Learning vacations travel guide


What do salsa dancing, Scottish crafts and scuba diving have in common? They have all inspired vacations. Not just any vacations, though – those that help you learn new skills and discover new hobbies. Whether you fancy felt making or scuba diving training, tango or Thai cooking, there’s a vacation out there to get you started or help you improve. Its location will be intimately linked to the learning, too. Salsa in Cuba, anyone?
These vacations are a powerful and organic way to learn – way more fun than any Monday night course at your local college – but banish all notions of immersive boot camps. This is simply a chance to combine learning with travel. After all, if you want to brush up on your Spanish and get away, too, a vacation in Spain that teams walking with language lessons has to be one of the most rewarding ways to do it.
Find out more in our learning vacations travel guide.

What do learning vacations entail?

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Go on vacation – not back to school

First and foremost, learning vacations are vacations. They are not crammer courses or intensive study weeks; they are simply a break in a beautiful part of the world that includes some inspiring instruction, too. It could be in painting, photography or a language, or it might involve getting to grips with a new activity, such as scuba diving or cross country skiing. Whatever the subject, the location will be chosen to directly help and inform the learning.

Learning vacations tend to be organised on a small group basis, but tailor made trips do exist. Group sizes are often kept deliberately small – six or eight people, say – so each individual gets plenty of hands on help from the tutor. Some learning vacations will be biased towards adults, but others, such as learning to kayak, are suitable for families.

All learning vacations take into account that this is often your annual break, too, so it needs to be enjoyable and relaxing as well as educational. Free time is always included, so you can explore, eat and relax, just as you would on any vacation, and many trips combine multiple interests. Take language lessons, for example, and also enjoy guided walking, dancing, yoga or cooking.

Why combine travel and learning?

Everyone knows that learning a language in-country is the best, most immersive way to pick it up. The same goes for other skills. Taking salsa lessons in Cuba, for instance, is so much more thrilling and relevant than learning it back home. And where better to learn to cook Thai food than, well, Thailand? This is learning in situ and in context, with all the culture, sights and sounds that have fed into that art form or language playing out before you as you learn.

Where can I go on a learning vacation?

Learning vacations take place around the world, but each location is unique and will contribute to the learning experience. If you want to learn how to shoot a bow and arrow like one of Genghis Khan’s warriors, then where better to do so than Mongolia? And to really progress your Spanish, try a week in northern Spain, far from the English speaking tourist trail around the Costas. In between lessons you can explore the region and chat to local people, improving your language skills in the most hands on way possible.
If the hobby you’re interested in has no obvious geographical roots, such as painting or photography, a learning vacation will whisk you to a destination that perfectly supports this pastime. A photography vacation in Iceland, for instance, allows you to point your lens at dramatic icebergs and black lava beaches with expert guidance from tutors – pretty much the definition of an inspiring learning experience.

Can I travel alone?

Absolutely. Learning vacations are ideal for solo travelers and are very sociable. You will typically be in a small group, learning together, before enjoying downtime to explore alone or with your new found friends. Many of the pursuits that feature in learning trips, such as painting, are solo by nature, but a learning vacation is a chance to learn and develop your skills in the company of like minded folk, sharing tips and expertise with one another as you go.

Who will be teaching me?

Expert tuition is included in all educational vacations, but you’ll also do plenty of practical, on the ground learning. You might accompany friendly fishermen before being taught how to cook the catch of the day, or shear your own sheep before learning how to transform wool into felt. A language course might include guided city tours, day trips to nearby towns and villages (a sneaky way to get you to consolidate your new vocab without even realising it!) and trips to sample local food and drink. This is about immersion in the subject as much as learning the technicalities, after all. In addition, organised demonstrations by local craftspeople, cooks or artists and evenings out at dance clubs, concerts or restaurants bring your learning to life – and put it to the test.

How long is a learning vacation?

Weekend breaks are possible, but typically small group learning vacations in short haul destinations last a week and are center based. Breaks to more far flung countries tend to last longer, usually two weeks, and may move around a country so you see and soak up more.



Getting the most from a language learning vacation

Ana Rodríguez García, from our supplier Peak Me Languages, shares her advice on learning Spanish in Spain: “Be prepared to engage in a challenging experience, as it will be genuinely rewarding. Our classes are designed to be enjoyable, with lots of audiovisual materials and games, you’ll struggle not to have a bit of a laugh, while learning and getting to know about Spanish culture, too. Learning and practicing a language is the ultimate adventure – make sure you have a great time while you learn, it should always feel like a vacation, albeit one where you use your brain!”

