The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - Travel
Ten top trips that will make you smarter
The self-improvement holiday is fast rivalling the fly-and-flop – so why not return from your travels calmer and cleverer? Estella Shardlow can help
What did you learn on your last holiday? For a growing number of travellers, letting that precious annual leave slip away in a suntan lotion-scented haze of trashy novels, piña coladas and lie-ins no longer cuts it. Instead, they aim to return home brimming with newfound knowledge, perhaps having participated in an archaeological dig or swotted up on astronomy with some world-renowned experts.
Welcome to the era of “transformational” travel – trips that make us smarter and more interesting. “Bookings for trips with a core educational element surged in 2022 and we see the trend only continuing to pick up pace this year,” says Tom Marchant, co-founder of luxury travel company Black Tomato.
According to a recent survey by the hotel membership app Little Emperors, 70 per cent of millennial consumers are now prioritising learning from the cultures and environments they visit. “One of the biggest changes I’ve noticed in our members’ booking habits post-pandemic is an increase in trips that offer the chance to exercise brains and learn something new,” notes founder Rebecca Masri.
While broadening the mind has to some extent always been a motivation for going abroad, sojourns with a scholastic slant are resonating more than ever after lockdowns made us take stock of why we travel. It’s about self-improvement over pure escapism.
The uptick in more purpose-driven trips is also being spurred by travellers’ concerns about the climate crisis and over-tourism: contributing to oceanographic studies or wildlife conservation, for example, can help to ease a jet-setter’s conscience.
As Marchant says: “People now want to make their travel truly count and to leave a lasting positive effect long after they have returned, both on ourselves and the world around us.”
2023’S BEST BRAIN-BOOSTING
Swot up on nuclear fusion in Switzerland
Beneath the genteel lakeside city of Geneva, researchers probe the universe’s deepest mysteries at physics lab CERN – home to the Large Hadron Collider. New Scientist magazine’s Discovery Tours will allow curious travellers a rare peek into the facility’s mind-blowing research this year, with particle physicist Darren Price giving the lowdown on dark matter and more.
A collection of far older, Swiss-made contraptions for making sense of the cosmos awaits at the nearby Museum of the History of Science, then it’s on to the glaciers and ice caves around Chamonix-Mont-Blanc to marvel at alpine geology.
New Scientist Discovery Tours (020 7593 2284; newscientist.com) offers the five-night CERN and Mont Blanc: Dark and Frozen Matter trip from £2,598pp, including transfers, accommodation, three dinners, all sightseeing fees, local guides and a private lecture from Professor Price
Contribute to citizen science in Antarctica
The must-have amenity for a polar cruise in 2023 seems to be a cuttingedge citizen science centre: new ships from Hurtigruten, Ponant, Swan Hellenic and AE Expeditions all have them. Having made its maiden voyage to the South Pole in December, AE’s the Sylvia Earle (named after the influential marine biologist) offers activities ranging from tracking whales’ migratory patterns to helping ornithologists with seabird surveys. Interested passengers can head out on zodiacs with members of the ship’s expedition team to take samples of microplastic pollution and phytoplankton, uploading their findings into global databases.
AE Expeditions (0808 189 2005; aexpeditions.co.uk) offers a 12-day Spirit of Antarctica Voyage from £8,670pp (based on two sharing), including lectures, zodiac cruises and trips ashore
Cultivate conservation skills in Cornwall
“Almost all of our guests ask how they can get involved with our nature restoration work: whether it’s sowing a wildflower meadow or planting an oak sapling, people want to contribute to something bigger,” says Lizzie Hanbury-Tenison, co-founder of woodland wellness retreat Cabilla Cornwall.
In response, its Dirty Weekend concept covers wildlife monitoring, tree planting, seeding and pruning, intended to leave attendees with a deeper understanding of this temperate rainforest ecosystem – from the natural intelligence of mycelial networks to the superpowers of lichen. Creature comforts come in the form of stylish cabin accommodation and a woodland sauna. Cabilla Cornwall (cabillacornwall.com) has two-night Dirty Weekend Retreats from £375pp, inclusive of all meals and activities apart from spa treatments, and taking in a two-hour tree planting session and a talk with members of nature non-profit Plant One
Learn the art of espionage in Washington DC
America’s 18 national intelligence agencies have recently declassified a cache of covert cases, making this the perfect time to indulge your inner John Le Carré. Tour operator Road Scholar, which specialises in educational trips for seniors, lifts the lid on a sector long shrouded in secrecy during a stay in Washington DC. As well as discovering lesser-known cases at the city’s Spy Museum and cluing up on code-breaking at the Cryptologic Museum in Maryland, you can attend talks from cyber security specialists and retired CIA officers, who give the inside track on the art of espionage.
Road Scholar (00197 8323 4141; roadscholar.org) offers the four-night Spies, Lies & Intelligence: The World of International Espionage trip from £1,229pp, including accommodation, breakfast and some other meals, coach transfers, guided field trips and lectures
Tour the cradle of humanity in Kenya
Kenya’s Turkana Basin is known as the cradle of humanity, since it is believed every human alive today can trace back common ancestry to the population that lived there 60-70,000 years ago. New Scientist Discovery Tours has enlisted the palaeontologist Dr Louise Leakey to take history buffs through the Palaeolithic sites and neighbouring research institute. It is part of an overland epic that travels through the Great Rift Valley, pausing for game drives and nature hikes in national parks.
