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Skip the t-shirts and bring home a new skill instead

Unwinding from the stress of everyday life. Forgetting the frustrations that come with a career. Escaping from the responsibilities of a hectic family schedule. At TIAA we think these are all perfectly acceptable reasons to schedule your next vacation! But, if you need a little more inspiration to get you to click “purchase” on that round-trip flight, how about this…

You can actually use that getaway as the perfect opportunity to enhance your life, expand your career, and learn enriching new skills.

That’s right. Your getaway doesn’t have to be all play and no work. Whether you’re interested in advancing your career, pursuing that long-awaited passion project, volunteering for an important cause, investing in a certification, or just making some extra cash with a side hustle, you’ve got a ton of inspiring opportunities to turn your vacation into a trip with purpose.

1. Learn photography on vacation

It used to be that a picture was worth a thousand words. Today, that equals about 150 likes and 20 new followers on Instagram. Sure, boosting your social media presence is a great excuse to learn photography, but learning to snap the perfect pic also helps you capture lifelong memories from a place you never want to forget. Use your next vacation as an excuse to break out the expensive camera and teach yourself some new techniques. Long exposure really brings the wild city lights of Bangkok to life!

2. Travel writing or blogging

If writing is something you do for a living, teach others to do or simply enjoy as a hobby, consider starting a blog to share stories during your travels. For many of TIAA’s customers, especially in education, they find that they aren’t writing as routinely or creatively as they’d like. Blogging offers a great opportunity to revive this practice. If you do it well, it’s entirely possible to turn your blog into a moneymaker or pick up a part-time gig working for companies seeking travel writers. In addition to the possible financial benefits, writing is also a great way to recall your amazing experiences and reap the same therapeutic benefits as meditation.

3. Travel cooking classes

For many travelers, destinations are often determined by the local cuisine. Sure, hitting the local hot spots and street carts is fun, but why not bring back some new recipes, strange ingredients, and TV-worthy chopping skills to impress your friends at home? Better yet, most international cooking classes offer a big bang for your buck—making them very appealing for budget travelers.

4. Scuba diving certification

If you ever find yourself in Southeast Asia or Central America, you’ll find tons of travelers lined up to get their dive tickets. Why? Because it’s incredibly cheap and unbelievably beautiful, which happens to be the perfect combination! In the U.S. and Europe, you don’t have access to the same untouched reefs and exotic sea life, so you’ll pay a pretty penny to learn how to dive in a pool. If you’re someone with a dream of exploring under the sea, check out places like the Bahamas, Indonesia, Belize, and Panama. Another perk—many of the dive schools include a room, food, and an awesome community in their price.

5. Yoga training classes

Yoga training is a valuable experience for anyone looking to enhance patience, compassion, empathy, and stress-relieving skills that can be applied to any career. But pursuing training can be incredibly costly and time-consuming in the western part of the world, with many courses taking up to 7-10 months to complete. If you’re seeking a quicker, more immersive, and more affordable experience, consider places like India, Bali or Costa Rica. You can also look into ashrams that’ll let you pay for training by working in the kitchen or cleaning spaces.

6. Teach English abroad

If you visit a developing country you may notice school children running up to you asking if they can practice their English with you. Weird? Not at all. English is a popular topic in schools around the world and kids are eager to practice whenever they can. If you are ESL or TOEFL certified, you can spend long-term trips making a decent salary in countries like Taiwan, China, Japan, Oman, or the United Arab Emirates. You can also explore shorter-term teaching opportunities with nonprofit organizations, or even by staying with local families at homestays in exchange for helping their children practice English.

7. Volunteer abroad

You might be interested in working at a permaculture farm in Northern Thailand that’ll help you educate others around the world about turning seemingly infertile soil into prosperous food sources. Maybe you’re passionate about building schools or community areas for children in Africa. Or, if your heart is in preserving endangered species, you may enjoy working with the sea turtles in Sri Lanka. No matter what cause you’re passionate about, there are organizations around the world looking for volunteers to help move their mission forward—and you’re sure to pick up some important, rewarding life skills along the way.


At the end of the day, you really don’t need any justification to take a vacation other than, “I want to take a vacation.” But completing a certification or gaining a new skill are great ways to center your trip around a bigger goal. So, instead of purchasing another pair of elephant pants at the market when you’re in Thailand, you might decide to put that money toward a Thai cooking class instead. You never know where your path may lead.

For more information about skills that you can put to use to reach your goals back home—whether that’s paying off debt, buying a home or saving for retirement—make sure you visit us at TIAA.org.

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