Think big: 14 incredible learning vacations

There’s more to traveling than backseat sightseeing. For the restless travelers, there’s vocational or “learning vacations”. Unlike voluntourism, which see you donate your time for free to help a cause, the concept of learning vacations enables you to combine downtime with learning a brand new skill, a vocation of constant curiosity, or open up a new road for that potential dream job you’ve always wanted.

From flower arranging in Japan, to digging up dinosaur bones in Canada, and simulated space mission in the USA, we’ve picked our top 14 learning vacations. Learn something new, and open your world!

Truffle hunting – Istria, Croatia

Go truffle hunting in beautiful Istria

Among the finest delicacies in the world, truffles are the culinary equivalent of gold – and just as complicated to source. Head to Croatia’s picturesque region of Istria and meet the Karlic family, known locally as truffle hunting pioneers. Immerse yourself in truffle history and culture before heading out on a truffle hunt in the Motovun forest. You’ll follow behind specially trained hunting dogs as they sniff out the good stuff, then head back for a feast where truffles feature heavily. Note that black truffles can be found all year round, but that the elusive (and valuable) white truffle appears only in September and October.

Find a flight to nearby Pula

Space Camp – Huntsville, AL, USA

Unleash your inner child with a visit to the Space Camp in Alabama, US

Who wouldn’t love to visit outer space? The moon is out of reach for most, but for the rest there’s Space Camp™ [$549] in Huntsville, Alabama. It’s a weekend-long experience that gives trainees hands-on astronaut mission experience, including use of the Multi-Axis trainer, a protective heat shield design project and an extended-duration simulation mission. Plus you’ll get to hear stories from real-life astronauts and engineers involved in NASA missions. There are also kid-friendly options for youngsters.

Find a flight to nearby Birmingham

Yoga teacher training – Goa, India

Turn your passion into a living by becoming a certified yoga teacher. Go back to the source of this ancient practice with a teacher training course at Himalaya Yoga Valley on India’s western coastline.

Alongside developing the art of teaching, trainees will also gain a comprehensive understanding of yoga postures (asanas), philosophy, mantras, chakras (energy centers), and meditation. With locations in both Goa and Dharamsala, you will have plenty of opportunity to explore the country after your one month long-certification. For experienced teachers, the center also offers advanced 500-hour certifications. Prices start around $1,740, which includes breakfast, tuition, uniforms and all materials.

Dinosaur digging – Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Get prehistoric on this incredible learning vacation

Massive legends of the prehistoric past, dinosaurs still capture the attention of the young and old. Canada’s Dinosaur Provincial Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site home to the remains of some 58 dinosaur species and 500 excavated specimens.

In addition to fossil-hunting trails, there are also guided tours of the preserve [CAD $18/USD $14]. You can also sign up for a four-day all-inclusive palaeontological adventure [CAD $1495/USD $1170] helmed by a team of scientists. Gear up to explore quarries, tour a dinosaur egg site and see how ammonite shells are excavated. All proceeds support dinosaur research.

Find a cheap flight to Calgary

Surfing – Ericeira, Portugal

Surf's up! Learn how to ride the wave like a pro in Portugal this summer

If you’ve always wanted to learn to hang ten, do it at the world’s foremost surfing spot. Just 35 km north of Lisbon, Portugal’s picturesque Ericeira is Europe’s only dedicated World Surfing Reserve, a program from the Save the Waves organization, dedicated to preserving environmental, cultural and economic value surfing sites.

Stunning reef and beach breaks are bountiful, with swells ranging from small to massive – suiting beginners through to pros. Surfing classes are offered by experienced surfers who have trained in Europe or Australia, and cover everything from paddling to finding waves. Lesson fees [€30/$35] cover two hours of instruction plus equipment rental; accommodation is available at the nearby Surf Camp.

Find a flight to nearby Lisbon

Chocolate making classes – Brussels, Belgium

Indulge your sweet tooth with a chocolate-making class in Brussels, the world’s chocolate capital. Every Saturday, upmarket chocolatier Zaabar hosts an hour-long chocolate workshop [€25/$29] where participants try their hand at making truffles, mendiants – confections dotted with nuts and dried fruits – and spiced chocolate bars. Under the watchful eye of the company’s chocolate maker, you’ll learn chocolate tempering and decorating. You’ll also get to take your creations home for later enjoyment.

Find a cheap flight to Brussels

Archaeological digs – Sherwood Forest, Nottinghamshire, UK

Channel your inner archaeologist in Sherwood Forest

Rich with Roman ruins, Viking remnants and Anglo Saxon remains, the UK is an incredible setting for history buffs. The Council for British Archaeology has plenty of projects on the go, and volunteers are welcome. Fieldwalk through Mesolithic Deeside, or participate in Roman road research and excavations [£70/$93]. There’s also a week-long excavation training program [£250/$334] in the heart of Sherwood Forest where participants learn excavation techniques along with pertinent skills like pottery identification, site photography, find processing and basic geology. You’ll dig it.

