A love of learning and a passion for travel

These days, it’s not about what you see when you go on a trip — it’s what you do. While there are many opportunities to learn on a typical journey — like a museum visit or guided tour — learning vacations up the ante and put the focus on mastering a skill or indulging a passion.

The trend has become so popular that there are now more options than ever before. Learn about works of art and literature in the places they were created, for example, or immerse yourself in the local culture by learning a language or skill. Master digital photography by snapping scenic vistas, or learn new skills on a volunteer expedition.

Ready for a more active vacation? We’ve got some ideas and tips to get you started.

Getaway ideas

Learn a traditional art in Williamsburg. Think of it as hands-on history — learn a traditional artisan skill in a historic setting, like glassblowing in Williamsburg, Massachusetts. This week-long workshop from Road Scholar includes expert instruction covering all the fundamentals of this art, plus creating some masterpieces of your own. The package includes most meals and accommodations, plus additional activities like an artist talk and studio tour. Don’t worry — there’s some free time to explore too.

Prices start at $775 per person. For more information, see www.roadscholar.org.

Master French cooking in Provence. There’s no better place to learn French cooking than the famed kitchen where Julia Child once cooked — now part of the Cooking with Friends in France program. This five-night, four-day stay includes trips to markets, tastings and morning cooking classes for all levels. In the afternoons, enjoy some free time to explore the scenic region and in the evening, retire to your room in La Pitchoune, former home of the Childs.

Courses are held weekly in May, June, September and October for $2650 USD per person. For more information, visit www.cookingwithfriends.com.

Have another favourite cuisine? Culinary vacations have popped up all over the world — including Canada. For instance, cook with seafood in Nova Scotia or local produce in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley.

Immerse yourself in Spanish in Costa Rica. One of the challenges of learning any language is using it so learning vacations immerse you in both the language and local culture. For instance, Costa Rica: Spanish Language in Nature’s Playground program from Road Scholar lands you in San Jose, right in the thick of the area’s culture and natural wonders. When you’re not attending language classes at the , you’ll be putting your new skills to use on adventures in the city and nearby villages — not to mention trips to private cloud reserves and an active volcano in Arenal Volcano National Park.

The 11-night experience starts at $2530 USD. For more information, visit www.roadscholar.org .

Of course, language learning is a popular vacation idea, and most widely-spoken languages have programs somewhere in the world. Learn French in Quebec or Chinese in China, for example.

Uncover history in Tuscany. Love to get your hands dirty? An archaeological dig might be just the thing. Head to the Roman maritime settlement of Poggio del Molino in Tuscany, Italy with experts from the Earthwatch Institute to dig, collect, clean and document finds. While you’re there, you’ll have the opportunity to explore the culture, cuisine and sites of nearby Medieval towns and larger cities like Pisa, Sienna and Florence. Costs range $1895-$3095 for 6-13 day excursions.

If science is more your style, the Earthwatch Institute also has volunteer vacations that let you assist in research — like tracking whales off the coast of British Columbia or accessing the impact of climate change in Borneo’s tropical rainforests.

For a full list of expeditions, visit Earthwatch.org.

Improve your mystery writing at a police academy. If you’ve ever wanted to be like TV character Richard Castle and shadow a police officer, here’s your chance. Once a year, the three-day Writers’ Police Academy in Jamestown, North Carolina gives budding authors an in-depth look at law enforcement — complete with first-hand experience. Learn about forensics, ride along with deputy sheriffs, handle real equipment and get some expert training.

Registration starts at $255 USD — accommodations and “WRITER” t-shirts are extra. For more information, visit www.writerspoliceacademy.com.

Explore the rise of Paris. Miss the discussion and intellectual stimulation of your university days? Companies such Classical Pursuits take learning on the road to discuss history, art and literature in the settings and culture where they originated. For example, the La Belle Époque in Paris: The Birth of the Modern World tour looks at how the City of Light became the centre of European culture. With expert guides, delve into the history and culture of this historic era, including visits to the best of Paris’s art museums, book discussions in charming Parisian cafes and walking tours to experience the famed city through the eyes of famous figures.

The 8-night program costs $3995 per person with an optional trip to Monet’s gardens in Giverny as an encore. For more information, visit www.classicalpursuits.com.

Before you book

Sounds tempting? These ideas are just a few of the many choices out there. Here are some things you should know before you book:

When is it offered: Some programs run on a continual basis, others may be held only once or twice a year and some are one-time-only. Since group sizes tend to be small, you may need to plan well in advance.

What’s required: Some learning vacations require some homework beforehand, such reading as a book or a series of articles on a topic. A certain level of physical fitness and concentration may be required for hands-on or adventurous experiences.

Group size: Smaller groups allow for more participation and attention from instructors, but larger groups give the opportunity to interact with more people.

Also, take a look at the program to see with whom you might be travelling. Some programs appeal to certain age groups — like students, young professionals or mature travellers. Companies are also getting wise to the multi-generational travel trend and offer learning vacations the whole family can enjoy.

Flexibility: Do you prefer a packed itinerary, or do you want plenty of time on your own to relax or explore? Also, check out what activities and attractions are in the area for your free time.

What optional activities are available: Want to take a sight-seeing tour, visit a local museum or tour a historic site? Some companies offer special activities beyond the normal curriculum, like private tours or guided trips.

What’s included in the price: Is airfare included? What meals and amenities are included with accommodations? Are admission costs, transportation and materials covered? Beware that optional activities are usually a la carte .

Who’s running the show : Make sure you’re getting your money’s worth by checking on the credentials of your instructor. Also, the more you know, the more you can draw on their expertise and make a personal connection.

In addition to packages, many companies will also put together custom trips for a group. Working with a travel agent, you can create your own journey for your coworkers, book club or church group, for example.

Learning vacations may not be cheap, but they bring out the best in travel: a love of learning and the chance to experience something out of the ordinary.

Have you been on a learning vacation? Tell us about it in the comments.

Photo Copyright © 2011 Cooking With Friends In France

Updated September 2012 with current prices and new trip ideas. Please note that price and availability are subject to change.

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