I've always been big on vacations with a purpose, and no matter what your age, learning something new -- in a new environment -- can be a great vacation experience. Last week, a reader inquired about a column I did two years ago about a summer study-vacation program in Oxford, England, and I guess that means it's time for an update.
For years, seniors and not-yet-seniors have turned first to what is now Road Scholar (www.roadscholar.org, formerly Elderhostel and then briefly Exploritas) for all things related to learning vacations, and it remains the giant in its field. This year's list includes programs in 50 fields of interest, and venues range from simple college courses to luxury tours and cruises.
Most domestic study programs last one week, with costs in the range of $500 to $1,000 per person per week, including accommodations in college dormitories or budget hotels, many meals, instruction, guides and local transportation. These are among the best budget travel experiences you can find anywhere. On the other hand, overseas programs are generally longer and more expensive -- "train treks" across Australia or Siberia top $10,000 per person. In case you're a bit late getting started, the website lists some last-minute programs starting within a few weeks; it also shows some "low activity" options, if you're not as spry as you once were.
Road Scholar offers a lot of options for some interests. The "History and Culture" menu lists 248 courses, in many domestic and foreign venues. For food lovers, Road Scholar lists 50 different food and wine programs, from seafood on Oregon's coast to several choices in Tuscany. Birders can choose from 66 courses. Music appreciation offers 79 choices, ranging from the classics to the jazz greats.
But Road Scholar doesn't cover all the bases. Its current program seems deficient in at least two fields I would have thought to be among the most popular:
*Language: Immersion programs are undoubtedly the best way to gain or improve language capability, and what better place than in a country where it's the local language? I'm therefore surprised that Road Scholar lists only five language courses -- French in Quebec, Montreal or France, and Spanish in New Mexico or Costa Rica.
*Computers and personal electronics: If I were looking for an interesting learning vacation, I'd gravitate toward learning more about the electronic world in which we all live. Road Scholar doesn't show any, and surprisingly, very few other systems do, either.
Fortunately, Road Scholar isn't your only gateway to a learning vacation:
*Transitions Abroad's educational travel and learning vacations abroad section (www.transitionsabroad.com/listings/study/educational-travel) provides links to lots of vacation programs. The emphasis is on language, but listings include many other art, cooking and cultural programs.
*Language Course Finder (www.language-learning.net) lists "10,000 plus" language schools.
But you still don't do very well on computers and personal electronics. After spending some serious Google time, about the only adult program I could find was for a week in Oslo (in English, www.hioa.no/Studier/Summer?gclid=; no charge for the course but $1,070 for student accommodations. Lots of computer camps for kids, but hardly anything for adults -- strange.
Of course, you can always do it yourself: Check with local universities or community colleges for summer programs that might be available in your area. Or do the same for any area you would like to visit for a week or two.
Planning a vacation/study trip isn't complicated. Start by zeroing in on interests and favorite activities you would like to study or on the places where you would 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 program, 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.