to take the picture on land. This was truly one of my most memorable travel experiences. One of the best tips I got was to mix up your angles and shoot from the ground or at least at a low angle. You will get such a different perspective.
Okay, this may not be for everyone, but if I tell you it can be done on the island of Murano outside Venice, would you change your mind?
Abate Zanetti School of Glass
On the famed Venetian island of Murano, you will find this glassworking school. You can start with the basics at the weekend course where you’ll create vibrant sculptures, figurines and jewelry. Or sign up for the furnace-based glassworking, where you’ll make your own striking glass or bowl. Or better yet, opt for private lessons and make your own masterpiece.
There are now companies that offer vacations that combine sightseeing with painting, often in scenic locations. If you’ve fancied yourself a budding artist or are keen to develop your art skills, this may be for you.
One of Authentic Adventures amazing offerings is an 8-day painting holiday on the Amalfi Coast. You will never get bored of which stunning scene to paint first. From Pompeii to seascapes to secluded beaches to colorful coastal villages, you will not be disappointed. They also offer bespoke experiences around the globe that allow you to indulge in your special interest activities.
Culture, Art, And History
Has there been something you’ve always wanted to learn, but just never had the time? Perhaps just not any class will do and you’d like to think way far out of the box for that one of a kind experience. Maybe your passion for certain interests, hobbies, or activities is what motivates your travel? Do you love art museums, film festivals, train treks, archeology, space exploration, or truffles? Well, you can learn anything you want once you identify your passion. Here are three companies to help you do just that.
Road Scholar runs tours in 150 countries and all 50 states, offers 5,500 tours, and for most budgets. They offer trips with different levels of structure, from detailed itineraries packed with learning experiences to lightly structured schedules with generous free time. You’ll get access to some of the most extraordinary people and places in the world today. Impressionism Along the Seine lets you step into the vivid, colorful scenes of a Monet or Pissarro as you start in Paris and sail along the Seine to the sites that most inspired these legendary artists. And if you have the time AND money, consider Road Scholar’s World Academy tour where you’ll voyage around the world in 115 days, visiting 25 countries, all starting at $40,000.
National Geographic Expeditions
From the scientists, photographers, and explorers who lead the trips to the local guides, with Aational Geographic Expeditions, you’ll get to explore and learn at a whole new level. Whether you’re up close and personal with an elephant in Kenya, listening to a wildlife biologist discuss their populations, or gazing up at prehistoric cave paintings with a paleontologist in France, on a NatGeo expedition you’ll be surrounded by people who are steeped in knowledge and insights about the places you’ll visit.
Smithsonian Journeys is a museum travel program run by the Smithsonian Institution that promises memorable, immersive, and transformative experiences. They offer more than 350 departures around the world. Special interest tours will even cater to any unique and unusual passions. Examples include an”Inside the Russian Space Program” tour or an “Italian Cars” tour behind the scenes at the Lamborghini and Maserati factories. Engaged learning is at the core of every tour and cruise and foremost is the insights you’ll get from their world-class and charismatic experts and local guides.
These are just a few of the options you have for combining a vacation with a learning experience. You have endless possibilities. And it doesn’t have to be grandiose either. You can find a lot of these experiences close by to where you live if you take the time to look. Check out museums, language classes, alumni associations, and professional societies in your area for trips they may offer. All you have to do is think about what you’d love to learn and open yourself up to the possibilities.