Edited by: Jessica Merritt
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Kids and families look forward to summer vacations with ample time to reconnect and disconnect from school strains. But what if you could keep learning on vacation?
Families of all sizes and age groups can benefit from an educational vacation this summer or any time they can get away. This trip could be an extended art history tour through Italy or a conservation trip to Costa Rica. The point isn’t to exhaust yourself in place of a vacation, but you also won’t be lounging at an all-inclusive resort.
With an educational vacation, your kids will learn unconventionally while exploring new parts of the world. It’s a win-win.
Here are 24 of the best educational vacations for kids this summer and beyond.
What Is an Educational Vacation?
Educational travel is all about experiences. Yes, you might carry a notebook and pen to take notes while on an archeological dig, but you’ll also get your hands dirty like a professional.
An educational vacation can teach you something specific, like immersing yourself in a Guatemalan community to learn Spanish or learning to teach yoga in India. A study abroad program could be considered an educational vacation if you combine it with sightseeing and downtime.
Tour companies offer educational vacations, too. Companies such as National Geographic and Smithsonian curate tours for travelers of all ages. These usually come at a relatively steep price point but what you get for your money is invaluable.Hot Tip:
Intrepid Travel is another great option for an educational vacation for your family. It has earned the distinction of being a B Corp company because of its exceptional work within the communities that it serves. It has tours worldwide at varying price points and can cater to families.
Types of Educational Vacations
Before going into specific educational vacations to take with your family this summer, it’s important to lay out what types of educational vacations you might find.
Active educational vacations are for families that love spending time outdoors or are particularly active. Instead of taking the train to Machu Picchu, you and your family may elect to take a days-long hike to visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site. You could also join a tour to learn about ecotourism, wildlife ranching, and more while on safari in Africa.
History buffs can find treasure around every corner in locations such as Asia, Europe, and the U.S. Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia, Ellis Island in New York, and Gettysburg in Pennsylvania are just a few places to see on a U.S. history tour. Cambodia, Vietnam, and Thailand are great places to hire a guide and learn about the histories of those countries. And you don’t have to look far to find a museum or other reminder of the past throughout Europe.
Maybe you want to learn how to do something new during your educational vacation. You could volunteer on a ranch and learn how to care for farm animals. A wine-making trip in Tuscany, learning to make authentic Mexican food in Oaxaca, or getting your feet wet with fly fishing in Canada are also fun ideas.
LEGO lovers might especially love an architectural tour of Spain, and music lovers might want to know more about Mozart in Austria. The following list of educational vacation ideas is not all-encompassing but will serve as a starting point for your planning.
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5 Educational Vacations for Active Families
1. Support Animal Conservation on Safari
The first on the list combines a bucket list adventure with an educational vacation. African luxury safari company &Beyond has partnered with East Africa’s African Leadership University (ALU) to offer masterclasses in Tanzania and Kenya.
In the Serengeti National Park and Masai Mara National Reserve, the WILDEconomy Masterclass teaches travelers how their wildlife safari fits into sustainable tourism. Students will learn about hunting, forest products, the carbon market, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The masterclass is a 7-day journey, and the price includes a $100 per person donation to the ALU Internship Fund.
Days spent on safari can be long and tiresome, though not especially active. The adventure of a safari comes in the thrill of seeing the Big 5 — lions, leopards, elephants, leopards, and black and white rhinos — up close and personal. Early morning and late evening game drives aren’t well-suited for someone who wants to sleep in and take it easy on vacation.
With that said, especially young children may not fare well on a safari, particularly when game drive times cut into their sleep schedule.
2. Explore by Expedition Cruise
Expedition cruises are an increasingly popular vacation type for family travelers. These cruises are all about exploring, and the ships are specially outfitted with the necessary gear to visit remote destinations.
Families can join an expedition cruise to places including the Arctic, Antarctica, The Galapagos Islands, and the Amazon rainforest from companies such as National Geographic or Hurtigruten. Some expedition cruises have family and children’s programs, such as the National Geographic Global Explorers program offered by Lindblad Cruises which let kids explore like true scientists.
Other destinations for an expedition cruise include the Norwegian Fjords, Easter Island, and even Egypt.Hot Tip:
Adventures by Disney offers family expedition cruises to the Galapagos, the Adriatic Sea, and Patagonia in Argentina.
3. Hike the Inca Trail
At 26 miles long, the famed Inca Trail that leads to Machu Picchu takes hikers through cloud forests, mountains, and jungles in the Andes Mountains.
The summer months are the best time to visit Peru and Machu Picchu. The Inca Trail and Machu Picchu are closed in February.
Most hikes begin in Cusco, over 11,000 feet above sea level. Altitude sickness is common, and it’s recommended that you spend at least a few days acclimating before beginning the trek.