Find a flight to nearby Sheffield

Fashion “Cool Hunting” – Paris, France

Have a passion for fashion? Spot the latest trends at the "Cool Hunting" course in the French capital

Home to Chanel, Pierre Cardin, Dior, Yves Saint Laurent and more, there are few places more fashion-forward than Paris. Trend-setters can put their most fashionable foot forward with the Cool Hunting course [€1,500/$1,678] offered by IFA Paris. The two-week intensive course emphasizes trend forecasting and field trips, and gives students the opportunity to “launch” an international brand in Paris. You’ll choose a store location, plan a launch event and even design a capsule collection with a mood board, fabrics and silhouettes. What better way to justify a shopping trip to Paris?

Find a flight to Paris

Mixology training – London, UK

Give your bartending skills an upgrade with a 2-day mixology course from the European Bartender School. You’ll learn about the history of mixed drinks, get insight into cocktail fashions through the ages, brush up on drink categories and families, and get everything you need to know about the mixing techniques and homemade ingredients that will give your drinks some extra fizz. Prices start at about $430, with options to add accommodation if desired. EBS has locations around the world – so you can sign up for London, Helsinki or even Sydney. Once you’ve trained, be sure to see the masters at work at the best cocktails bars in London.

Find a flight to London

Glassworking – Venice, Italy

Take a learning holiday to the next level with a glasswork course

Ever looked wistfully at a fancy Renaissance chandelier or multi-colored glass sculpture, wishing you had the skills to produce something so extravagant? Well, that level of detail takes years to master, but you can start with the basics of glassworking at the Abate Zanetti School of Glass, on the famed Venetian island of Murano. Weekend courses cover lampworking [€550/$649], where you’ll create vibrant sculptures, figurines and jewelry; and furnace-based glassworking [€600/$708], where you’ll make your own striking glass or bowl. Kids can also try a three-hour educational lab for €20 [$21] per pupil.

Find a cheap flight to Venice

Flower arranging – Tokyo, Japan

The Japanese art of Ikebana is flower arrangement taken to the next level. Elegant and simple, it brings us closer to nature – with beautiful results. Tokyo’s Ohara school offers day-long English-language Ikebana classes [4,000 Yen/$36], for students of all levels.

You’ll learn the ikebana rules around shape, form and color, and how these tie into natural phenomena such as the sun, moon, earth and space. From there you’ll craft your own ikebana masterpiece. Floral materials, vessels and anything else you’ll need are provided.

Once you’ve satisfied your greenthumb, get down with the capital of cool and our complete city guide to Tokyo.

Find a flight to Tokyo

Whiskey training – Edinburgh, Scotland

Bottoms up!

One of Scotland’s best-known exports, Scotch whiskey is an undertaking that requires plenty of precision and ageing time. If a shot of the good stuff is your drink of choice, try a class at the Scotch Whiskey Training School. The cover price of $266 will net you a day-long course taking you through whiskey history, tasting, selling and serving – resulting in a Certificate of Expertise. You’ll also blend your own whiskey and take home a bottle as a souvenir. Lunch, coffee and pours of top local malts are included.

If you have an extended trip, be sure to take our epic road trip through Scotland.

Find a cheap flight to Edinburgh

Forging and black-smithing – Gränsfors, Sweden

The age-old art of black-smithing is still alive in the tiny village of Gränsfors in east central Sweden. Here you can learn to craft tools, axes and knives using a blacksmith’s hammer and forge.

You’ll want to begin with a 5-day foundation class [9200 SEK/$1,090], where you’ll learn how to light the forge and get the hang of the methods and holds used in forging. You’ll forge simple tools like hooks, hinges and handles; the intermediate classes take you into more specialized designs. Once you’ve made your tools, why not build a house? Log-building classes [10,000 SEK/$1185] are held at the same school.

Find a flight to nearby Stockholm

Wine tasting – Buenos Aires, Argentina

Get one step closer to being a connoisseur with Mente Argentina’s Wine Programme

With its long and revered viticultural history, Argentina has long been on the map for its wine. Expand your palate with Mente Argentina’s Wine Program [$1,165], where you’ll learn about the region’s history, taste and pair dozens of wines, and travel to the famous wine region of Mendoza. Split between theory and tasting, the course aims to turn you into the wine expert you’ve always wanted to be. All meals and accommodation are included – and you’ll even get to dance some Argentinian tango!

Find a cheap flight to Buenos Aires