Whether your passion is painting, gardening, tapestry, swimming or bird-watching, there’s a broad range of special interest tours to refine your skills while travelling.
There was once a time when going a tour meant switching off your brain to become a passive cog in an impersonal sightseeing machine. Itineraries were generic; themes, if any, were broad. In contrast, today’s demand for purposeful travel means that tours have become attuned to personal development, individual enrichment and hands-on experiences. Enter the niche small-group tour, offering tailored itineraries focused on creative pursuits and specific interests.
What’s your cherished hobby or personal passion? Is it a sport or a craft, a certain way of looking at the world or a particular way of moving through it? Do you love painting exotic landscapes or scanning the skies for rare birds? Would you rather cycle or swim to a destination than be transported there in a coach? Whether you’re a stitcher or a twitcher, a home chef or a long-distance swimmer, these days there are niche tours that cater to your special interests.
It can be hard to find the time and mental space for these interests at home. By providing an opportunity to focus on things their guests feel passionate about, a creative tour can liberate talents and feed curiosities that don’t get nurtured by everyday routines. Artist Tania Wursig, who leads colourful ‘Painting in Paradise’ tours to the Tahitian islands of Bora Bora and Huahine sees this as a key benefit of combining travel with creative self-expression.
“Having one to two weeks to immerse oneself in a new and inspiring environment away from one’s normal life aids the creative process tremendously. That, coupled with plenty of time to relax in the sun, explore the lagoon, experience authentic cultural traditions and enjoy evening cocktails, will draw out the artist in anyone,” says Tania.
She cites Tahiti’s intact traditional culture and its special ‘emerald’ light as inspirations that help her tour members to discover their best creative selves. In the case of Sri Lanka’s many bird-watching tours, it’s the country’s geographic position that makes it such a rewarding destination. Wings Birding Tours Worldwide offers itineraries that aim to showcase all 33 of Sri Lanka’s endemic bird species as well as most of the nearly 200 migratory birds that pass through the island, providing opportunities for guests to spot and photograph some of the world’s most exotic winged creatures.
Sometimes it’s not a particular location so much as a form of locomotion that makes a niche tour stand out. Simon Murie, founder of the UK-based SwimTrek, finds it hard to choose a favourite from the more than 40 oceans, lakes and rivers where his tour company operates worldwide. But he’s adamant that the active exercise of purposeful swimming adds value to the experience of any place, giving new meaning to the concept of immersive travel.
“The sensation of swimming from one island to another, and looking back at where you’ve come from, gives you a profound sense of achievement and really makes you appreciate where you are,” says Simon.
Special interest tours are a great way to hone your skills and knowledge by learning from experts, both the ones who travel with you and the ones you meet at the destination. Ceramics tours run by Opulent Journeys combine the expertise of renowned Australian ceramicist Marian Howell with hands-on classes led by local practitioners in locations ranging from Korea to Morocco. Similarly, the French Embroidery Workshop Tour run by the Victoria-based Needlework Tours and Cruises includes not only visits to see famous historical works of needlecraft such as the Bayeux Tapestry, but also in-depth tuition in a range of French stitching styles.
combine the expertise of renowned Australian ceramicist Marian Howell with hands-on classes led by local practitioners in locations ranging from Korea to Morocco. Similarly, the French Embroidery Workshop Tour run by the Victoria-based Needlework Tours and Cruises includes not only visits to see famous historical works of needlecraft such as the Bayeux Tapestry, but also in-depth tuition in a range of French stitching styles.
Ultimately, your most important creative project is yourself, a fact acknowledged by a new breed of wellness tours that imaginatively connect travel with self-care in ways that move beyond a conventional focus on luxury spa treatments. Abercrombie & Kent’s Wellness-Inspired Luxury Small Group Journeys include innovative itineraries such as ‘Peru: Spirit of the Incas’, which combines bucket-list experiences such as visiting Machu Picchu with opportunities to try unique place-based sacred rituals and healing practices.
Tours for solo travellers are another growing niche sector, with tour providers that actively celebrate the experience of solo travel. One such is Two’s a Crowd, an Australian company with a ‘no couples, no families’ policy, which brings together small numbers of solo travellers for shared journeys in locations stretching from Iceland to Egypt. Botanica World Discoveries, an affiliate of APT travel, has a Solo Travellers Club dedicated to the wellbeing of the more than one-third of their guests who are travelling alone. The Club provides special support for solo travellers, including airport transfers and assured dining companions on free nights.
The fact that itineraries are designed around special interests such as art, flower shows, gourmet and gardens means that it’s easier for those travelling on their own to connect with others who share a common interest.
Special interest tours are a wonderful way to combine travel with enrichment. Do your research and you may find a tour dedicated to the very thing that makes your world light up.
Painting in Paradise tours: taniawursig.com
Wings Birding Tours Worldwide: wingsbirds.com
Opulent Journeys: opulentjourneys.com.au
Needlework Tours and Cruises: needleworktours.com.au
Abercrombie & Kent: abercrombiekent.com.au/
Two’s A Crowd: twosacrowd.com.au
Botanica World Discoveries: botanicatours.com