By the fifth day of my nine-day pastel painting workshop in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, I was bushed. I decided to skip the class trip to a ranch and instead hung around town with my husband…but over the previous four days, I’d lugged all my gear out into the field twice, painted two churches, sat through three demos by pastel master Richard McKinley, and stuck to a schedule that involved being ready for breakfast at 8 am.
After a morning shopping in the mercado, I dropped into a two-hour siesta.Then we wandered in search of afternoon coffee. By the next day, I was ready to rejoin the group and paint happily until it was time to leave.
Work at your play
An avocation vacation — one in which you’re learning or perfecting a skill — is a combination of work and play. For those of us for whom a week at the beach feels like a gulag stay, an avocation vacation may make good sense. You can enjoy the delights of an unfamiliar place, but work on that hobby you’ve loved since childhood or the second career you’ve taken up in retirement. There are ready companions. And issues with currency, transportation or where to eat can be mediated by an experienced guide.
The variety of specialty work-play vacations may astound you. A survey of my 1,500 closest Facebook friends yielded a couture camp, a kite-making weekend, songwriting camp — and a week spent helping to breed endangered species at a wildlife park. Not to mention the classics: art trips, music camps, and cooking vacations.
One person’s experience: Cooking
Cooking classes on vacation are hugely popular: a quick Google search turns up more than 35 million hits! No wonder; they offer all the fun of travel, and cooking – and someone else cleans up.
Daniel Rosenblum and his wife Tamima Friedman, of Montclair NJ, spent a week in 2016 with Tuscookany, a cooking adventure based in a Tuscan villa. The couple had until 3 p.m. each day to themselves, and used the time exploring the region. They would return to a vigorous four hours preparing food under the tutelage of a chef, followed by an 8 pm dinner in open air.
Highlights included a visit by a truffle-sniffing dog, a trip to an olive vineyard, and cooking pizza over a fire. But the downtime was also grand. “It was just fun to be driving around in the middle of nowhere,” says Rosenblum. “Verdant rolling hills, aquamarine skies, very beautiful fields.”
One of the program’s strengths, Rosenblum says, also turned out to be its downfall: an abundance of excellent food, wine and spirits “just lying around.” Before the week was through, they’d had more than enough food. Enough already!
A musical vacation experience
For Meg Cramer, a retired doctor in Athens, Georgia, no August is complete without a trip to the ArtsAhimsa Chamber Music Festival, which takes place one week a year in “one of those wonderful Berkshire cottages” in Lenox, Mass. For committed musicians only, people have seven days to meet, form ensembles, rehearse, and then perform – there’s no time for recreation or driving around, unless you come early or stay late. But Cramer “adores chamber music” and there’s nowhere she’d rather be in mid-August. “It’s a very gentle atmosphere, but we all expect high things of ourselves,” she says.
Want an avocation vacation?
— Try an Internet Search: Most people find their avocation vacations online. Though In my case, I happened to spy an ad for Richard McKinley’s San Miguel adventure in Pastel Journal. McKinley’s reputation was my guarantee and, in the case of art trips, many are organized around a specific artist who you may know personally. If you’re searching on the internet, check out reviews and, if possible, find someone who’s been.
— Decide how much you want to do: Do you really want to spend all your vacation hard at work? If you adore art, cooking, chamber music, couture dressmaking – go for it…but check with the organizer to see if you can take downtime if you need it.
— Do you want to bring a spouse or friend? Most programs welcome a non-participating partner. Check out the prices to see whether it’s worth it, and most of all check with your partner to see if they’ll mind tagging along and being on their own a lot while you create.