I don’t know about you, but when I want to learn something new, get inspired or jump-start a budding passion, I want to go somewhere else to do it.

Sure, I can learn to cook at home watching Food Network, study a foreign language online, take yoga from a book or photography at my local community college. But, somehow, heading off to Tuscany, Provence, Mexico or a tropical island to do it is much more appealing. Away from the ordinary routines and obligations of home, it’s easier to open my mind and heart to new challenges, insights and inspirations.

Do something for yourself this year. Return home from your vacation with something more than postcards and souvenirs to show off. Instead, impress them with your newfound skills and enjoy yourself while you’re at it. Here are just a few specialty vacations sure to put you on the road to new horizons.

Photography is easy, good photography is not. Improve your vacation snaps while learning from the pros with a New Mexico photography workshop at Santa Fe Photographic Workshops. Looking for something further afield?  Sign up for one of their On-the-Road workshops and tours in Mexico, Italy, France, Ireland, Australia, Morocco, Thailand, Tanzania, Big Sur and the coast of Maine. Santa Fe, New Mexico; 4-7 day workshops from $775; 505-983-1400; www.santafeworkshops.com


Satisfy your taste for French food while picking up some culinary tips at Erick and Madeleine Vedel’s Cuisine Provençale Cooking School and Bed & Breakfast. Learn to make over 16 different Provencale dishes, go shopping for the days’ ingredients at the local markets, visit regional wineries and food artisans, and simply revel in the arts of good food and wine. Arles, France. 7 days from $1,275; 33 (0) 4 90 49 69 20; www.cuisineprovencale.com

Learn Spanish in a friendly and personalized environment at Habla Hispana Spanish Language School. Located in Mexico’s trendy San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, a cultural hot-spot among savvy travelers drawn to its cobblestone streets, well-preserved colonial architecture, delicious food, laid-back pace and educational offerings. Go for the full immersion and stay with a Mexican family, or make your own housing arrangements, there are a wide variety of hotels in San Miguel de Allende, suitable to any budget. San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico. 7 days from $120; +52 (415) 152-1535;www.mexicospanish.com

Follow your bliss to the magical island of Maui with a Swell Women women-only surf and yoga vacation. Spend seven days and six nights at an exclusive oceanfront resort exploring yoga and learning surf techniques on some of the most consistent waves in the world. The wellness adventure includes expert instruction in surfing, three gourmet meals a day, accommodations, yoga classes, professional massage and several land-based excursions. Surfing for romance or want to bring your favorite man? Choose one of their new co-ed retreats, now open to men and women. Maui, Hawaii; 7 days from $2,495; 808.579.8211; www.swellwomen.com

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Ellen Barone has been creating words and images for travel and tourism since 1998. She co-founded and publishes the group travel blog YourLifeIsATrip.com and is currently at work on her first book "I Could Live Here".