Imagine learning about the secret life of whales, or digging up dinosaur bones, or studying a new language in a foreign country. Perhaps you want to discover the best ways to invest money. How about helping to band birds at a nature preserve?
You could do any of these interesting pursuits while enjoying your vacation, for this new lifestyle trend reflects the growing desire for vacationers to enrich their leisure time.
In fact, there has been a proliferation of companies catering to the traveler who wants to broaden his appreciation of the world. Men and women today enjoy better health, have more energy, more money and more leisure time than previous generations … and they like to travel.
While just several years ago, there were only a few organizations that featured "learn as you travel" vacations, today the number is constantly increasing, with groups offering everything from Antarctica expeditions to helihiking in the Rockies to cooking classes in France.
Elderhostel is one of the earliest companies to offer a variety of learning experiences; its success has spawned literally hundreds of organizations seeking to service this niche (1-877-426-8056). And for years, the Smithsonian Institution has featured Odyssey Tours with trips and seminars all over the world (202-633-1000).
Recently, the University of New Hampshire created Familyhostel, for children, parents and/or grandparents to travel to a foreign country and learn together about the host country's history and culture. The university, in cooperation with other schools and institutions, also offers Interhostel, an international educational travel experience for active adults 50 years of age and older (1-800-733-9753).
Great Books Foundation features seminars discussing classic and contemporary literature (1-800-222-5870). A Massachusetts company, Ciclismo Classico, offers a "Pedal and Parla Italiano" - combining Italian language lessons, cycling and cultural immersion in Italy (1-800-866-7314).
Here's a sampling of other opportunities that can add a wonderful dimension to your vacation experience. And if it isn't enough, maybe you just need some lessons on how to relax on the open sea (Premier Sailing School, at the Tides Inn, in Irvington, Va.; 1-800-TIDES-IN):
• Cheese-and-Wine Seminar, Roger Hotel, New York City. If, like many of us, you love cheese but don't really know the difference between Appenzellar and Brie, the Roger Hotel presents a cheese- and wine-tasting seminar once a month - with emphasis on distinctive cheeses.
An expert fromager from Artisanal Premium Cheese explains the complexities of a variety of cheeses and how each should be paired with a suitable wine. Guests can participate in rating the pairings on a "Cheese & Wine Score Sheet."
The next two events will take place on Nov. 1 and Dec. 6, from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. (Call 212-448-7000.)
• Civil War Adventure Camp, Petersburg, Va. This new participatory experience allows adults and children to choose being a Union or Confederate soldier, drill in the way soldiers fought, eat the food they ate and understand the hardships soldiers endured.
History becomes reality as a unique hands-on learning opportunity takes place on land where two actual battles were fought during the Civil War. The two-day program is geared to the age and interest level of each camp.
The camp was designed and is operated by Pamplin Historical Park & the National Museum of the Civil War Soldier. It's located near Petersburg, Va., minutes off Interstates 95 and 85.
Remaining two-day events in 2005 for individuals, families and small groups are scheduled for Aug. 20, Sept. 3, Oct. 1 and Oct. 29. (Call 1-877-PAMPLIN.)
• Artists' Workshop, the Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu, Canada. In a glorious setting, two programs are offered at this majestic resort nestled between sea and mountains. In an oasis of tranquility, "Mona Lisa Package" guests - after settling in the spacious hostelry in the Laurentian Mountains - are transported to the workshop of a world renowned local artist, take a half-day painting class, receive a personalized art book and then enjoy a choice of spa treatments. Added bonus for some: Just steps from the resort is a casino. (Call 418-665-3703.)
• Grizzly-Bear Workshop, Pine Butte Guest Ranch, Choteau, Mont. The Nature Conservancy at this Rocky Mountain Front locale offers a host of workshops, daily field trips, lectures and programs that expose participants to some of the most magnificent wildlands left in the United States.
The "Mountain Grizzly-Bear Natural History Workshop" (now through Oct. 1) includes hikes - some in mountainous terrain - at a pace to accommodate individual and group needs.
Some of the other tours and workshops are "Birds of the Rockies and Prairies" and "Montana Wildflowers: A Naturalist Tour of the Rockies."
There are two trips on horseback each day to sites in the surrounding high country. Along the way, guests can watch beaver swim through a pond or discover ancient sea fossils on a mountain peak. (Call 406-466-2158.)
• Tee-Up Golf Specials, Stoweflake Resort, Stowe, Vt. In bucolic New England, this full service resort has partnered with the Vermont Golf Academy (formerly Stowe Golf School) to offer two special golf programs. The two-day program includes eight hours of instruction (four hours each day); video analysis, with a tape to take home; and instruction on putting, full swing, short games and sand play. (There is club-fitting to insure the correct equipment.) Also included are 18 holes of golf at Stowe Country Club.
The second program is one day, and includes three hours of instruction in the morning, covering the basic fundamentals of golf, and a two-hour playing lesson on the course in the afternoon. (Call 802-254-7355.)