One of the perks of round-the-world travel is that you have more time to stop, absorb the atmosphere of a place and even put your efforts towards learning something new. There are many classes available to travelers all over the world on a wide range of subjects from technical to creative. Many of these last only a few hours or a day, catering to those who want to take a basic lesson or just try their hand at a new skill. But on a longer-term trip, you can do more than take an introductory lesson. With a week - or two, or three, or more! – you can challenge your mind, body, or spirit in a way you can’t when you’re on more limited time.
Everyone comes back from a trip with great stories and pictures, but how great would it be to have a new talent or expertise as a souvenir from your travels? Long after your tan has faded, your new Thai cooking skills or photography know-how will be enriching your life for years to come.
If you’re looking to hone a new skill while on a longer trip, check out some of these comprehensive courses to take around the world.
Anyone who has ever seen the new Karate Kid (or, like any kung fu movie ever) knows the appeal of learning Chinese martial arts. Kung Fu is about more than just kicking butt though, it’s a deeply historical art with deep ties to Chinese philosophy, mythology and religion. Practitioners learn about chinese culture and meditation alongside basics, stances and weapon training.
The most epic place to learn the art of kung fu is definitely the Wudang Mountains in Central China. Wudang is the birthplace of Daoist martial arts and is considered one of the holiest mountain range in all of China.
Recommended: The Wudang Kung Fu Academy offers month-long courses (starting at about $1100 US including accommodation and two meals per day) and shorter stay lessons in a stone palace built in the 15th century. It doesn’t get much more authentic than that.
Most travelers are amateur photographers, but just think of how much your snapshot skills could benefit from a tutorial by experts. There are many things to consider like composition, light balance and aspect ratio which take ages of practice to master. With a little instruction you could vastly improve your shots, making your memories even more vibrant and accessible.
There are many breathtaking areas around the world to hone your photo skills. Some companies run vacations catered specifically to photography, but you can also search for a course wherever you happen to be traveling.
Recommended: As part of the High Altitude Festival in Rossinière, Switzerland, there’s a five day intensive photography workshop with an expert in the field. The course is limited to 10 students, ensuring hands-on instruction, and includes room and board for 2000 Swiss Francs (about $2300 US; the workshop only without room and board is 1200 CHF).
Not just a trendy form of exercise, in many parts of the world yoga is a serious matter. It combines elements of physicality and spirituality to help practitioners reach a state of mental clarity. With practice, yoga can help you achieve greater fitness and flexibility, relieve stress and increased emotional well-being. To really master the skills of yoga though you’ll need more than an hour long fitness class or exercise tape.
The type of course you seek out will depend on your skill and intensity level but there are a number of great yoga retreats around the world.
Recommended: What better place to learn though then India, where yoga began? The Ashiyana retreat in Goa, India offers a variety of retreats, courses and more informal yoga holidays. Week-long retreats start at 245 Euros, including room and board; month-long yoga teacher training courses are also available.
>> Find some great yoga retreats in Latin America
Let’s face it: there isn’t much cooler than surfers. With their golden tans, their awesome boards and their wave-taming abilities they are just the epitome of beach chic. Plus, surfing is a strenuous workout that tones your entire body. It’s not an easy skill to master, but there are few things more satisfying than catching a good wave.
The Australians are the worlds surfing champions, so head down under to learn from the experts. There are places up and down both coasts where novice surfers are welcomed and encouraged.
Recommendation: Agnes Water in Northern Queensland is famous for it’s surf schools. Try Reef to Beach Surf School, the most popular one in town. Three-hours of group instruction is $17 per day (room and board not available) with private lessons and board rentals also available.
>> Check out other excellent places to learn to surf
Back in the day, young men on the Grand Tour of Europe would study such subjects as architecture, philosophy and art. Nowadays you can follow in their footsteps and use your time abroad to study painting. Even if you don’t have a natural talent for are, perhaps your beautiful and exotic settings will inspire you. There are many places you could study painting, but Italy may have inspired more painters than any other country in history. There are multiple places around the country where you can get in touch with your inner Renaissance artist.
Recommendation: Through the Accademia Europea di Firenze you can take classes in sketching, watercolors and oil painting. Beginner, intermediate and advance courses include ten lessons and cost 640 Euros. The intensive Italian + Art program combines language and art studies in courses of 2 to 8 weeks, ranging fro 640 to 3650 Euros. Longer courses are also available.
