12 Trip Ideas to Master a New Skill during Your Downtime

19 November 2021 By Kara Murphy
Rock climbing in Yosemite

Mastering a new skill while traveling — especially one that could inspire future trips — can contribute to time off being transformative rather than simply a holiday. While we recognize you could certainly absorb new ideas by reading a book beside a pool or beach, these 12 adventure travel ideas will up your knowledge and skills in an exciting, active manner.

Diving Silfra, Iceland
Wolfgang Poelzer

1/ Dry Suit Dive in Iceland

You may have logged dozens of dives in warmer waters, but have you blown bubbles in a frigid environment? If you hold PADI Open Water or the equivalent scuba diving certification, you can earn your PADI dry suit diver certification and explore the astonishingly clear glacial waters at Silfra, a fissure between tectonic plates in Iceland’s Thingvellir National Park. Before beginning the two-day course at the PADI 5-Star Dive Center — DIVE.IS — you’ll study the course manual and fill out a knowledge review. Come Day 1, you’ll head to a local pool to get the hang of donning and maintaining a dry suit, controlling your buoyancy, and more, before continuing to a local dive site for two open water training dives. On Day 2, you’ll practice your new competencies on a Diving Silfra Day Tour, which includes one dive at a maximum depth of 18 meters.

When: Year-round

Marymere Falls Trail in Olympic National Park, Washington

2/ Go Wild in Washington, USA

If you’re keen to venture into the wilderness on your own, but you’re lacking the skills and experience to make doing so a wise prospect, spend a month at the National Outdoor Leadership School’s Pacific Northwest Backpacking course. As you explore the vast, dry environment of the Pasayten Wilderness or the lush, temperate rainforest of Olympic National Park, you’ll learn the basics of wilderness living (campsite selection, camp stove use, Leave No Trace principles, etc.) before progressing to map reading, first aid, plant identification, and environmental issues. Challenges include hauling a 45- to 55-pound pack on and off trail through remote locations, unpredictable mountain weather, tough terrain, and the resident grizzly and black bears, but when the course is complete, you should have the confidence and know-how to pursue overnight wilderness adventures on your own or with others.

When: June, July

Ascending a mountain in New Zealand
Queenstown Mountain Guides

3/ Get Alpine in New Zealand

Get a glaciated mountain fix while learning to climb safely and independently in high alpine areas on Queenstown Mountain Guides’ seven-day New Zealand Mountaineering course. Basing yourself in a helicopter-accessed, dormitory-style, high mountain hut, you’ll learn to tie climbing knots and rope up for glacier travel before heading out on the glacier to study safe glacier travel techniques. As the days progress, your guides will also teach you to use an ice axe, navigate varied terrain with crampons, perform self-arrest and crevasse rescue, ice climb, belay, and more … all while ascending Southern Alps peaks. If the weather doesn’t cooperate during one of the course days, indoor lessons could include crevasse rescue rope work, for example, how to climb out of a crevasse and how to rescue climbers with assisted and unassisted hoists. Previous climbing experience isn’t required — but you do need to possess an intermediate level of fitness.

When: October to April

Rock climbing in Yosemite National Park

4/ Rock Climb in Yosemite National Park, USA

Gain rock-climbing skills in one of the world’s more renowned climbing locations, Yosemite National Park. The Yosemite Mountaineering School & Guide Service offers a series of beginner, intermediate, and advanced day classes that you can take individually or as a series over multiple days. If you’re a complete newbie to the sport, you’ll begin with the “Welcome to the Rock” course, where you’ll learn the basics and do some climbing and rappelling up to 60 feet. Once this course is finished, you can enroll in intermediate courses, which teach practices such as crack climbing and anchoring. The business also has advanced options that introduce leading and multi-pitch climbing. All courses/climbs are held in Yosemite Valley and Tuolumne Meadows, at a variety of sites.

When: Late spring/early fall

Skiing and breakfast in Italy
Marco Santini

5/ Ski in Italy

Cortina d’Ampezzo, in the Italian Alps and surrounded by some of the Dolomites’ finest peaks, boasts legendary ski slopes, with 34 lifts and 86 pistes over several areas. (The 2026 Winter Olympics will be held here.) Its ski areas aren’t just for pros. Socrepes, in the lower part of the Tofane area and just a short bus ride from town, is suitable for novices. Here, learn the basics with one of Cortina’s ski schools, most of which offer beginner lessons. Celebrate your newfound slope savvy with fare from Michelin-star restaurants like Tivoli or SanBrite, local specialties such as spinach canederli, or a bombardino, a decadent concoction of egg liqueur and rum or brandy, served warm with whipped cream.

When: December to April

Conquering peaks in Cortina
Guide Alpine Cortina

6/ Navigate Via Ferrata in Italy

Cortina offers opportunities to develop adventure skills in warmer months, too. The area boasts more than 30 via ferrata routes, which are prepared with metal cables, ladder, or steps, and other fixed features to allow passage in challenging places such as vertical rock faces. Many of these were created during WWI to let soldiers travel through the mountains to the front; on some, WWI barracks, trenches, and bridges are still visible. To safely navigate via ferrata, you need (at least) proper hiking gear, helmet, climbing harness, ferrata gloves, and a ferrata set, which includes arms that connect to the cable via carabiners, a connection to the harness, and an energy absorber.

