Leisure, Learning, and Travel

Article excerpt

"All intellectual improvement arises from leisure."

- Dr. Samuel Johnson (Boswell, 1992)

The general increase in leisure time since the Second World War has given many people the opportunity, to engage in "intellectual improvement." During the same period it has become increasingly easy and inexpensive to travel. Coupled with the increase in disposable incomes, this has led to major growth in the vacation industry. For example, vacations in the United Kingdom increased by one third from 1970 to 1990, and the number of vacations taken overseas rose by two and a half times in the same period. An important minority market has emerged, composed of people who use their vacations, at least in part, to develop either existing leisure interests or to try out new ones. Often lumped together as "activity holidays," many of these vacations are based on water sports, (e.g., scuba diving and water skiing) but also include educational travel programs.

There are several reasons for the development of this trend. First, the role of vacations has changed for many people. In the past they were simply time for rest and recuperation, but with the decline in the amount and physical pressure of work, this has ceased to be seen as the primary purpose of a vacation for many people. Second, there has been a general increase in the range of recreation activities that are important in most individuals' lives. With a widening in people's interests and appreciation of cultural values, many individuals have come to look upon vacations as a means of developing those interests. The changing profile of the population has added to this scenario. The decline in family size has led to increased freedom from family responsibility, at an earlier age. Improvements in health care have increased the age to which people are physically active. The proportion of older people in the population is growing, and the emergence of early retirement has increased the number of people with time to spare for development of their leisure interests. The desire to explore this world constructively is reflected by research in the United Kingdom in 1991, which indicated that 16 percent of the traveling public rated "special interest" as a very important factor in their choice of vacation (Leisure Consultants, 1992).

Educational Travel

Some distinction should drawn between the true educational travel program - where the learning experience is the focus of the program - and the program where the educational element is additional to the main purpose.

Educational travel is defined as a program in which participants travel to a location as a group with the primary purpose of engaging in a learning experience directly related to the location. This emphasis on the educational value and learning opportunities necessarily excludes from serious consideration many of the commercial organizations that offer quasi-educational vacations. Thus educational travel is largely the province of educational institutions together with a small number of specialist tour companies.

The rationale for such programs is self-evident. For example, no study of architecture, art, archeology, or natural history can be complete without the actual experience of seeing the subjects in context in their natural or original location (Street, 1992). The benefits of such an experience from an educational standpoint are many (adapted from Randell, 1992):

* Educational travel provides an immediate and personal experience of an event, place, or issue that cannot be duplicated.

* Educational travel offers opportunities for individuals within the group to explore specific and even individual issues and interests with other participants and the leader in a way that is usually impossible in the more usual educational environments.

* Educational travel provides the opportunity to combine leisure with a learning experience that is directed and meaningful. …