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The New Boot Camp: Five Summer Vacation Trends

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In our faster-better-more culture, the notion of a vacation as time "off," as pure getaway, seems almost quaint. Not surprisingly, many Americans are using summer vacation time to pursue interests that are all but impossible to fit into their packed daily routine -- like learning to cook a new type of cuisine or whipping their bodies into shape at a fitness boot camp. These interests and many more can be satisfied at a growing number of immersive camps and workshops, dedicated to everything from en plein air painting to, well, something a lot like a military boot camp.

Of course, everyone knows about summer camps for kids, but camps for adults are one of the most pervasive trends in summer travel. If a relaxing vacation seems almost a decadent luxury to you, consider some of these options for the educationally and physically adventurous.

Dog Days
With more Americans opting not to have children, and boomers starting to roam around in big empty nests, a fair amount of familial energy is now being directed toward pets. These multi-species families are not content to chase sticks and take long walks -- rather they're high achievers, inclined to take classes, enter competitions and even engage in activities that look like the equivalent of historical costume reenactments to an outsider.

Training classes can range from simple obedience with a few tricks to Rally-O, which is essentially an exalted and exacting form of basic obedience in a competition setting. Another very popular activity is agility training, where dogs negotiate obstacle courses in a controlled environment.

Also, given the large number of troubled animals looking for homes in shelters and rescues, there are camps for difficult pets, including Pam Dennison's Camp R.E.W.A.R.D for Aggressive, Reactive or Shy Dogs. Finally, the "historical reenactment" crowd likes to indulge in sheep herding for sport; suburban folks often trek significant distances out into the hinterlands to test their herding abilities on real sheep.

And of course all of these endeavors have their boot camps. Some examples:
  • Dog's Best Friend
  • Positive Motivation Dog Training
  • The Family Dog
  • The Dog Agility Page
  • Tails-U-Win

    Sports Camps
    Soccer camp is not just for kids anymore; in fact, in many sports, the fastest growing segment of participants is among masters athletes. It makes sense; Little League, the mother of all kids' leagues in the U.S., was established in 1939, and it flourished in the post-War period. The kids of those kids (not to mention some of those original kids as well, who continue to compete in their 80's and 90's) are now running age-group marathons, doing laps before dawn in masters swimming programs, and learning to roll kayaks on glacier lakes. The first kids to experience the "football" boom in America are even starting up adult and age-group soccer leagues.

    Some resources for finding your own sports boot camp:
  • Surfing: Surfline
  • Soccer: U.S. Soccer Federation
  • Swimming: United States Masters Swimming
  • Rowing: Row2k
  • Track and Field: National Masters News

    Wine, Beer and Cooking Camps
    It's not enough to eat, drink and be merry anymore; these days you have to cook well from unique ingredients, make your own libations starting with the grape or the barley, and show it all off to your friends (or inflict it on your friends, as the case may be) before you are allowed also to be merry. Giant kitchens and flaky cooking coaches aren't the rage for nothing -- Americans are into cooking, and into cooking well.

    If you want to wander further afield, for many people, a vital part of traveling to a new place is appreciating the local cuisine. To accommodate these folks, there are programs that teach you to cook the way the locals do; these can be found from Tuscany to Mexico, or from the Midwest to Northern Africa.

    If your pleasure tends this way, check out the Guide to Recreational Cooking & Wine Schools.
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