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Lockdown learning: 10 great ways to be ready for your next holiday

Now you’re talking … with a language course

Gen up so you can order dos cervezas (or indeed a range of other drinks) with a perfect accent or perhaps ask for directions to the Acropolis – and understand the answer. Duolingo’s selection (free) ranges from French to Klingon, for those planning to travel further afield. Other options include Babbel, with 14 languages, podcasts and daily challenges (from £4.75 a month). The app has options for different levels of experience, with writing exercises as well as real-life dialogue and speech recognition software to critique your pronunciation. Lessons are from 15 minutes long and the first one is free. There are options to focus on topics such as culture, travel or business, too.

Take a tasty trip with an online cooking course

Dive into the cuisine of your favourite destination with an online class. Learn to make Italian dishes – from gnocchi with pesto to lasagne – from old family recipes, with 84-year-old Nonna Nerina (£50, nonnalive.com). The website offers a choice of cooks to sign up with, but Nerina’s classes, which she runs with granddaughter Chiara, are particularly charming. Among free options are chef Nicoletta Grippo of La Scuola di Eataly in New York making fresh pasta at Skillshare.com, while villa company Tuscany Now & More is running cooking and wine tasting lessons from Instagram each Sunday (ingredients posted the Wednesday before).

Learn smartphone photography

Hone skills for your next trip by learning how to make the most of the camera on your phone. The iPhone Photography School’s Photo Academy (from £99) course has easy-to-understand tutorials on aspects including framing and lighting, as well as taking pictures of the night sky. It also offers listings, such as the best free photography apps. The Shaw Academy’s Smartphone Photography diploma is free for a month, before optional upgrades. US online learning platform Udemy lists many options, including Dale McManus’s iPhone course, with detailed online video tuition on subjects from composition and storytelling to editing in Lightroom (£49.99). Sky Blue Photography runs a monthly smartphone photography course (next one 12 May). Instruction is via Zoom videoconferencing, with demonstrations and exercises on everything from exposure settings to using filters – and costs £46 for two hours.

Unleash your inner artist

Discover how to capture your next holiday with a pencil or paintbrush through online art tuition. The basics can be learned using free resources: check out YouTube or sites such as free-online-art-classes.com by US artist Lois DeWitt. For the more committed, the London Art College has 30 courses for all levels, from landscape painting to still life. Its beginners’ drawing course has a dedicated tutor to whom work is submitted for critique, and takes around three months to complete (from £190). West Dean College of Arts and Conservation has a new series of bite-size tips and tutorials from course tutors too – from charcoal-sketching to botanical painti ng – available free on its social media channels.

Writing workshops: travel or fiction

Get busy with a travel writing course and capture holiday memories and evocative landscapes on the page. The Travel Writing Workshop has taken its practical courses online, with the choice of day-long sessions, evening classes and one-to-one tuition (from £115, including follow-up support). Or try creative writing: maybe your next trip will provide compelling material for a novel. The Novelry has a range of courses, led by novelists including Louise Dean and Tim Lott. Its Classic Course, for example, has daily lessons and costs from £129 a month.

Set a course … for sailing

If you dream of sailing off into the sunset when lockdown lifts, there’s now time to get ahead with your boating skills. Nav At Home’s Basic Training course is for beginners and has 20 hours of fully animated lessons covering everything from knots (pictured) and anchors to chart familiarisation, working with tides and safety at sea (£35). The eSail sailing simulator is designed to teach skills that can be transferred into real sailing situations, for different levels, with virtual tutorials covering aspects including raising sails and mooring (£19.99).

Diving into scuba knowhow

Get the technical side of a scuba-diving course under your belt with a Padi e-learning programme. The online Padi Open Water Diver course uses a mix of video, audio and text to teach the main concepts and essential safety practices needed to explore the underwater world, with quizzes to check progress. It takes about 15 hours to complete. Practical dive skills lessons must still be completed to gain a certificate – but you can get in the sea that much quicker with the theory done and dusted (£96.41, including a 25% discount; the practical will be extra).

Wilderness survival skills – indoors

The call of the wild may be strong in lockdown, but some outdoor skills can be learned while stuck inside. There’s no substitute for getting your hands dirty, the key principles of wilderness survival can be mastered on Frontier Bushcraft’s Online Elementary Wilderness Bushcraft Course. It’s an in-depth course, in 12 modules, covering many aspects, from tools to making fires (pictured) and building shelters, with videos, worksheets and animations to bring it all to life. Two modules are available on joining, with the rest sent out once a week (from £224). For those on a budget, there’s a lot of free material, from videos and articles to podcasts on the website of Frontier Bushcraft’s Paul Kirtley.