While it’s possible to enter the sacred site of Machu Picchu on your own, you cannot hike the Inca Trail without a licensed guide. Several tour companies offer hiking tours designed to cater to varying comfort levels and for all levels of hiking experience.
Treks usually last between 2 and 7 days, and you can expect to hike several miles daily.
Not up for a multi-day hike to Machu Picchu? Perhaps the train from Cusco to the Incan citadel is more your speed. You can take the train direct from Cusco to Machu Picchu in about 4 hours through PeruRail. Or ride in ultra-luxury with Hiram Bingam, a Belmond train featuring open-air views, a vintage cocktail bar, and even afternoon tea.
Check out our detailed guide to the hiking essentials you may need on your trip.
4. Learn About Conservation in Patagonia
Patagonia, part of the Andes mountain range that begins in Venezuela, is a region in Chile and Argentina’s Southern South American countries. The area is about 300,000 square miles and features jaw-dropping scenery of mountains, glaciers, lakes, rivers, and valleys.
Patagonia is one of the least inhabited regions in the world but has a large variety of endemic wildlife like the Andean puma. Visitors can even take wildlife safari tours to seek out some of these animals in real life.
Visitors to Patagonia can join tours to learn more about the sustainability efforts throughout the region and how it came to be. Perito Moreno Glacier, Ushuaia, and Torres del Paine National Park are some of the most popular spots in Patagonia.
5. Visit the Australian Outback
Australia is home to nearly 3,000 endemic animals and 18,000 plant species. It’s a truly unique destination in the South Pacific Ocean and a destination for adventure seekers of all ages.
In addition to witnessing the continent’s various animals up close, the Australian Outback is also home to a rich cultural history of indigenous Aboriginal sites and beautiful landscapes.
8 Educational Vacations for Families Who Love History
1. Join a Heritage Tour
A heritage tour takes travelers to places of cultural or religious significance worldwide. The most familiar are Jewish heritage tours which most commonly take place in Israel. However, these tours happen worldwide and bring people to sites of importance to several faiths.
You don’t have to belong to a specific faith to join on a heritage tour. Many of the stops on these tours are of religious significance to more than 1 faith. For example, the ancient city of Jerusalem is considered holy to those who follow Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. That’s why you’ll find the destination on many heritage tours.
These tours take place all over the globe. Pilgrimage tours take place in Jordan, Italy, Mexico, and more. Catholic heritage tours can take travelers to places like Thailand, Croatia, and East Africa.
2. Learn About World War II in France
D-Day in Normandy, France, marked the turning point in World War II and is an essential destination for war history buffs. It was the largest naval, air, and land assault in history, including troops from America, Britain, Canada, Australia, and several European nations (the Allied forces).
Travelers can join D-Day tours that take them to the beaches where the attack occurred.
But Normandy isn’t the only place worth visiting on a World War II tour in France. The Museum of the Liberation of Paris and the Museum of Surrender in Reims are 2 places to add to any DIY war or history tour of the country.Hot Tip:
World War II tours depart from Paris, Normandy, and other cities throughout the country. For convenience, you can arrange a tour that begins and ends in the French capital.
3. Discover Pharaohs and Pyramids in Egypt
Egyptian history is more than just pyramids and Pharaohs, but that’s an excellent place to start.
Tours usually start from Cairo and can include visits to Aswan, Luxor, and elsewhere. Travel can include planes, cars, trains, and buses with optional Nile River cruises. You can join a Nile River cruise on its own and disembark at each new city.
Adventures by Disney offers Egypt family tours including a visit to Sharm El-Sheikh on the shores of the Red Sea.
Whether joining a tour or venturing out on your own, be sure to commission the help of an Egyptologist, an expert in ancient Egypt, to guide all or part of your trip.
4. Revisit American History
A fun way to bring American history to life is through a road trip with stops at historical landmarks such as a replica Mayflower ship in Plymouth, Massachusetts.
Step back in time by walking Boston’s Freedom Trail or visiting Independence Hall in Philadelphia, where the Declaration of Independence was signed. No tour of the American Revolution would be complete without a visit to Colonial Williamsburg, a 300-acre living history museum featuring 18th-century buildings and homes and recreations of daily life.
Those interested in the Civil War can head to the Confederate Memorial Hall in New Orleans, Louisiana, followed by a visit to Corinth, Mississippi, where you can see preserved Antebellum houses at the Corinth Civil War Interpretive Center. Tennessee’s Civil War Trails includes several stops throughout the state, including Shiloh National Military Park, Customs House Museum and Cultural Center, and Tennessee River Museum.
5. Study Prehistoric Landmarks
Prehistoric times are the time before written histories. The dates of the Prehistoric Period range from 2.5 million years ago to 1,200 B.C.E. and are often marked by cave drawings that are still being discovered today.
