The 100 Best Vacations to Enrich Your Life

By Pam Grout

Reviewed by Erika Wright

Have you ever dreamed of playing the guitar with The Who’s Roger Daltrey, learning a trapeze act with at a camp called Winnarainbow started by a guy named Wavy Gravy (the old Grateful Dead circus clown), excavating George Washington’s distillery or working on an organic farm?

Ever more popular with today’s travelers are life-enhancing, enrichment vacations which involve acquiring a new skill, volunteering to share one’s expertise, exercising one’s intellect, or extending oneself in some creative, physical or spiritual way. In The 100 Best Vacations to Enrich Your Life, published by National Geographic, Pam Grout outlines 100 options for life enriching travel. She wants to help make sure your next vacation isn’t just time off, but time well spent.

In her introduction, Grout says that “this is a book of what I call ‘before and after’ vacations. Any one of the hundred vacations listed here has the potential to seriously change your life … you’ll be different, guaranteed. Your heart will be bigger, your purpose will be clearer, the petty things that used to seem so overwhelming will shrink and eventually disappear”.

Grout organizes her suggestions into four categories: Arts & Crafts Getaways, Volunteer Vacations, Brian Retreats and Wellness Escapes.

Arts & Crafts getaway ideas include crafting a Windsor chair at an Appalachian folk school; polishing your writing skills at a writer’s workshop (alumni include Flannery O’Connor, John Irving, Tennessee Williams and Kurt Vonnegut); cooking school getaways; making a film in New York; building a wooden boat from scratch; learning to knit on a sailing cruise; and designing your dream home at an architecture fantasy camp.

Travelers interested in volunteer vacations can teach English to villagers in Mexico; work on a Blackfeet Indian Reservation (each project is different, “we try to do what the communities ask us to do”); make costumes for a quirky, historic outdoor theater; build a House with Habitat for Humanity (in your own community or locations as far away as India or Africa); care for abandoned pets in Puerto Rico; track mountain lions in Arizona; or challenge your stereotypes by helping the homeless in Washington D.C..

Those seeking brain retreats can head to Yellowstone to learn about wolves, bears and geysers; study marine life at an island campus off New Hampshire; learn Spanish in Mexico; go stargazing at the University of Arizona’s astronomy camp; monitor active volcanoes in Hawaii; take a cultural history cruise up the Hudson River Valley; bone up on the opera at the Smithsonian Institution; or take a 4 day history tour in an authentic covered wagon along the Oregon Trail.

Suggestions in the “Wellness Escapes” chapter invite you to look at life through “a whole new lens.” These trips include attending a surf camp; hiking Hawaii’s Napali cliffs; embarking on a sled dog adventure in Minnesota where you actually learn to do it yourself; getting a body makeover at a weight loss spa; improving confidence by learning to drive a racecar; taking a gourmet raft trip down the Rio Grande; spending a weekend at a silent retreat or practicing tai chi in a tropical paradise.

Each chapter includes a detailed description of the suggested vacation, some background on how it began, who would most enjoy that particular type of getaway, additional things to do while you’re in the neighborhood, and full contact details for the program.

Numerous sidebars on topics such as “How to Pick a Perfect Tent,” “Space Habitat Speak,” “Polar Bear Facts,” and “Want to Save the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge?” offer extra information to pique your interest and give you a better idea of what you might be getting yourself into.

Gout writes, “Get ready to slow down. Make new friends. Scratch a dog behind the ears. Build a sand castle. Smile a lot. And best of all, finally remember what it is you really want out of life. To contribute, to create, to grow.”

About the Author
Pam Grout is the author of 13 travel and self-help books, as well as numerous articles for such publications as Travel + Leisure, Outside, Modern Maturity, New Age Journal, Scientific American Explorations and The Washington Post. She is also the Midwestern stringer for People magazine and writes a travel column called “Now, Where Was I?”