Everyone’s idea of a good vacation may be different, but one issue seems to be universal: finding the “real” side of a new place. The desire to find authenticity and meaning during travel has only increased during the pandemonium of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many people are asking: What’s the best way to intimately connect with a new destination? Digital startup Vacation With an Artist (VAWAA) may have a solution.
Founded in 2015 by Geetika Agrawal (who is also the CEO), VAWAA offers curated getaways that pair travelers with an artisan of their choice. With 113 experiences spanning 27 countries and counting, VAWAA offerings range from learning Japanese calligraphy in Kyoto to taking in the more than 200-year-old tradition of Black Appalachian quilting in Gee’s Bend, Alabama. Trips are added regularly to the website—new offerings include a four-day stay with a sculptor couple in Santa Fe and a sojourn with a ceramics artisan in Guadalajara, Mexico. Through its programs, VAWAA hopes guests will connect more deeply with local cultures through art and have more fulfilling travel experiences.
Booking with VAWAA is simple: Guests can browse the different artist experiences, check availability, and request to book their vacation directly on the site. During their time with VAWAA, visitors will live within artists’ own homes and be fully immersed in their new teacher’s day-to-day life. The price of a VAWAA excursion (which ranges from $215 to $4,470) includes compensation for the artist’s time and teachings, accommodations, access to their studio, materials, and supplies. Vacations last between one and seven days, so whether guests are looking to get away for a weekend or are seeking an immersive, extended break, there’s likely a VAWAA excursion that will fit their needs.
Agrawal is originally an architect and designer by training. She studied at CEPT University in Ahmedabad, India, before moving to Pasadena, California, for a graduate degree at the ArtCenter College of Design. During her summers studying at CEPT University, Agrawal traveled all around India learning about artisanal skills native to each region of the country. “India is so rich in crafts,” she says. “I was heavily exposed to textiles, pottery, woodworking, metal crafts, everything. Every summer would be a new thing.”
After spending a few years in the corporate world, including a stint working for the global marketing company R/GA in New York City, Agrawal decided to take a year-long sabbatical. Inspired by her summer trips in India during college, she had a rough idea in the back of her mind to eventually found the company that would become VAWAA—and her full-time calling. She decided that she would spend one month in 12 countries around the world and seek out craftspeople intent on preserving the arts they practiced. In the Czech Republic, she met shoemaker Erik Lawart, who’s been cobbling footwear since he was 12 years old. He became the very first artist to join VAWAA.
In Agrawal’s experience, it wasn’t difficult to convince subsequent artists to join the startup’s roster. In fact, most jumped at the chance to share their passion with new people. “It wasn’t hard to sell them on [VAWAA],” she says. “Artists want to teach. They like people who are really curious and want to learn. It’s a two-way exchange and it can be very fulfilling for everyone.”
For the people who participate in VAWAA, Agrawal hopes that the lessons they learn stick with them long after they return home. She says that during the pandemic, she’s seen a major shift in how people approach their vacations. More travelers are looking to make sense of and find peace in a chaotic social climate. “People don’t want to go back to normal,” Agrawal says. “People are taking a step back and taking a moment to reimagine their lives. It is very hard to do it alone. That’s why we seek guides, like artists.”
But besides being able to bring a sense of meaning into guests’ lives, Agrawal ultimately hopes that VAWAA will be able to preserve the skills of artisans who may not have an apprentice to pass their work onto. “It’s a way to extend the life of a craft, of a culture,” she says. “As more people learn, and consider these things a career and maybe a new lifestyle, humanity’s crafts and our culture are preserved. This is a fun and purposeful way to do that.”