Cave art can be found all over the world. Cueva de las Manos in Patagonia, Argentina, Kakadu National Park in Australia, and Cave of Altamira in Spain are some of the most important and well-preserved.
Prehistoric landmarks include more than cave drawings, however. They include mysteries like Stonehenge in the U.K., the Unfinished Obelisk in Aswan, Egypt, and the Olmec Heads at Parque Museo La Venta in Mexico.Hot Tip:
Designing an entire trip around seeing one of these prehistoric landmarks or paintings may not be feasible. However, adding one of these destinations to any trip that takes you to the aforementioned countries or cities would be worth the effort.
6. Explore Ancient Greek History
Ancient Greek philosophy, politics, and science shaped the world we know today, and you and your family can learn all about its origins.
Notable philosophers and mathematicians Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle all created great works during their lifetimes and hailed from Ancient Greece. Hippocrates’ theories on a healthy diet and exercise are echoed in the advice of modern medicine today. Ancient Greeks were also the minds behind modern democracy.
Today, you can channel your inner Percy Jackson and tour the ruins of Ancient Greece while studying the country’s influence. Sites such as the Parthenon and the Acropolis in Athens, the Sanctuary of Apollo at Delphi, and the archeological site of Olympia are all open to visitors.
7. Road Trip the California Missions
When you think of California, you probably think of Disneyland, beaches, and the Golden Gate Bridge. But California is also home to 21 Spanish missions that once served to convert Native Americans to Catholicism when the state was still a part of New Spain and Mexico.
The Spanish also built presidios or military fortresses along the coast as well.
The California Missions have a complicated history when it comes to the treatment of Native Americans, but are nonetheless a part of the state’s history. The sites of some of the former missions and presidios became some of the Golden State’s major cities: San Francisco, San Diego, Santa Barbara, and San Jose.
8. Take a National Parks Road Trip
Visiting a national park is a popular pastime during the summer and throughout the year. But the National Parks Service is much more than Yellowstone National Park and other natural landscapes.
There are 424 units managed by the National Parks Service throughout all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and U.S. territories. Covering over 85 million acres, there are 19 types of units and parks, including battlefield sites, memorials, preserves, scenic trails, and seashores.
Congress and the National Parks Service decide which designation an area receives.
There are a lot of parks to choose from, so check out our guide to the U.S. national parks to help narrow down your trip planning.Hot Tip:
4 Educational Vacations for Families To Learn Other Cultures
1. Visit Chaco Canyon in New Mexico
Modern-day New Mexico is the ancestral land of the Navajo Nation, including the Fort Sill Apache Tribe and the Jicarilla Apache Nation.
Chaco Canyon is home to the Chaco Culture National Park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site in New Mexico’s Four Corners region.
Visitors can see 1,000-year-old architecture either with a tour group, guide, or on a self-guided tour. It contains the most ancient ruins north of Mexico and has traits of Ancestral Puebloan culture, a prehistoric Native American Civilization.
Permits to visit the site are free.
2. Visit Antelope Canyon in Arizona
Antelope Canyon is located in Navajo Nation in Page, Arizona, near Lake Powell and Utah. There are 2 canyons to visit, Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon, with Upper Antelope Canyon slightly more accessible.
Both Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon require a climb down a relatively steep staircase on either side. But once you’ve reached the bottom, you’re in store for fascinating views.
You cannot enter Antelope Canyon without a licensed Navajo guide. It can also get windy both above and below the canyons, so carry a light jacket even if it’s warm. And keep an eye on the weather — the canyon will close during heavy rain or snow.
3. Visit Cuba for Education
Cuba is located in the Caribbean and was, for a long time, impossible for Americans to visit. After some back and forth, the current administration once again allows Americans to travel to Cuba.
You must travel under 1 of 12 categories of travel. The most popular category of authorized travel to visit Cuba is “educational activities,” perfect for an educational vacation.
4. Book a Homestay and Volunteer
A great way to immerse yourself into another culture, language, and way of life is to volunteer or stay with a host family.
You can teach a skill that you already have, like speaking English, or give back to help the community by building homes or helping to conserve wildlife. You could even serve as a medical assistant in clinics around the world.
There are plenty of cities and regions around the world to do this. Costa Rica, Guatemala, India, and South Africa are some of the most popular destinations to volunteer.
Volunteers often have the opportunity to stay with a host family to save money and get to know the community they’re working in. But if staying with strangers isn’t your thing, there are usually other accommodation options as well.Hot Tip:
Volunteer companies often charge a fee for volunteers to work with them. This may seem counterintuitive, but these fees go to support host families, supplies, and the administration of the volunteer company.
4 Educational Vacations for Families To Learn New Skills
1. Learn Classical Piano in Austria
You probably won’t go home the next Mozart, but Salzburg, Austria, should be on your list if you’re nurturing a love for classical music or the piano.
