First Timer’s Guide to Skill Focused Travel

You’ve probably never heard of Skill-Focused Travel or SFT.

Skill-Focused Travel is essentially about going on a quest. Instead of looking at your trip as a list of experiences to get through, I suggest using your travels as an opportunity for deeply rooted personal growth.

The Bucket List Mentality

After my trip through Asia, a friend asked to meet with me to discuss a similar trip she was planning. I saw her itinerary and shook my head. She had a mile long list of activities that couldn’t even be done on a six month tour, let alone the one month she was allotting herself.

Attempting every temple, tour, and restaurant on your trip will lead to exhaustion and depression. This is the bucket list mentality.

It’s where we try to tick off every point in the travel book. You’ll never get through the list because new items are added to it faster than they can be ticked off.

My friend was setting herself up to be an anxious mess. Even if she managed to accomplish half of her list, it would be so rushed that she wouldn’t appreciate it.

Instead of looking at travel as a list of experiences to get through, I suggested she use her journey as an opportunity for deeply rooted personal growth. By focusing on one activity throughout her trip, she would come back feeling more accomplished and would get to experience the places she was visiting on a much deeper level.

Skill Focused Travel is about focusing on one activity above all else for the duration of a trip.

Pick one activity as a primary focus. It could be anything you’ve ever wanted to learn or something you already know but want to practice more.

A few great examples of Skill Focused Travel trips include:

  • Learning to Surf in Bali
  • Getting SCUBA certified in Thailand
  • Mastering the guitar in Mexico
  • Taking a series of cooking classes in France

Some magic happens when you get away from the bucket list mentality and move towards SFT. You become the hero of your adventure.

Remember what I said at the beginning? Skill Focused Travel is about going on a quest. There’s you, the hero of your story. The skill you’re pursuing is your mission, and your trip becomes a journey to achieve your mission.

Squash your FOMO.

With the bucket list mentality, you’ll feel anxiety because pursuing one activity might mean missing out on a more valuable one. In Skill Focused Travel, there is nothing more important than the skill you’ve chosen.

When your personal growth is what matters most, you won’t fear missing out on anything else.

There will still be time for other things. You’ll still have opportunities to explore things along the way. Most skills only take up a few hours a day to pursue. You’re still free to try new restaurants or take a tour. The difference is, as long as you keep your focus on personal growth, these other activities are bonuses.

Planning a Skill Focused Trip

The Skill

What you focus on in SFT is more important than where you do it. Focus on planning out your one activity before choosing your destination. Your new skill could be anything.

The easiest way to get started is to make a list.

Think of things you’ve always wanted to learn or do. If the list is completely unrelated to who you are as a person that’s perfectly fine. What you pursue in SFT does not have to define you as a person.

Put the list you have in order of things you would regret never learning, from most to least. This is starting to sound like a bucket list, but that’s OK. We’re going to knock this list down.

After making your list, pick one item to focus your entire trip around. If you did this exercise correctly, it should be the first item on your list. If the first item on your list can’t be accomplished right now, look further down the list, but don’t be too quick to dismiss an item. Trust in your ability to try new things, even if you may not be spectacular at a skill right away. Try surfing, even if you ARE uncoordinated.

That said, I have seen people with “become an astronaut” at the top of their list. Spacewalks might be a little out of reach on your next trip.

Picture Your Training

Once you have a skill, it’s time to take it seriously.
Set a goal for yourself and make that goal as transparent as possible.

Let’s go back to our surfing example.

If that’s what you want to learn, how much time will you have to learn? How far do you think you can progress in that time? Figure out how you are going to learn. Will you take classes? You may want to set a practice schedule.

The goal is not mastery. It’s about the pursuit of something for personal growth.

You might not be able to rip like Kelly Slater after your trip, but you may get to where you can paddle out on your own and catch a decent wave.

Having a clear picture of what the last days of your SFT trip will look like can really help. There may be a special event you want to participate in, or you may just imagine what a perfect day playing with your new skill would be like.

Imagine waking up in the morning. You pull on your rash guard and grab your surfboard. On the way to the beach, you stop down by the market for a smoothie. You sip on the fresh fruit while waxing your board and analyzing the surf conditions. Then you paddle out and catch three perfect waves. Between each wave, you catch up with some surfer friends you’ve made during your trip.

The stronger your imagination, the stronger your motivation, and the easier the rest of your planning will be.

The Destination

You probably already have a destination in mind, but let me offer a few thoughts.

You don’t have to pick an obvious location.

If you wanted to learn French cooking techniques, France might sound like the obvious choice, but you could learn French cooking anywhere. In Luang Prabang, Laos there is a heavy French influence, for example.

Some activities will be location dependent.

Surfing usually needs to take place along the coast, but even surfing comes with plenty of unusual places where you can learn. You could try surfing in Alaska, or even around the Great Lakes.

Balance where you can progress both quickly and inexpensively.

While you can learn most skills anywhere in the world, there are places where learning will be easier. You can learn Spanish at a language school in Canada, but Spain is going to be a better environment. Picking the best location might not always be in your budget, though. Spain is beautiful, but would it be cheaper to learn Spanish in Mexico?

As far as auxiliary activities go, I don’t like to plan them in advance unless they are highly likely to sell out. I prefer to pick and choose what feels natural with the trip. Once you have the skill and the destination, you’re all set.


If you’ve traveled before, especially if you’ve taken longer trips, and you felt like something was missing, I encourage you to try SFT.

This concept was created for people who have felt anxiety on their travels due to a lack of direction. Skill Focused Travel is not meant to be a replacement for traditional tourism. It’s an alternative mentality for those who like the idea of going on a quest.

After quitting my job and traveling through Southeast Asia I became frustrated in my attempt to see everything. While looking for a way to re-frame my travels I decided to focus on personal development. Using what I call Skill Focused Travel, I am able to travel with less anxiety and gain a stronger sensation of personal growth from my journeys. Learn more at

See CJ James Gorrell's Articles

Filed under: featured, Learning, RTW Travel