Instead of tan, come back from your vacation healthier and thinner. In place of tacky trinkets, bring back healthy foods and exercise routines. At the Pritkin Center, you'll meet with a team of doctors, dieticians, and physiologists. But don't think it's all about deprivation. The setting, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, is stunning, and the meals are so delectable, you'll marvel that they're so good for you. Five to six times a day, you'll feast on such delights as panzanella herb salad, tuna carpaccio, stone crabs, sockeye salmon on morel risotto, and yes, chocolate mousse.
At the Raj Health Center, set in an Iowa cornfield, you'll learn mind and body balancing treatments based on 5,000-year-old principles of Ayurveda, once the sole purview of Indian royalty. Whether you opt for a three-, five-, seven-day, or longer stay, you'll get a customized program designed for your dosha (energy) profile. You'll learn what to eat, what herbal supplements to take, what exercises to do, and which of the spa's many treatments best serve your body. Panchakarma, a purifying treatment, pries toxins from your tissues. You'll enjoy family-style gourmet vegetarian meals and accommodations in a lush French-style château.
For more than 85 years, the John C. Campbell school in the Appalachians has been offering classes in quilting, canning, furniture building, knitting, pot-throwing, and more. And while you will leave with a finished product (there are more than 800 classes a year), the goal is to celebrate life and to sing with the joy of a job well done. The week-long courses, which run Sunday through Saturday morning, include three family-style meals (complete with the school's signature homemade bread), early morning group walks through the woods, and a Friday exhibition of your work.
Walking a tightrope or flying on a trapeze might not necessarily be the skills you most want to master. But the side effects of Wavy Gravy's Camp Winnarainbow — things like snorting, uncontrollable laughter, and compassion — make this circus-skills camp (taught by the old Grateful Dead circus clown) a must. Surely you haven't forgotten that childhood dream of running away to join the circus? All meals, sumptuously sourced from the camp's giant organic garden, are dress-up affairs, but don't pack your evening gown. The camp's on-site costume barn provides everything you need, from beanies with propellers to various gorilla parts.
Whether you want to pick orchids, harvest coffee beans, or study the medicinal value of noni (Indian mulberry, a coffee bean relative), consider a volunteer vacation with WWOOF Hawaii. It may sound suspiciously canine, but WWOOF stands for World-Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. It's an international organization that lets travelers visit farms around the world. In return for a few hours' work each day, WWOOFers get free room and board, and the chance to learn about organic farming in some of the most beautiful spots around the world.
On Maui, for example, you can work on a tropical flower garden in the middle of a rain forest or on a bamboo farm that doubles as a meditation-and-retreat center. On Kauai, you can work on a small goat-cheese dairy farm or on a farm that runs a whole foods co-op.
Thanks to its colorful catalog and support from well-known movie stars, Heifer International is one of the country’s most visible charities. If you want to do more than simply donate money, sign up for an agricultural workshop, a week-long program where you'll help with such activities as building a greenhouse, harvesting honey, or tending their huge organic gardens.
In five-day workshops, Eustace Conway, owner of Turtle Island Preserve, teaches how to live off the land in what he calls "the greatest classroom of all" — nature itself. You'll sleep beside a gurgling stream in a primitive cabin and learn to cook on an outdoor stove. As Conway likes to say about carving your own utensils, gathering your own ginseng tea, and baking your own bread, "This way of life is easier. It's happy. What's hard is paying bills and dealing with stress."