When a trip abroad becomes so much more than a vacation

Sara Cousins at a handmade paper factory in Auroville, India

A trip abroad elicits mental visions of white stretches of sand and perfectly Instagrammed Cappuccino foam. And while everyone needs down time, it’s worth considering that there’s more this down time can do.

Below, four VAWAA guests share stories about how they turned their vacations into opportunities: to discover new life paths, forge artistic collaborations, learn new skills, and find creative inspiration.


Lesley Onstott and Julia Larsen used the opportunity of a VAWAA vacation to learn from a master and launch their own creative endeavor, a sustainable fashion brand. A trip to Vietnam to visit natural cloth-dyeing artist Vu Thao was the perfect blend of the worlds of travel, creative inspiration, and research.

Photo Courtesy: Vu Thao

“I come from a documentary film and photojournalism background, so the connection of art/documentation and building social awareness has always been at the forefront of what I do,” Lesley says.

The brand aims to address the detrimental effects of “fast fashion,” particularly its impact on local communities and ecosystems. “I saw Thao’s program and thought it would be a fun way for Julia and I to immerse ourselves in sustainable fashion, learning from women who are inspiring us to move forward with our own endeavor,” Lesley explains.


Music—like many forms of art—transcends language. It’s something more often felt in the soul and expressed in intangibles than articulated in mere words. When Alberto Botero embarked on a creative vacation with Francisco, he recognized it as the ideal opportunity to create a new, inspired sound.

“I wanted to build the base tracks for something with a mix of industrial, EDM, and smooth jazz sounds. I also wanted to work on my digital software skills,” he says.

Over the course of his vacation, the duo formed a bond—and ultimately decided to collaborate on a longer term basis.

Photo courtesy: Francisco Lapetina

“Working with Francisco was amazing. We decided to release an album together,” Alfredo says. Right now, they’re putting the finishing touches on the pair’s collaborative album, which will be available at the end of the month. Stay tuned to VAWAA for updates on the album release.


Any Guelmann, a Brooklyn-based senior maker specialist at Etsy, wanted to learn an artistic skill she’d always admired—the cultural art of fileteado, or traditional lettering/drawing in Buenos Aires.

“It’s hard to find something that you can’t learn or take a class on in New York City—but fileteado was one of those things,” she says, adding that her time with master artist Alfredo was revelatory. “[It was] a whole new level of travel—to actually visit someone who produces something beautiful and historical. You can go inside their universe,” she says.

Any’s time with Master Genovese opened her eyes to a whole new side of Argentina; she says she was able to view the city through a new cultural lens. “The experience of learning fileteado didn’t stay in the studio,” she says.

Any was even able to leave behind a lasting legacy of her time with Master Genovese: “Over the course of a few days with Alfredo, not only did I learn the basics of the craft, but he also invited me to contribute a few brush strokes to a commissioned piece,” she relates.

Photo Courtesy: Alfredo Genovese


Cecilia Araújo, a young woman from Brazil, booked a vacation with ceramics master Katja in the lush foothills of Slovenia—she sought more lasting rewards than simple snapshots or traditional souvenirs.

“I decided to visit countries that I’ve never been to before,” she says. “I chose to learn creative skills as part of this ‘soul-searching’... It’s been something that I’ve left aside for the longest time, but it was always calling me.”

Over the course of her time with Katja, Cecilia found herself falling into a new rhythm—a more relaxed, less perfectionist attitude than the one she typically adopts in her everyday life. In the end, “it wasn’t just about ceramics,” she reflects.

Photo courtesy: Cecilia Araújo

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