Education and tourism go together like... 

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So here's a vacation idea; picture this. Eleven days on an idyllic, white sand and shell beach in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Water so clear and blue you may never want to see water again because anything less beautiful would be disappointing. Long walks along that endless idyllic beach. I mean LONG walks... like seven hour walks. Commencing at 8:00 p.m. local time and stretching 'til sun up. What would you be doing walking along the beach all freakin' night long? Looking for leatherback turtles, playing midwife to them as they lay eggs.

But it gets better. After a night patrolling the beach birthin' turtle eggs, you stretch out in your hammock by the sea just as the sun breeches the still horizon. Sleep well, oh tired one. Because around 2:00 p.m. you'll be roused to, what else, help cook your own — and other's — dinner, pack lunches and get ready to hit the beach again.

Sounds more like bootcamp than a vacation. Yet, the good people at Earthwatch used to flog this, and other fascinating, if arduous, expeditions as learning vacations. They probably still do and if I had anything approaching an Internet connection I'd happily confirm that for you but that's not really the point.

The point is, this is something some people consider (a) a holiday and (b) lifelong learning.

Lest you consider this an aberration, it actually sounded like one of Earthwatch's more fun-filled vacations. Sticking with the turtle theme, the hardcore could opt for something even more rustic. Imagine checking into a thatched lean-to on a beach in Baja, only to rise at 4:30 a.m. to wander out into the open ocean with local fishermen in local fishermen's sketchy boats to check turtle nets, hoist captive turtles into the boat, weigh them, take DNA samples and then, finally, enjoy a beautiful sunrise on your way back to a waiting breakfast which, thankfully, you don't have to cook.

No? How about doing spider inventories in an Ecuadorian Cloud Forest? Analyzing Komodo Dragon droppings in Indonesia. Hello, Leslie Anthony?

For those whose idea of holidays doesn't embrace reptiles, arachnids, amphibians or other creatures incapable of comprehending cocktail hour, there are companies — Road Scholar among them — that offer getaways that give people a chance to learn, or further almost any skill, or area of exploration and learning you can imagine. Arts, crafts, cooking, earth science, any conceivable sport or physical pursuit, cosmology, anthropology, storytelling, you name it and someone, somewhere is offering the terminally curious a chance to learn it, learn more about it or simply spend days indulging their passion for it.

Most, virtually all of these "courses" have one thing in common — they take place in beautiful, inspiring surroundings. Sound familiar? They happen in those places because they fall under the general category of educational tourism. I'm sure there are any number of you wondering right about now why in the world anyone would want to join education and tourism at the hip. Tourism and partying, sure. Tourism and sports, why not? Tourism and exploring the boundaries of alcohol poisoning, highly likely.

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