The Rise of Adult Study Abroad: How Educational Travel Is Luring Remote Workers

With remote work here to stay, young adults see the world as their classroom

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We’re dedicating our December features to examining the biggest travel trends of 2021. Read on for our collection of stories that take a look at the shifts driving the future of travel, including the rise of new budget airlines, major overhauls of airline loyalty programs, the growing popularity of “adult study abroad” programs, and a look ahead at the top travel and outdoor gear trends of 2022. 

Like many Americans, Brianna Soares, a 28-year-old marketing specialist from Connecticut, has spent the last year and a half working from home. Now, with a cold Northeastern winter on the horizon and with travel restrictions finally easing, Soares decided it was time for a change of scenery. After all, she could take her work anywhere. Why not experience a new destination when she could?

After researching several destinations, she came across Sojrn, a sister program to millennial-focused group travel company For The Love of Travel. Launched in April 2021, Sojrn billed itself as a four-week educational travel program allowing professionals to switch up their work setting, with access to co-working spaces and WiFi as well as group classes based on different themes, called "chapters."

There was wine in Tuscany, which included "vineyard visits and workshops on taste profiles." There was philosophy in Athens, which promised "curated experiences designed to introduce you to the world of Greek philosophy." In Bali, there was even mental wellness, with classes focused on meditation, stress reduction, and "matters of the soul."

Soares, who had never done a study abroad program in college, was intrigued. She knew she wanted to do some surfing, but learning more about a culture through programming tailored to her interests was a plus.

"The Spanish in Colombia chapter completely aligned with my goals," said Soares, who spoke to TripSavvy while en route to a Colombian coffee farm tour. "I wanted to progress my Spanish, which I have been working on learning for years. It was in an ideal time zone that wouldn't interrupt my work schedule too much, and it was also during a time of year where I knew work would be slower."

Leila Ameni, a 33-year-old yoga instructor and attorney from Los Angeles, had the same idea. "I have always wanted to spend an extended amount of time in Italy, and this felt like the perfect opportunity," says Ameni, who quit her law job before signing up for the Wine in Tuscany chapter this past October, but whose office was completely remote during the pandemic.

"[The pandemic] inspired me to take the plunge and do this for myself," said Ameni. She had done study abroad programs as an undergraduate and again as a law student and loved the idea of learning abroad. "Life is too short to not do what you love, right?"

Along with Sojrn, several educational travel retreats have suddenly been back in the spotlight. Unsettled, founded in 2016, curates 30-day "co-working retreats" for remote workers in locales around the world, such as Bali, Barcelona, and Tahiti. The program provides a communal workspace, private room, high-speed internet, and curated day trips where participants can meet other like-minded travelers.

"[The pandemic] inspired me to take the plunge and do this for myself. Life is too short to not do what you love, right?"

In the evenings, Unsettled offers skill-share workshops, where participants, who come from various fields, can present mini-workshops from topics ranging from solving a Rubik's cube to "listening to yourself."

For those seeking a more hands-on learning experience, Venture With Impact, also founded in 2016, focuses its retreats on a 30-day "skills-based volunteering project" in destinations like Lisbon and Medellín. Travelers are matched with a volunteering opportunity that fits their interests and work remotely while making a local impact in a new community. The program provides a private room within a 2-3 bedroom apartment, high-speed internet, and a dedicated workspace for all of its participants.

Both Sojrn and Unsettled market themselves as millennial-focused but welcome remote workers of all ages ("Basically, as long as you're not an asshole, you'll fit right in," says Unsettled's Community page). But it's not surprising that these programs have suddenly found widespread appeal among millennials (Sojrn says the average of participants has hovered around 34). Once dubbed "the burnout generation," the economic toll of the pandemic has been immense for those born between 1980 and 1997, many of whom were beginning to arrive at a steady place in their careers after the Great Recession of 2009 when the world plunged into another crisis in 2020.

The pandemic's toll on their mental health comes into play, too. After spending over a year cut off from classes, social events, and office happy hours, the desire for organized communal activities is massively appealing. And while technology can be helpful for staying in touch while separated, some have argued that social media has "stoked a loneliness epidemic" that has ultimately done more harm than good.

Amy Morin, LCSW, a licensed clinical social worker, psychotherapist and editor-in-chief of Verywell Mind, agreed. "While technology provided opportunities to connect during the pandemic, nothing beats in-person interaction."

The desire to relive an experience primarily associated with college, where young people who lived in dormitories had easy access to like-minded peers at all times, makes sense. "Being around people, even if you are working on separate projects, can boost your mood," says Morin. "People gain energy from those around them."

The desire to relive an experience that is primarily associated with college, where young people who lived in dormitories had easy access to likeminded peers at all times, makes sense. "Being around people, even if you are working on separate projects, can boost your mood."

While these programs may seem like a romantic answer to isolation, burnout, and loneliness, they do come at a price. Rates for each Sojrn chapter begin at $2,899 depending on the accommodation type, while Unsettled's rates can run anywhere between $1,400 to $2,100 depending on destination and length of the trip; Venture With Impact's program fees begin at $2,200. Airfare, insurance, and visa fees are not included.

For young adults based in major cities, those numbers come close to the average monthly rent price; the investment can be seen as renting out a scenic Airbnb that includes social activities and learning opportunities. And in a pandemic era where "revenge travel" seems all the rage, many who have the luxury of bringing their work on the plane with them are eager to jump at this chance.

"I know it sounds cheesy," says Soares. "But I knew joining a group of travelers was going to give me things that I wouldn't be able to give myself. The stars really aligned for me on this trip."