1. Crafty travel: 14 places around the world where you can learn to make beautiful things

    As all kindergarten teachers know, few activities bring people together in a state of zen-like contentment like sitting in a circle making things with our own two hands. No matter how exotic the locale, when we travel, it is this kind of basic human moment that sticks with us the most. Over the past decade, savvy communities of artisans around the world have discovered that burnt-out post-industrial travelers are interested not only in buying handmade crafts, but also in learning to make them. This is good for those of us in dire need of craft therapy, but it has also turned out to be a solid model for small-scale community-based tourism.

    Travel, at its best, is an exercise in wish fulfillment. In a world of mass-production, the romantic notion of escaping to a far-flung destination and making contact with a community of craftspeople using ancient techniques is a compelling fantasy. While they may not be the Arts and Crafts utopias envisioned by the likes of John Ruskin and William Morris, the good news is that places like this really do exist and the possibilities are endless: batik workshops in Senegal, pottery classes in Turkey, incense making in Vietnam, glassblowing in Italy, weaving in Guatemala, drum making in South Africa, or quilting in Alabama. This slideshow pulls together fourteen spots around the globe where you can travel and immerse yourself in a craft.

    Photo by Andre Natta

  2. Smart Travel Writing Contest Winners

    A big thanks to everyone who entered our Smart Travel Writing Contest. This contest had more top contenders than usual, so our choice was not easy. In 2011, our two winners will be headed to Tonga for a Seacology eco-expedition aboard the Nai’a, exploring South Pacific islands and visiting one of the few areas in the world where humans can swim with whales. Here are the winning trips:

    Jessica Allen: Sprinting After Chimpanzees in Kibale National Park, Uganda

    Jennifer Gold: Getting a Taste of Community-Based Tourism Koh Yao Noi in Thailand (pending confirmation)

    Both of these places (and their well-written descriptions), give us hope that the right kind of tourism can be used as a force for good in communities that want to protect the environment and their way of life.