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Times are tough. Jobless claims keep going up. But airfares are lower than they've been in recent history. Perhaps traveling is the last thing on your mind if you've been laid off, but what if that trip could prove educational or even career-changing? Go beyond taking summer college courses, voluntourism and teaching English in a foreign country. Here are a few companies and programs that may truly assist you.

1. Change Your Career

A whopping 85 per cent of people who have booked a Vocation Vacation (tel. 866/888-6329; www.vocationvacations.com), this year are looking to make a career change in the next six months, according to founder Brian Kurth. Test drive your dream career, whether it's brewing beer, herding cattle, or farming oyster, in immersions with mentors that last from one to three days. When he started the company in 2004, Kurth says most people booked trips as gifts or more for recreation. Nowadays, the most popular areas are culinary, sports, design, and music. Mentors are available across the U.S. and soon, Canada and Australia. The vocations cost from $549-$1,999, and cover one-on-one mentorship, career coaching both before and after your trip, a journal, and a personality assessment using the Myers Briggs Type Indicator. You arrange for your own flight and accommodations nearby and Kurth is happy to provide suggestions.

2. Green Design in the Green Mountains

Have you wanted to learn how to make furniture or get schooled in sustainable design? Yestermorrow Design/Build School (tel. 888/496-5541; www.yestermorrow.org), located in Warren, Vermont offers training that ranges from a weekend to 12 weeks. The two-day weekend courses are generally about $300 and a one-week course about $750. Yestermorrow is also known for its two certificate programs: sustainable building and design (which costs $4,200) and natural building intensive ($5,800 plus food and lodging). The latter is a 12-week course over the summer; the former can be accomplished with a degree of flexibility; there are even work-for-tuition options. The experiences are hands-on and in-depth. Bunk onsite in cabins and dorms built by students or off campus in the Mad River Valley. The shorter-term courses range from architectural craft and woodworking to biofuels, concrete countertops and a weekend course most people could probably benefit from called "plumbing demystified."

3. Surf Down Under, Not the Web

Love the idea of going to Australia and learning how to become a surf instructor, lifeguard, or scuba diving instructor? The country's "Work and Holiday" visa (www.australia.com/workinoz) program is geared toward recent graduates ages 18-30 who want to travel but also want to learn something and work for a year. The economic downturn affects recent grads who are facing stiffer competition for fewer jobs. Australia is the first country with which the United States has entered into a work and holiday visa arrangement, and STA Travel (tel. 800/781-4040; www.statravel.com/work-abroad.htm) is helping young people get there. You can take courses in the aforementioned water-related vocations, learn to tend bar, or work as a ranch hand or fruit picker. Packages start for as little as $90 for a two-day course in bartending to $12,950 for an 8-week course in ski instruction certification; prices do not include airfare.

4. All Travel is Educational

Finally, you can take a more traditional approach with Road Scholar (tel. 800/466-7762; www.roadscholar.org), which runs well-organized and thoughtful trips to destinations around the world because travel can bring a unique change in your perspective. Think of the vacation as an investment into your future. Get a glimpse of famous "Americans in Paris" with trips that depart in July, September and October, priced from $2,872 for seven nights, meals, lectures, entrance fees to things like museums and other attractions, taxes, transfers, and more. Been to Paris, done that? How about learning the culinary traditions of Mexico, or about conservation efforts in Costa Rica? Road Scholar offers a path for every interest.

Talk with fellow Frommer's cruisers on our Cultural Immersion Forums.