Keep skiing skills sharp

The mountains may be out of bounds, but it doesn’t mean skiing skills have to get rusty. The Warren Smith Ski Academy has launched lockdown coaching with live, free Facebook webinars every Friday at 10am (they’re recorded if you miss them). The #skitechniquelab aims to motivate with exercises to help skiers stay slope-fit and maintain muscle strength and flexibility in lockdown. Coaches will offer advice on anything from specific posture issues to equipment, and a video consultation service analysing ski footage will be launched soon.
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Know your way round a starry sky

Learn how to tell Orion from Arcturus for the next time you’re out lying under the stars – with an astronomy course. There are many good free courses, such as the Open University’s Galaxies, stars and planets, which offers an introduction to night skies with eight hours of tuition, while its 16-hour Comparing Stars is for those with some knowledge already. The Royal Observatory Greenwich’s Solar System and Beyond is designed for homeschoolers, but is a great starting point, too, with nine hours of classes.

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Cruises

How Suppliers Are Helping Travel Agents During COVID-19 Outbreak

Amid the ongoing chaos wrought by the coronavirus outbreak, there is one decided bright spot: suppliers are standing by their travel advisor partners with advice and support to help them move forward.

“Suppliers are absolutely going above and beyond to help advisors take care of our clients during these uncertain and challenging times,” said Susie Chau of Carpe Diem Traveler. As a case in point, Chau’s DMC partner, Charmed by Spain, helped her deal with clients who were in Spain when the country declared emergency earlier this month.

“They quickly reorganized transportation to take them to Valencia where their flight was scheduled to depart from and booked their hotel with a flexible check-out date. The local guides even offered that my clients could stay with them in their homes if they could no longer stay in the hotel. They truly treated them like family and put them at ease.”

She added that the hotel’s owners cooked them meals on their last day in Spain when they were quarantined to their room. “My clients were so grateful for the warm treatment they received from all of the suppliers involved,” Chau said.

Suppliers are also working hand-in-hand with agents to “field the insurmountable number of cancellations and changes coming their way, so realistically, all they can do right now is make sure that we are up-to-date with their policy changes as they come in,” said Hannah Nowicki of Sunset Travel & Cruise in Chicago. “Our consortium, MAST Travel Network, and ASTA are offering webpages with updates and tools on how best to respond to concerned clients, as well as the media. ASTA is offering weekly webinars with updates from the travel industry and their advocacy work.”

Also, Nowicki noted that suppliers are keeping the agency well informed. “Things are changing by the hour and it takes a lot to make sure that all agents are well-informed with the new information and policies as they come in,” she said.

For his part, James Ferguson of Travel Edge gave a shout out to the cruise industry. “The cruise lines have been particularly forgiving with very liberal cancellation policy updating regularly in concert with the rapidly changing scenarios,” he said. “In particular, Crystal Cruises offered my client an upgrade (at a nominal cost) from their regular suite to the Penthouse for their July 25, 14-day Grand Europe river sailing – which the clients gladly accepted.”

Ryan Doncsecz of VIP Vacations Inc. praised Delta Vacations for disseminating crucial information to agents on a real-time basis. “They are immediately updating policies to help cover travel agents by allowing new rules to help agents protect the money spent on the booking in terms of an agency service fee, offering flexible future credit options, and are the first company out to update their waiver policies…” he said. “Delta Vacations President Jennie Ho and Vice President Kristen Molloy have been open to travel agent suggestions, and are responding in such a fast manner.”

He also praised AIC Hotel Group’s Hard Rock Hotels “for being the first resort brand to proactively release a very flexible rebooking program for worried travelers. Many key resort partners from around the world have followed AIC’s action plan.”

Doncsecz also praised Apple Leisure Group for doing an amazing job at implementing self-help technology through VaxVacationAccess.com to help agents update their bookings, he said. “This will hopefully alleviate wait times for their various companies within their umbrella.”

For Travel Experts, getting information out to its member advisors has been key from the get-go.

“When the coronavirus began to impact the travel industry, we immediately created our own internal information center for the posting and updating of all supplier information and their policies regarding Covid-19,” said Sharon Fake, the luxury host agency’s director of operations. “This information center for our travel advisors is very well-organized for easy access by the advisors and has been the primary resource our advisors are using. It is updated the moment new information is presented.”

Other suppliers that are arming agents with resources include Apple Leisure Group, Travel Leaders Group and Cruise Planners.

“During the downtime we are experiencing during the coronavirus pandemic, a number of vendors have been reaching out via webinars, phone and email with information about promotions once the pandemic eases up,” said Claire Schoeder of Elevations Travel.

She had been planning to attend the now-canceled Visit Scotland Expo on April 1 and 2 in Aberdeen Scotland.

“Several vendors I was scheduled to meet have reached out to me via phone and email. Yesterday I Skyped with the Fife Arms, a luxury hotel in Braemar, Scotland,” Schoeder said. “This is a great way for me to learn about the hotel when I cannot see it in person. Vendors and agents who are pro-active during this trying time will be ready to move forward once the pandemic has settled down.”

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