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SUNDAY, MARCH 18, 2007
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Ready to learn something new on your travels?
Agents say educational trend has yet to hit Valley

By Danielle Komis
dkomis@decaturdaily.com · 340-2447

Almost every year, Jacqueline Holdbrooks escapes her everyday life and immerses herself in her yoga practice with a weeklong seminar at a relaxing beach locale. The Decatur mother of two always comes back with an increased knowledge of yoga, as well as an increased knowledge of herself.

While the popularity of major, learning-oriented travel trips such as Holdbrooks’ have increased nationally, the trend has yet to hit full force in the Tennessee Valley.

“We get very little requests for some strange reason,” said Roger McWhorter, owner of Elite Travel in Decatur. “But there is a world of available opportunities available...opportunities out there the average person doesn’t think about. You name it almost, it can be done.”

A survey of U.S. travelers taken last year found that 56 percent were interested in taking an educational trip, according to the Travel Industry Association. Nearly 22 percent of travelers said they were more interested now compared to five years ago in taking such a trip, the survey found.

Many tour operators now offer educational trips to exotic lands like Costa Rica or romantic destinations like northern Italy. In Costa Rica, travelers might be guided by an expert and learn about the rainforest’s fragile ecosystem, and in Italy, they might attend a cooking school to learn how to cook regional dishes.

“With travel programs, people want to mix what they love,” Holdbrooks said. “I wish more people would do it. It’s a great experience.”

However, learning-oriented travels to exotic lands often come with a hefty price tag. “National Geographic’s” March/April 9-day tour of Costa Rica costs $3,990 per person, excluding airfare.

A seven-day cooking trip to Tuscany offered through Chicago-based “The International Kitchen” will put you out $2,275 for a March trip.

While many people do not have that kind of cash (or plastic), smaller scale, less hyped educational trips are possible with a little imagination, travel agents said. Day trips to Memphis to learn about the birth of rock ’n’ roll or to Nashville to see the replica of the Greece’s Parthenon are educational and relatively inexpensive, said Colin Murphy, travel agent with Cook Travel in Athens.

“People don’t realize what we have in our own backyard,” he said.

These kind of short trips are usually especially good for children and seniors.

Richard Hall, owner of New Renaissance Academy in Athens, took some of his students to The Pyramid in Memphis a few years ago for the “Masters of Florence: Glory & Genius at the Court of the Medici” art exhibit. The exhibit featured works by Michelangelo, da Vinci, and Botticelli

“I though well, what a wonderful opportunity there,” he said. “We went there and decided to make an Italian day of it,”

Students watched biographies of Michelangelo and da Vinci on the bus ride to Memphis, and an art teacher from Athens State University accompanied the group for commentary.

After the exhibit, the group headed to Spaghetti Warehouse for an Italian meal to finish off the day.

“It was really a full day of immersion,” Hall said.

In the future, Hall hopes to organize a similar trip to Nashville’s replica of the Parthenon, and even have a picnic of Greek food on the grounds there. It’s a shame that some people aren’t interested in taking such learning-oriented trips, and would rather turn their mind off, rather than turn it on, he said.

“We just want to get ideas flowing and conversation flowing,” he said.

And you can’t go wrong by reaching out of your everyday humdrum and expanding your mind, travel enthusiasts said.

“Who doesn’t need to see different things?” Murphy said. “It’s kind of the spice of life.”

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