The edu-vacation: Great places to travel and learn
Along with ecotourism and voluntourism, a growing trend in travel is edutourism, where visitors spend part of their trip engaged in a class to learn a new skill or hobby that is indicative of the place and/or culture.
Language study has long been popular while touring since picking up a language can be much easier when embedded in a foreign spot, but more travelers are expanding their learning experiences to include new sports, new skills and new trades to take back home.
With the best schools and experiences in mind, the members and editors of VirtualTourist.com (www.virtualtourist.com) have compiled the "Top 5 Spots to Learn Something New."
1. Cooking and wine tasting in the Napa Valley
California's Napa Valley is synonymous with exquisite food experiences, but you don't need to be a wine snob to visit and learn more. The Culinary Institute of America's St. Helena campus offers a huge variety of classes, from 2 1/2-hour one-day classes, such as "Grilling and BBQ Secrets" to two-, three-, four- and five-day boot camps for "Wine Lovers," a delicious wine and food pairing course.
For the foodies, it offers boot camps on specific cooking techniques, like pastry making or "Techniques of Healthy Cooking." Tuition does not include accommodations, but nearby Calistoga and Yountville are filled with a variety of housing options.
2. Scuba diving in the Red Sea
A popular athletic skill to learn while vacationing is scuba diving, since the best diving for beginners is often in a pool or a body of water with pool-like conditions. For open-water dives, many travelers head to the Caribbean or Hawaii, but VirtualTourist members strongly recommend the Red Sea at Taba, Egypt.
With its calm, clear and warm waters, Taba provides an outstanding underwater experience for rookies looking to do an introductory dive, dives for those who are not certified, and is also a wonderful location to become beginner certified. While below the surface, you can expect to see marine life such as sharks, manta rays, turtles, eels and more. A VirtualTourist member had such a great experience in Taba with Aquasport, a five-star PADI Dive Center with lessons and course materials in multiple languages, that she is headed back for more advanced training in a few weeks!
3. Canyoneering slot canyons in Zion National Park
Many travelers flock to Utah to experience its amazing natural settings including the rare formations in Arches National Park and the hoodoos, odd-shaped pillars of rock left standing from the forces of erosion, of Bryce Canyon National Park.
For adventurers looking for a back-country experience, VirtualTourist members recommend hiking slot canyons and canyoneering the "Secret Canyons" in Zion National Park. The Zion Adventure Co. in Springdale, Utah, prepares extremists for this intense sport of traveling through steep and narrow canyon slots, which can include wading into the river. The soaring walls, sandstone grottoes and springs are an unforgettable experience, but safe footwear as well as knowledge of flash floods and expected weather is a must.
4. Painting and art in Florence
As the epicenter of the Italian Renaissance, Florence is arguably one of the most influential cities for art and architecture with influential work around every corner of the compact city. What better way to celebrate the light and colors that inspired Michelangelo and Leonardo than by exploring your own creative talents in the city?
Accademia del Giglio offers intensive seminars in fine arts throughout the year, running from Monday to Friday during the week and consisting of 30 to 32 hours of lessons. One class is offered each week, and class subjects include fresco, sketchbook in Florence and landscape, charcoal, watercolor and more.
The school also offers a once-a-month weekend crash course, during which artists spend two intensive days in class. In 2013, this weekend crash course is offered en plein air (outside) during the summer months, and in the art studio from October through December. The schools' primary buildings are in the middle of Florence, allowing students to be totally immersed in the city's artistic influences.
5. Clean up your swing in Maui
If half of your couple is a golf fiend, a vacation to Kapalua on the Hawaiian island of Maui might be just the thing to take both partners' game to the next level. For those experienced golfers, a round at the Plantation Course is a thrill of a lifetime -- it's where the PGA Tour opens every season.
For those who haven't gotten into the swing of things yet, the Kapalua Golf Academy was rated one of the top 25 golf schools in America by Golf Magazine with classes ranging from a half-day golf-school special to a two- or three-day Academy Experience. The school is open both to registered guests of the resort and to nonregistered guests, though the price for nonregistered guests is more expensive.