Advice on where to study

Ana Rodríguez García, from our supplier Peak Me Languages: “I would recommend northern Spain as a great place to take a Spanish course, because you won’t find places full of English speakers; because you’ll get to practice a lot, as hardly any English is spoken by local people; and because you will discover a totally different side of Spain hidden to the ‘Costas’ traveler. Spring and autumn are great times to visit this region (June and September, the best months!). The weather is mild and the days long enough to enjoy your trip to the full, while avoiding any sort of touristy atmosphere even in the most popular spots.”

Choosing a photography vacation

Geraldine Westrupp, from of our supplier Wild Photography Vacations, has this advice: “Check out the people who’ll be working on the trips, have a look at their website thoroughly and see if you like the style of images that the tutors are putting out. Phone the people up and talk to them – ask them questions and really find out what you’re getting into before you pay your money. Make sure it is a proper, committed photography learning vacation because a lot of companies nowadays have jumped on the bandwagon of saying ‘photo tours’, and they’re just glorified bus trips where you hop out and take photographs. So, ask hard questions of what you learn and how it’s structured.”

Going solo on a photography vacation

Geraldine Westrupp, from of our supplier Wild Photography Vacations, has this advice: “The number of solo travelers of all ages embarking on photographic tours has skyrocketed in recent years. On a photographic trip solo travelers will quickly make new friends with a similar interest. They are generally very much appreciative that there are other solo travelers to share new experiences with.
In addition to learning some new photographic techniques, guests will be inspired by professional friendly tutors who will take them to stunning locations that would be difficult to find alone. Solo guests generally love adventure and want to have a fun time whilst stretching their comfort zones a little in the safety of a well organised small group vacation. Experienced guides allow solo photographers to enjoy sometimes wild locations in safety. Around 68% of Wild Photography Vacations guests are single with 40% of these being women. On a few selected trips we decided to waive the single supplement to allow single travelers to have a single room without paying extra. The adventurous nature of some photographic vacations tends to make for a great bonding experience with fellow travelers both solo and otherwise.”

Researching a scuba diving vacation

Lynne Gillis, from our supplier, Dive Urge, shares her tips on small group diving vacation companies: “Research how long they’ve been established. Diving is very popular, so how long a company has had success is a good indicator that they’re doing something right. Research their safety record, especially if you’re going for more advanced, more technical and deeper dives – how many incidents have there been? This is not to scare yourself, but just to make sure your operator is reputable. You get what you pay for, and it’s not just the cost of your experience, it’s the cost of your life because if not done properly, diving is a sport that could encounter risk.”



At Responsible Travel, we think the best people to advise our travelers are often... other travelers. They always return from our tours with packing tips, weather reports, ideas about what to do – and opinions about what not to.

We have selected some of the most useful learning vacation tips that our guests have provided over the years to help you make the very most of your vacation – and the space inside your suitcase.
“No need to bring too many fancy clothes, a backpack was fine to travel with. Bring lots of bug spray and the willingness to experience the local life of the Thai people.” – Fiona Clark on a small group cooking vacation in Thailand

“Be ready to let yourself go and enjoy being in a very different authentic existence for a while.” – Dave Redfern on a Genghis Khan warrior training in Mongolia vacation

“Try and spend at least a week to give you time to learn and then do a couple of fun dives – you won’t want to leave! And take A LOT of sunscreen!” – Kasey Tyler on a learn scuba diving in the Red Sea vacation

“Bring comfortable clothes and shoes – Santiago de Cuba is very hot and humid. Do carry some gifts along for the dance instructors/guide etc. Even items like nail polishes, deodorants, perfumes, cosmetics etc will be much appreciated.” – Ujwala Rao on a Cuba salsa dance vacation

“Practice a piece of music before you come if you wish to perform at the concert at the end. This allows you to focus on the music and new stuff. Performing in a palace was awesome (even for a beginner).” – Steve How on classical and jazz guitar course in Portugal

“Be prepared for a week full of inspiration, fun, friendliness, good food and wine and the chance to bounce ideas off each other. Some prior knowledge of how to paint with acrylics would help.” – Sue Chroston on a painting vacation in Andalucia

“Do come, especially if you like animals and warm, creative people. It’s not for the fastidious, because sheep and dye stuffs aren’t particularly clean. Bring insect repellant and itch cream.” – Celia Winkler on a traditional crafts vacation in Scotland
Photo credits: [Top box: Rawpixel.com] [Photography in Iceland: Giuseppe Milo] [Who will be teaching me: Gareth Williams] [Advice on where to study: Andrew Malone] [Going solo on a photography vacation: coniferconifer] [Researching a scuba diving vacation: Public Affairs Office Fort ] [Review 1 - Celia Winkler: Shimelle Laine] [Review 2 - Fiona Clark: roberta govoni]
Written by Joanna Simmons
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