New Scientist Discovery Tours (0207
593 2284; newscientist.com) has the 10day Kenya: Cradle of Humanity tour in September from £6,199pp, including full-board accommodation, airport transfers and internal transport, entry to sites, talks and walking seminars, taking in a full day at the Turkana Basin Institute with Professor Leakey
Marvel at the cosmos in New Zealand
Astro-tourists will be descending on Australia on April 20 for the total solar eclipse, but the region’s cosmic delights don’t end there. One of the finest places to view the Aurora Australis (Southern Lights) is New Zealand’s South Island, which boasts the world’s largest international dark sky reserve.
Black Tomato offers a particularly epic starlit search that flits between glacial valleys, lakes and mountaintops in the company of seasoned astronomers. It encompasses stargazing sessions in far-flung luxury boltholes, a masterclass in astrophotography and behind-the-scenes access to research equipment at the world’s southernmost observatory.
Black Tomato (0207 426 9888; blacktomato.com) can arrange the nine-night New Zealand: A Luxury Adventure Chasing the Aurora
Australis trip from £26,500pp, including all luxury accommodation and most meals (a combination of full board, half board and B&B basis), private tours and transfers, excluding international flights
Unmask enlightenment in Paris
The Luminaire, launched last year, crafts culturally enriching, bespoke tours with experts – the operator’s upcoming itineraries range from an Antarctician odyssey with a University of Cambridge glaciologist to a probe of Renaissance politics in Florence. But where better to boost one’s brain power than Enlightenment Paris?
Casting back to when Voltaire and Rousseau roamed the arrondissements, this city break secures trips to Château de Versailles with a French historian and behind-the-scenes visits to the stately townhouses of the 18th century’s chicest district, Faubourg Saint-Honoré, and the ateliers of modern-day artisans and conservationists restoring rococo masterpieces.
The Luminaire (020 3870 3896; theluminaire.com) offers the three-night The Zenith Of Style: Paris in the 18th Century trip from £6,915pp, including airport transfers, local transport, accommodation and entry fees
Engage in wildlife research in Tanzania
A growing number of African game reserves are adding hands-on research to the classic safari experience. Take the recently opened Usangu Expedition
Camp, a pint-sized (read: four luxury tents) property in Tanzania’s Ruaha National Park. A stay here lets visitors take part in activities such as placing camera traps for footage of animals’ nocturnal activities and tracking collared lions using radio telemetry. It isn’t just a matter of entertaining animal lovers: the data that guests gather is supplied to the neighbouring Douglas Bell Eco Research Station, informing its study of wildlife habits and population sizes in this 2,300-sq mile wilderness.
Safari Consultants (01787 888590; safari-consultants.com) offers a seven-night Tanzania trip from £5,975pp with three nights full-board at
Usangu Expedition Camp, including house drinks, game drives, guided walks, seasonal boat trips, conservation activities and access to the Douglas Bell Eco Research Station
Dig for dinos in Argentina
From the Gobi Desert to Canada’s Badlands, Jurassic Park fantasies are being unleashed on a growing crop of dinothemed expeditions. This summer the Luminaire partners with Dutch research institute the Naturalis Biodiversity Center for an ultra-luxe itinerary in Wyoming in search of diplodocus skeletons – from £28,485 per person.
Or you can head to Argentina, where the largest of the dinosaurs, the titanosaur Patagotitan mayorum, was discovered and fossil-hunt with the man who discovered this 130ft-long colossus. Dr Diego Pol explains how to dig for, clean and classify bones, on a trip that also takes in palaeontology labs, natural history museums and lunar-like landscapes.
Odyssey Traveller (0808 238 7552; odysseytraveller.com) offers the
16-night Argentina Dinosaur Dig Small Group Tour from £9,522pp, including accommodation with breakfast and some meals, entry fees, tips, field trips, domestic transport, and a presentation from Dr Pol
Moonlight as a marine biologist in the Galapagos
Celebrity Flora may be the thinking person’s cruise ship. Some may hop aboard for the plush suite-only cabins and Michelin-starred dining, but others are lured by Oceanscope, its on-board research facility. The mega-yacht’s consistent circumnavigation of the Galapagos Islands gives scientists a costeffective way to track sea-surface temperatures, gather open-source data and ultimately predict El Niño and La Niña: the Pacific Ocean climate patterns that can affect weather worldwide.
To give passengers an in-depth guide to the archipelago’s ecology, there is an on-board lecture programme devised by marine scientist Dr Ellen Prager, and TED-style video talks streamed in the lounges and cabins. Celebrity Cruises (0344 493 2043; celebritycruises.com) offers the all-inclusive seven-night Galapagos Inner Loop Itinerary from £6,841pp, including Suite Class accommodation, unlimited Wi-Fi, gratuities, personal suite attendant and seminars