Long-term travelers tout the benefits of spending weeks, even months, in a country soaking up the language, culture, and lifestyle. For most people, however, such a long trip is impractical. If you only have one or two weeks of holiday, traveling with a learning-focus can lead to a richer, more meaningful experience. You could learn something about yourself, make new friends, or see a city in a brand new way. You might even come home refreshed and inspired, instead of exhausted from ticking off all the must-sees on a tourist’s itinerary.
In this day-and-age of online social communities, powerful search engines and niche travel blogs, finding rich travel experiences is as easy as coming up with search terms and reaching out to a few strangers. Start with your hobbies. Is food your passion? Are your fingers itching for a sketchbook? Do you love to dance, hike or play soccer with friends? Activities you love at home can guide your exploration for a trip rooted in an immersive experience.
Let’s look at cooking-school-vacations for example. Long available in France and Italy, this trend has spread to other corners of the world including Japan, Peru, and Thailand. A quick search on Trip Advisor turns up over 3000 options in Italy alone! Narrow these down by choosing a city, a course length, or a cuisine. Skim the reviews, then focus on ones that have high marks, were written about recently (in the past 2-3 months), and fit your time frame and budget. You can ask questions of people who wrote the reviews using Trip Advisor’s handy-dandy “Ask personX about activityY” link located at the bottom of each review.
Language learning is another popular path. I’ve spotted language schools everywhere from Tokyo to Rio, Siena to Mendoza. Some offer short, one-week programs, while others provide summer and year-long courses complete with homestays. Of course Google and Bing can help you, but using too-generic search terms will give you an overwhelming number of results. Use modifiers. Instead of Language schools in France, which will serve up (literally!) millions of options, try something more specific like French for foreigners in Montpellier summer 2016. If you’re still daunted by the list, call the foreign language department at your local High School, College or University for their recommendations.
Perhaps you’re dying to learn the sultry Tango. My first search turns up several options for one-night experiences with Viator. A deeper investigation lead me to the travel blog “A Gringo’s Guide to Argentina” with a Tango guide here. Sure, this post is a few years old, but if I were serious about Tango, I’d dig in to the details, contact the blogger directly, and follow the links in the comments to find the perfect dance school for my Buenos Aires trip.
The sheer number of travel bloggers on the web means that you’ll likely find someone with advice about your hobby in your vacation destination. Case in point: my 12 year old son recently came to me asking if he could go to Light Saber school. As in Jedi knights. My response? “Is that even a thing?” “Yeah,” he said, “the best school is in Singapore,” and then he showed me a blogger’s video on YouTube. Who knew!?
Finally, tap in to your Facebook community or other social websites (like this one! Thelma and Louise members are always willing to help each other out, provide companionship, and give recommendations). Have any of your friends, or friends-of-friends, been on a holiday that piqued your interest? Do any of your friends want to join you on this excursion?
If the above ideas don’t appeal to you, here’s a few more to spark your interest:
- Learning how to draw? Artists can enjoy lessons at Instituto Venezia in Italy.
- Want to serve or help others? Find a volunteer-vacation through organizations like Global Vision International.
- Driven to hike, bike, or go rafting? REI offers guided adventures on 5 continents.
- Book geek? Consider a literature based itinerary. We framed our family’s visit to Greece in mythology and Rick Riordan’s books.
- Looking for something more spiritual? Consider meditation in Thailand at Suan Mokkh, or a silent retreat in Italy with Simple Peace Hermitage.
- If you’re into genealogy, and of Irish descent, The Library of Ireland offers Family History services. Looking for an ancestor who died in service with the US military? The American Battle Monuments Commission provides guides to military cemeteries at home and abroad.
With a little patience, curiosity, and imagination you can find the perfect immersive experience for your next trip. If you can’t find what you’re looking for on popular travel sites, search engines are your friend, if those prove too overwhelming, reach out to bloggers and friends. I promise, there are plenty of interesting options the world over.
About the author: Gretchen Richter de Medeiros
Gretchen is Chief Planner, Content Manager and Writer at www.LearnLiveTravel.com. She has recently returned from an 11-month trip around the world with her husband, teen children and friend/teacher. Travel is her passion. Inspiring people to live out their unconventional dreams is her goal. Follow her on twitter @RDMgoRTW