Updated: Apr 30
By Chelsea La Near
Skill sharing vacations, a growing trend in educational travel, are experiences designed to help you develop a new or existing skill during your vacation - a dual purpose that may just be the motivation you need to start planning your next trip. Your destination is your new classroom.
There's a popular saying that "travel is the best teacher." It's true that travel provides us with perhaps the most effective environment to learn about the world around us and about ourselves - it can even help us learn and develop in-demand career skills. We often choose to travel in the first place in order to learn about a different region - it's history, culture, and food among other things. For this reason, many travel itineraries include activities like historical site visits, museums, and eating at famous restaurants.
This typical itinerary, however, is losing its appeal for a growing number of travelers who seek more personalized knowledge and authentic interactions out of their trips. These travelers are increasingly turning towards the rapidly emerging industry of educational tourism for adults that combines vacations with learning a new skill or leveling up an existing skill. The destination itself provides the classroom where you can learn in a more meaningful and stimulating context compared to traditional schools.
Educational travel provides an exciting way for tourists to learn about different cultures through the lens of their own specific passion or interest. Whether you're digging up dinosaur bones in Canada, assisting a marine research team in Seychelles, harvesting grapes with a Chilean winemaker, or practicing yoga with gurus in India, the intentional focus of your educational travel program will contribute to more meaningful connections with local people and a deeper, more unique understanding of your destination.
We've categorized some popular education adventures to give you an idea of the possibilities. If you don't see something that interests you, keep in mind that as the industry grows, so too does the list of options. Some companies can even help you create a unique itinerary for whatever skill you have your heart set on.
Of course we have to start with language learning as it's one of the most sought-after skills to learn while on vacation, and it happens to be Parlay Vacay's specialty. If you don't see the language you're interested in learning or your desired destination among their available options, reach out for a customized learning experience.
SPORTS AND PHYSICAL ACTIVITIES
Yoga - The wellness practice that originated in India is growing quickly in popularity, with schools all around the world. The most authentic destination, though, might be Rishikesh, a city in India nestled in the lower Himalayan mountains that has been a celebrated yoga mecca for centuries.
Dancing - Just about every culture has a dance style that reveals so much about the people and their history. Learning a new dance on vacation is a great way to get up-close and personal with locals while getting some exercise. South America is a hot destination for dancing schools, with salsa in places like Cuba and Colombia and tango in Argentina.
Martial Arts - While martial arts schools can be found in just about every country, learning a specific type in its location of origin can provide a more intense, transformative experience. You could study Kung Fu in Shao Lin (China), Taekwondo in Korea, Capoeira in Brazil, Karate in Japan, or Kalari in India just to name a few.
Skiing - Whether you want to learn cross country, downhill, or are just a beginner, there will be a ski school just right in the mountains of your destination. Skiing vacations can be good for the whole family, and if you ski in another country, you are sure to spend plenty of time with locals who are also on vacation.
Scuba Diving - Why get your open water certification in a swimming pool when you could be surrounded by tropical fish in the clear, shallow waters off the coast of the Philippines or Mexico?
Most destinations where scuba diving is a popular activity also have an array of diving schools to choose from. A typical open water certification course takes around 3-4 days, and many diving schools offer room and board as well.
Surfing - Surfing, wind surfing, and kite surfing, are sports that demand hands-on experience in water swells in order to learn. Just about any surf destination typically has a few schools or instructors nearby to help you out. One of our favorites is Edgar Sanchez Guega's Improve Surf Company in Costa Rica.
Sailing - If you've always wanted to learn sailing, what better way than to hop on a sailboat with a nautical expert who can show you the ropes?
Photography - Most likely, you engage in your own travel photography when you travel, possibly even just using your phone camera. If photography is a skill you want to develop, you can take a tour with a professional photographer who knows the area - they can take you to the best places to shoot and even teach you new angles and settings to improve your pictures. Travel photographer Runa Lindberg runs tours at festivals in India that can give you some amazing photo results.
Cultural Crafts - This is a broad category, but some interesting choices include classes for blowing Murano glass in Venice at one of their many glassblowing schools, arranging flowers in Japan, calligraphy and brush painting in Beijing, and traditional Native American pottery in Pueblo.
Music - If music is your passion, why not learn a local instrument from your destination? Depending on where you go, it might be challenging to find a music school that offers classes in English, but that will likely change as the demand for educational travel grows. If you're in Portugal, Humberto Bernardo's Fado in Alfama can teach you everything you ever wanted to know about fado, a Portuguese traditional musical style. Humberto can also arrange personalized lessons if you'd like to learn the vocal or guitar style yourself.
FOOD AND DRINK
Farming - Younger travelers have been "wwoof-ing" for decades. WWOOF stands for World-wide Opportunities on Organic Farms and is an organization that connects organic farmers with travelers. The traveler typically works for free in exchange for farming education and often room and board. Most countries have their own website where you can search locations and categories such as vineyards, gardens, livestock, and even beekeeping.
Cooking - Cooking classes are a delicious way to learn about a culture through their cuisine. There are usually many options when it comes to duration that you are sure to find one that suits your needs. Some will have you working for days on perfecting your pasta while others may just be an afternoon. It's common for cooking courses to include a market visit where you learn about the different produce and supplies while interacting with local vendors.
Wine and Spirits - Touring wine country and tastings are popular travel activities, but an increasing number of vineyards are starting to offer wine-making programs as well. Whatever alcohol piques your interest, from grape wines and rice wines to whiskeys and beers, there's sure to be a professional at your destination who can teach you how to make your own.
Foraging - Foraging is a term used to describe collecting plants straight from nature to eat, and is particularly popular among mushroom hunters. It's common for guides of hiking and camping adventures to know about edible plants along the way, but if this is something you want to focus on, it might be a good idea to ask if there are guides who are particularly knowledgeable about local plants. Foraging tours are still in their infancy, but we expect to see a growth in this option along with the rest of learning skill vacations.
National Geographic Expeditions - a pricey choice, but with scores of options across the globe from tropical bird-watching tours to arctic indigenous tribe experiences and everything in between, you're sure to find something of interest. Additionally, you'll be traveling with renowned scientists and sometimes even National Geographic's own photographers.
Biology and wildlife - There's other ways to have a scientific learning adventure among plants and wildlife without spending a ton of money if you look around locally. There are sure to be local organizations who need a few volunteer field workers for activities as varied as tracking orangutans to organizing plant species.
Archaeology - Archaeology travel expeditions are a new way to learn about the history and science of your surroundings. Dinosaur Provincial Park in Canada provides visitors with guided archaeological digs in some of the most diverse fossil beds on the planet.
Of course, these are just some of the many skills you can begin or level up in a relatively short amount of time. A learning skill vacation is the ultimate way to get away from distractions in order to focus and improve yourself in tangible as well as intangible ways. It can be the ultimate solution to justifying more travel. Your newly acquired finesse or insider knowledge will be the perfect vacation souvenir. And who knows, you might even discover an exciting new career path along the way or add a spark to your resume, helping you land that dream job you've had your eye on.
Chelsea La Near, M. Ed., is a writer, wanderluster, and language education professional from Missouri who spent the past 9 years teaching abroad in East Asia and is currently based in Seattle. Follow her on Twitter @chelsealanear and Instagram @thenearsea for more.
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