I’ve had a Scotland trip in mind since before Covid, but haven’t made much progress planning the adventure because I didn’t want to get my hopes up about a journey I might not take for a while. Since that’s too depressing, I resolved to at least start doing some research. Like the phrase “Camp Begins on the Bus,” I think the pleasures of travel start with an immersion in learning about about a fun destination.
So, as the year kicked off, I took attended a webinar about the Scottish Highlands and Skye, thanks to an organization called Context Travel. During a ninety minute webinar, I was treated to a slide show from a host with extensive local knowledge, had a chance to ask questions, and heard some local lore. After, we were sent a link to the presentation (which could be shared with other potential travel mates) and sent a helpful reading list. Best of all, the expert offered a valuable bit of advice – the mosquitos are unbearable during the summer and hiking requires mosquito netting. Those “midges” might have ruined an otherwise well thought-out itinerary, so I was happy to have that knowledge to file away.
I don’t pretend to be a great trip planner, but over the years have used Context for private touring a few times – once during a trip to Paris and once while in Barcelona. The business model was quite simple back then – a young PhD student met us for a unique tour of the city that synched up with his or her expertise. The tours were designed to be a bit off-the beaten tourist path – in Paris, we toured the cemetery Pere-lachaise and learned about burial through the ages (starting with the famous catacombs), the reaction of the neighboring areas during the revolutionary war, and only then focused on the famous citizens buried there – from Gertrude Stein to Edith Piaf to Jim Morrison.
The Barcelona tour was even sweeter, because we looked at the city through the lens of chocolate. We started at the harbor in Barcelona where the first cacao was delivered to the royal family, then toured chocolate cafes where we drank hot cocoa that was the texture of pudding and learned how the exotic taste was popularized by the dairy farmers who ran the early cafes. We wound up at one of the Gaudi mansions, one of the city’s star attractions, which had been built by a man who made a fortune by bringing chocolate to the masses.
Context Travel was founded on the premise that travel is the ultimate form of education. Our network of scholars and specialists span nearly every cultural capital around the world, and have expertise in thousands of focus areas.
Billed as a resource for “travelers who love to learn,” Context continues to offer private and group tours alongside their new online seminar business. The online learning courses are divided into straight up courses (a history of the Popes, for instance, which takes place over several weeks) to book discussions and cooking seminars, to the “Know Before You Go” offerings. There is a robust calendar (here) and courses vary in price depending on the duration of the sessions.
The seminars listed are all in the future – I don’t think they’re stored online after the fact. But, just for Scotland, there are dozens of seminars listed between now and summer – so, I’ll probably tune into a few more and keep my fingers crossed that I can travel there (eventually).
A few other resources to whet your appetite for planning
Here is Travel + Leisure’s 2022 list.