>> Discover the famous paintings every traveler should see
One of the best parts of traveling the world is the endless variety of delicious food. It doesn’t have to end there though, by taking a cooking course you can obtain the skills to make you favorite foreign dishes anytime you want.
Popular courses include Thai, Mexican and Italian cooking. It was hard to pick just one cuisine to recommend but the most classic idea would be to learn the world-renowned skills of French cooking. After all, it worked for Julia Child.
Recommendation: The International Kitchen offers a variety of classes all over the world, including several week-long courses in Paris, Burgundy and Bordeaux. A six-day Burgundy cooking classes costs $2845 and includes four classes, all meals and accommodations.
>> Read more about the benefits of taking a cooking class on your trip
Okay, it may not be the most practical skill when you get back home, but glass blowing is a unique practice with beautiful results. Artists use extreme heat to turn sand and colors into beautiful glass bowls and objects.
The Roman Empire pioneered the technique of glassblowing and even today artisans in Northern Italy are famous for their talents. There are courses available in England as well.
Recommendation: Vetraio Anch’io in the Dolomite Mountains offers courses on several different glassmaking techniques from glassblowing to stained glass creation. Courses range from 3-5 days with 5-6 hours of instruction each day; prices start at 350 Euros for the course only.
The well known secret of the ocean is that most of the most interesting and beautiful activity is beneath the surface. Scuba diving gives you a chance to explore these hidden corners of the ocean in a way the swimmers and snorkelers can never hope to reach.
South East Asia and Central America are probably the most well known spots for inexpensive dive lessons and Thailand is one of the most beautiful and cheap places to get your certification. A favorite spot is the island of Ko Tao, which has very clear water and a plethora of marine life.
Recommendation: There are many dive shops on Koh Tao but Scuba Junction has won awards for it’s safety and service. A three-day open water certification starts at around $250 US. Advanced divers can take a 4-6 week Dive Control Specialist course or Divemaster certification course that includes unlimited diving for around $800 US. Accommodation at the onsite resort is extra, but starts at under $5 US on course nights.
>> Find other lesser-known places to dive
Have you heard of Vipassana? It’s an ancient course of serious meditation and austere living, meant to lead to self-observation via intense introspection. A course will usually consist of 10 days of complete silence, vegetarian diet and meditation. It’s not for the faint of heart, but people who complete the course report a greater feeling of peace and well-being.
There are Vipassana courses offered many places around Asia as well as in the United States. India is one of the leaders in Buddhist spirituality which makes it a perfect place to attend a Vipassana retreat.
Recommendation: The Vipassana International Academy in Igatpuri, India offers 10 day courses for men and women (separately, of course). The courses are free and run by volunteers, but students must complete an application for acceptance.
Tango is a dance that is so historically and culturally engrained in Argentine and Uruguayan culture that it has been recognized by UNESCO. Tango takes its influences from European and Latin cultures with complex footwork and an intimate embrace. It’s elegant and sensual and a great workout.
Recommendation: The DNI Tango School in Buenos Aires offers daily tango lessons as well as yoga and other dances. They are divided into beginner, intermediate and advanced. Private and group lessons are available, priced per class at $25AR (about $5 US) with discounts for every ten classes.
>> Read about more famous dances around the world
Have you ever dreamed of being Indiana Jones, or maybe just Howard Carter? It takes many years of school to become an actual archeologist, but if you find the right program you can pretend for a couple of weeks. There are several different digs all around the world that offer programs for amateurs scholars to assist on a dig and maybe even uncover an artifact or two.
Recommendation: Everyone is curious about learning more of the mysterious Mayan civilization, and you can help at this dig site in Belize via the Archaeological Institute of America. Two week classes start at $1750 (including room, board and transport). College students pay $1500 for two weeks and may receive academic credit.
>> Explore Roman ruins outside of Italy
Read more about learning while you travel:
- Budget Language Study- 5 Alternative Locations
- How to Take Your Yoga Practice on Your Travels
- Guide to Taking Classes on Your RTW Trip
Every week, on “Round the World Wednesday” we share tips for planning, budgeting and selecting a route, plus advice on where to go and what to see and do all around the world.