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For Your Next Trip, Vacation with an Artist

Ditch the touristy stuff in favor of a curated studio session with a global artist.

Designer Geetika Agrawal was never content being a tourist. During college, she spent her summers learning from local artisans in India, but when she embarked on travels as an adult, there was no easy way to connect with artists globally. To fill the void, Agrawal dreamt up Vacation With An Artist (VAWAA), a program pairing travelers with creators around the world, and in June 2015, embarked on a yearlong sabbatical, traveling to 12 countries in 12 months, to bring her idea to life.

“When people think of travel, they think it’s just a holiday, but it’s an opportunity to engage your mind,” Agrawal tells The Creators Project. “A lot of people care more about experiences than things, have had early, demanding careers, and are considering mini-sabbaticals and other ways of enriching themselves. But while people tend to get really excited about travel, it can be hard to connect the dots and make the leap. I’m trying to help people realize travel can be a life-changing experience and lead them in many directions.”

Rattan weaver Sim Chew Poh (left) and with his father, master weaver Sim Buck Teik. Courtesy of VAWAA

In the last year, Agrawal has navigated the globe, living in places as varied as the Czech Republic, Vietnam, and Argentina. In each locale, she embarks on four weeks of focused outreach to connect with local artists and introduce VAWAA. To find design communities, Agrawal relies on a mix of online research, personal connections, and pounding the pavement, attending events and visiting design stores to schedule in-person meetings. Nearly all the artists she meets are digitally savvy; most are on Instagram and use Facebook and WhatsApp to get in touch, rather than email or phone.

Signing up for VAWAA is vastly different from taking a one-off workshop or class abroad, namely because the experience unfolds over several days while working inside real artists’ studios. Days are generally spent learning and practicing a skill, assisting artisans with their projects, sourcing materials, and generally tagging along on the artist’s day-to-day activities. Some are more adventurous: in Slovenia, travelers can accompany a photographer on a camping and rafting adventure in the forest, complete with a mobile darkroom to develop shots in the wild. And in Vietnam, writers can spend five days on a literary retreat with a world-renowned author in the mountains outside Hanoi.

Award-winning writer Nguyen Qui Duc at his home in Vietnam. Courtesy of VAWAA

“It’s what you make of it. That’s why it’s so personal. Every person’s experience is going to be very different and it’s about the relationship you build with the artist,” Agrawal says. “You’re going there for an extended period of time, not just a two-hour workshop, which you could find anywhere. After a two-hour batik workshop, for example, maybe you end up with a handkerchief or something. But to feel really enriched, you need to do something for a certain period of time, and because you’re spending time with artists, in a very personal way, it feels very special.”

Aside from curating stimulating and enriching programs for travelers, Agrawal is on a mission to benefit the creators she works with. Artists set their own fees, and in addition to providing an external revenue source, Agrawal hopes VAWAA will help makers get their work in front of a larger audience. Ultimately though, the program is about making it a little easier for people to learn and share artistic knowledge, wherever they may wander.

Agrawal (left) with textile designer Jigisha Unnu in Ahmedabad, India. Courtesy of VAWAA

Browse VAWAA’s full roster of artists and book studio sessions online at vawaa.com.

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