A press release touting one-week summer programs at Oxford reminded me that it's not too early to start planning for a summer study vacation. Certainly, you can find plenty of vacation/study programs here in the United States, and prices are often attractive. But the allure of Oxford reminds you of the joys of overseas programs.

Although I've never done a vacation/study program, my wife has done several short summer stints in Oxford -- with a doctorate to show for them -- and I know how much she enjoyed the experiences. If you've ever seen the great "Inspector Morse" and "Sergeant Lewis" TV mysteries, you know vicariously what a fascinating place Oxford can be. Given the immense pull, I was a bit surprised that the upcoming summer program isn't as attractive as it might be, with a heavy bias toward all things British, but many people would find something to like. Cost is another obstacle, at about $1,750 per person for a week, including tuition, accommodations and most meals.

For years, seniors have turned first to Elderhostel for vacation study for the 50-plus set. (That esteemed organization can't seem to zero in on the right name -- it started as Elderhostel, briefly went to "Exploritas," and has now settled on "Road Scholar," but with "Elderhostel" still there, too. Go figure.) By whatever name, it's the 800-pound gorilla in the vacation/study business. The current offerings range from Adventure Afloat and American Studies to Train Treks and World Studies, with dozens in between them.

Typically, domestic programs run about a week and cost $500 to $1,000 per person per week, including accommodations in college dormitories or budget hotels, many meals, instruction, guides and local transportation. Overseas programs are generally longer and more expensive -- Great Australian Train Treks lasts 25 nights and starts at about $11,000 per person.

Programs run all year, not just the summer. And Elderhostel adds and deletes programs every year. This year, language options are down to just two -- French and Spanish -- with both U.S. and overseas courses. And Elderhostel still doesn't offer any courses in computers and technology, to my way of thinking a significant shortcoming.

Of course, Elderhostel isn't alone -- many tour operators, universities, charities and other groups arrange all sorts of programs. Over the years, I've always believed that language courses represent a terrific opportunity for vacation/study, and many people I know have done French or Italian cooking courses here in the United States and in France or Italy. Among the other good sources of information (and for vacation/study for travelers of any age):

*Language Course Finder ( links to more than 10,000 language schools teaching 88 languages in 115 countries. It's hard to figure you wouldn't find something of interest -- an immersion French program in Provence, for example, looks enticing.

*Transitions Abroad ( lists a large number of choices in its "Educational Travel" section. If Oxford is too high-toned for your tastes, try Cambridge, or learn to play the Irish fiddle in Kerry. For links to other resources, visit Transitions Abroad's "key websites" pages.

Planning a vacation/study trip isn't a complicated process. Start by zeroing in on the interests, hobbies or favorite activities you'd like to study. Also zero in on the places where you'd like to do your vacation/study -- you'll find opportunities from next door to the next continent.

From that point, it's a simple matter to locate an appropriate school or tour option. Start with the Internet sites, or if you prefer, contact a good travel agent. No matter how or where you arrange it, a vacation/study program can be a lot more rewarding than schlepping around somewhere on a tour bus.