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By The Way
Detours with locals. Travel tips you can trust.
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Why cooking on vacation is actually a great idea

Embrace the stress of the kitchen and take a cooking class

(Min Heo/for The Washington Post)
3 min

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One of the best parts of traveling is experiencing the food culture of where you’re going. It’s a break from routine — lavish breakfast spreads, alfresco lunches and carefree dinners at restaurants every night. On vacation, we leave behind the stress of the kitchen.

But hear me out: Cooking on vacation isn’t that bad either.

It started on a trip to Thailand almost 15 years ago. Cooking classes are a pretty common tourist activity there, and my sister and I visited Baan Thai in Chiang Mai for a six-course cooking lesson. Going into it, I was skeptical: Yes, I love Thai food, and I was very much enjoying eating it three (okay, more than three) times a day, but did I really want to sacrifice a day of my trip to cooking?

It ended up being the best souvenir I ever brought home.

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Since then, it’s become a mainstay to my travel itineraries. In Antigua, Guatemala, I learned to make chiles rellenos and tortitas de arroz. In Hanoi, I spent a day making tofu four different (and delicious) ways during a vegan cooking class. In Fez, I baked three different types of bread. And in Rome, I skipped pasta-making for an in-depth lesson on espresso drinks (much more applicable to my daily life).

The actual cooking class, oftentimes paired with a trip to the market, will probably give you a new level of appreciation for the food you’re enjoying throughout your trip. It’s a fun way to meet other travelers, and as long as you pick the class carefully, it’s a great opportunity to support the local community.

But it also changed the way I see travel. Instead of thinking of it as just an escape, it taught me to look for the ways my experience can enhance what I previously saw as the most routine parts of my life.

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When I came home from that trip to Thailand, I was on the cusp of living alone for the first time. It gave me new confidence in my cooking and pushed me to stop viewing time in the kitchen as a chore. Instead, it became a way to bring adventures home with me.

It’s a gift that came in handy during the last couple of years. In the pandemic, without access to travel, cooking became my escape. I tried my hand at some of those fancy espresso drinks, made Moroccan msemen for breakfast and tried to re-create the same six-course meal I learned to make so many years ago (that last one didn’t go so well.)

So, on your next trip, think about trading an evening out for an evening behind the stove.