Newbies to the sport should definitely go with a mountain guide. Cortina Guide Alpine, for example, offers a four-day Via Ferrata course that focuses on several easier, well-equipped routes with limited vertical sections and includes overnights in mountain refuges along the way.

When: June to September;

7/ Go Caving in the UK

Descending into a cave in the UK
Lost Earth Adventures

Venture into a lost world that few people witness — a place where waterfalls, filtered sunlight, plants, and mist create an ethereal environment — while learning to navigate cave systems, perform basic rope-work, decipher weather charts, and more. In the UK’s Yorkshire Dales, Alum Pot is one of Lost Earth Adventures’ vertical caving trips and is suitable for beginners, requiring you to abseil and descend over 30 meters. Horizontal caving trips, which also help you grow your caving prowess, are available, too. If you’d like to eventually go spelunking independently, opt for the company’s two-day introductory course, where you’ll explore sites in the Peak District and/or the Yorkshire Dales, learning to identify hazards, preserve the fragile cave environment, practice emergency procedures, and more.

Aurora Borealis in Iceland
Skarphedinn Thrainsson

8/ Capture the Aurora Borealis in Iceland

Ramp up your photography skills as you capture and edit images of the magnificent aurora borealis, as well as the ice caves present in some of Iceland’s glaciers. Well-known locations such as Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss waterfalls and Reynisfjara black sand beach provide a spectacular winter landscape and background on this eight-day workshop. Beginners can expect to develop confidence shooting in manual mode, identify which settings to use to shoot the aurora and landscapes in different lights, and determine how to select what to shoot. More advanced photographers can use this experience to enhance their cold, long-exposure technique and night photography skills.

When: November to March

Wild agaric mushroom
iStock/Vital Hil

9/ Forage for Mushrooms in Australia

Some wild mushrooms are poisonous to the point of being potentially deadly if consumed, while others are edible and delicious. Learn how to identify, forage, and cook some edible varieties during Pronto Travel’s one-day Vita Food and Wine Tour. Held in East Gippsland, about an hour from Melbourne, Australia, the day begins with morning tea, followed by a hands-on masterclass on mushroom identification and foraging. Depending on the location, these might include slippery jacks and orange fly caps. Finally, you’ll proceed to Hogget Kitchen, where Chef Trevor Perkins will use your bounty to prepare a three-course meal, paired with local wines and featuring a main course of wild mushroom risotto.

When: May 2022

Ice climbing in Canada

10/ Ice Climb in Canada

Whether you’re an experienced rock climber or completely new to scaling anything without using an elevator, you can learn to ascend frozen waterfalls during Yamnuska Mountain Adventures’ two-day ice-climbing basics course. From Canmore, Alberta, in the Canadian Rockies and the company’s base, you’ll visit local climbing areas, where you’ll learn to use crampons on ice, communicate while climbing, perform top rope belay, and practice ice-climbing techniques. In addition to focusing on steeper climbs on Day 2, you’ll receive an introduction to concepts such as placing and removing ice screws and constructing anchors. If time permits, stick around for an extra day or two to try out your new talents on multi-pitch climbs such as The Professor’s Falls and Rogan’s Gully — with a Yamnuska instructor, of course.

When: late-November to March

Group of packrafters in Scotland
Rupert Shanks

11/ Pack Raft in Scotland

Journey from the Highlands towards the Scottish coast as you explore mountains, moorland, lochs, and river via foot and inflatable expedition pack raft. On this eight-day Secret Compass expedition, you’ll scale a “Ben” (a Scottish mountain), then learn to pack raft and negotiate grade 2 or 3 rapids. Near Scotland’s west coast and source of the 180-kilometer-long River Tay, 1,130-meter Ben Lui’s summit is your first challenge. After a second night in the small Highland village of Tyndrum, you’ll travel via pack raft to the river’s tidal limit at Perth, wild camping each evening, and portaging (carrying) your craft and gear around unnavigable sections when required. By journey’s end, you’ll have paddled approximately 140 kilometers of the river’s length — an impressive achievement.

When: approx. May 2022

Tandem paragliding in South Africa
Black Tomato

12/ Tandem Paraglide in South Africa

Fall in love with tandem paragliding while grasping basic paragliding theory as you soar over Cape Town, dunes, and other coastal locations on this four-night Black Tomato tour. After spending your first day getting a bird’s-eye view over Cape Town with your instructor and climbing Table Mountain, you’ll explore more remote locations, skimming over dunes and gliding over the coast near Hermanus, scouting for Southern Right Whales. By the end, you’ll have gained basic knowledge of paragliding equipment, features, and controls; ground control; glider layout relative to the wind and topography of the area; the necessity of safety checks before and after a flight; ground skimming; and more. Who knows? Once this experience is finished, you may be inspired to seek out and obtain your paragliding certification so you can one day fly solo.

When: November to May

This article originally ran in the November 2021 issue of Dockwalk. 


More from Dockwalk