Home to Mozart and “The Sound of Music,” the Austrian city also has a thriving food and beverage scene and fun-themed walking tours to join.
After a few days in Salzburg, continue your trip with a visit to Schönbrunn Palace, the former home of Marie Antoinette before she married King Louis XVI and met her untimely end. Austria is full of beautiful castles worth taking a memorable visit to Salzburg.
2. Immerse Yourself in a Language
Suddenly the words on your phone or your textbook start to make sense in real-world contexts, and you find that practice makes perfect.
Families can learn language skills together by traveling to a language school. Some volunteer programs offer language classes in the language spoken in the country you’re visiting for free. You can continue practicing your growing skill at home with your family.
3. Visit Outdoor and Skills Camps
Survival skills never go out of fashion, so what better time to learn than when the weather is excellent, and you’ve got the time to get it right.
You can find outdoor skills camps throughout the U.S., but Alaska’s Department of Fish and Game holds outdoor camps and skills clinics for all ages. It even has a clinic just for adult women. Programs are available for kids as young as 4 years old and offer classes in hunter education, archery, firearms safety, and more. Clinics usually last 1 or 2 days in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau, and Mat-Su.
4. Practice Cheese and Winemaking in Italy
Making cheese and wine is a fun skill to learn during a trip to Italy. Cheese and wine go hand in hand, and Italy has plenty of opportunities for you to learn how to make both.
Kids will especially enjoy getting their hands dirty when they help make cheese. You may even want to look into weeklong Italian cheese-making courses (or months-long Italian cuisine courses) for older kids and adults.
Another option for older kids of the legal drinking age, parents, and possibly grandparents is a wine course presented by Wine Academy Italia, located throughout the country.
3 Educational Vacations for Families Who Love Art
1. Study Art Nouveau and Surrealism in Spain
Nothing brings art history to life like seeing great masterpieces in person.
The memory of art nouveau architect Antoni Gaudí lives in buildings, museums, and architecture throughout Barcelona, Spain. And the celebrated works of Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró, and Salvador Dalí can be found in museums throughout the country.
Witness Picasso’s “Guernica” at the Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid, Miró’s studio at the Fundació Pilar i Joan Miró in Palma, and the Dalí Theatre-Museum in Figueres. Dalí’s most famous work, “The Persistence of Memory,” is at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Art lovers mustn’t go far to take in Gaudí’s work. It’s all over Barcelona. From Park Güell to the famed Sagrada Familia, his work is sprinkled throughout the seaside city, and they’re impossible to miss.
2. Discover Renaissance History in Italy
Italy is the birthplace of the Renaissance, which marked Europe’s transition from the Middle Ages to the Age of Modernity. The Italian Renaissance lasted more than 200 years and was an explosion of thought, art, and imagination.
Some of the most famous Renaissance artists were Italian, including Leonardo Da Vinci, Michaelangelo, Raphael, and Caravaggio. Their work can be admired throughout Italy and beyond in textbooks and in person.Hot Tip:
Capital One cardholders can receive a complimentary Enthusiast membership from The Cultivist for 6 months, which includes tickets for you and 3 guests, as well as skip-the-line access, at many of the world’s best museums. Enroll by June 22, 2024.
3. A Museum a Day in Paris
Paris, France, is home to over 1,000 museums. Considering that the Louvre is one of the world’s largest museums and has over 30,000 works of art, it’s not hard to imagine that you could fill weeks of vacation time spent perusing.
The most popular museums to visit in addition the Louvre are the Orangerie, the Musée d’Orsay, the French military history museum the Musée de l’Armée, and science museums Cité des Sciences et de l’industrie and Palais de la Découverte.Hot Tip:
If you plan to visit several museums during a visit to Paris, it might be worth getting a Paris Museum Pass that grants access to more than 50 museums and monuments in the City of Lights.
With over 20 educational vacation ideas for your family listed here, you should have no problem planning your family’s next trip. From high-energy adventure vacations to low-key art history-focused DIY tours, there’s something for every interest and, most importantly, every family member.
Featured Image Credit: MCStock via Adobe Stock
Frequently Asked Questions
Vacations that take place in another culture, city, or country teach people empathy for other people. It shows people how different places and people live their lives.
An educational trip is a combination of tours and hands-on learning and a little bit of relaxation all in one. Educational family trips are great for all ages.
The Mālama Hawaiʻi program offers visitors the opportunity to give back during their vacation. Visitors can do a beach cleanup, help conserve wildlife, or volunteer in a number of ways across the islands.
You could ask your child what their favorite topic or class is in school and build on that. Look ahead to what your kids will learn in the coming school year and design a trip around that. Or you could capitalize on a hobby your family has at home, like art or cooking.
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