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Learning travel guide

The sun is dipping over the desert dunes, setting them aflame. A hubbub of storytellers and tea-sellers is amassing in the square. A line of tangerine-robed monks is snaking through the streets of the lazy riverside town. Travel is full of moments of beauty, atmosphere and inspiration – if only you knew how to capture them... Or how many times have you been in the situation where that friendly local person was asking you about your life back home and you couldn’t respond because you didn’t know the language?

There’s a massive number of tour operators and trips out there offering to improve everything from your photography, writing, painting and language skills to your yoga and Ayurvedic massage skills while enjoying a jolly good trip, with likeminded people, at the same time.

Courses vary. Some might involve a day or two of casual tuition as part of a more general holiday experience. Others might be weekend or weeklong residential courses, with structured ‘lessons’ and set projects. All will be more inspiring than learning your chosen skill at your local community centre. How much more motivational to practice sentence structure or depth-of-field settings when Tibetan monks or hunting lions are your subjects?

Before booking any course, ask lots of questions. If you’re a novice, is the trip suitable for beginners? Is it OK that you don’t know your aperture from your exposure? Or are you expected to own an SLR camera and know how to work the buttons? Likewise, if you already have a fair bit of the relevant language, will the course be too basic?

Also ask: how big is the group, and what is the student/teacher ratio? Big groups might lead to lower quality tuition; if the group is too small it may be intimidating or less sociable. A key part of learning holidays is bonding with and learning from your fellow ‘travelling students’. Indeed, these trips are a great option for solo travellers.

Consider what you want to get out of the course, too. Is it just personal enjoyment? The ability to take better snaps or paint a better landscape for the dining-room wall? Or are you hoping to make a move into the professional arena? If it’s the latter, what can the course offer to aid your ambitions? For instance, the Wanderlust On Assignment trips may result in your work being published in the magazine – a good addition to your CV. Ask your tour operator what previous students have achieved.

Adding a ‘study’ element to a trip can add to your travel experience. As you scour the city looking for unusual photographic angles, as you spend hours at your easel perfecting your African watercolour, or as you linger in a street café mulling how you’d write the scene, you are truly absorbing your surroundings. Knowing you are there to learn or to create something – article, photo, painting – forces you to look deeper, focus on the detail, and ultimately get more out of your destination. A food or wine tasting course is a great example of this, learning how to create dishes from your favourite cuisine that you can then repeat when back home.

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