Until now, most of your Zoom meetings have been for school, work or touching base with grandma. But what if you could escape to far-flung destinations and learn something new — like, how to cook tagine with a Moroccan family in Marrakech?
Last month, Airbnb unveiled Online Experiences, a series of virtual classes and meet-ups led by Airbnb hosts around the world. You can “Follow a Plague Doctor Through Prague” (timely), learn “All About Coffee with a Colombian Pro Taster and Barista” or peek into “Olympic Life with a Mozambican Hurdler.”
Just like us, these experts are home and eager to connect with people for an hour or two. There are more than 200 experiences available so far, and the travel company is adding new experiences every week.
The experiences below range from $6 to $32, but you may pay as little as $5 for “Traditions of Mexico’s Day of the Dead” or as much as $53 to “Meet the Dogs of Chernobyl,” descendants of the dogs abandoned after the 1986 nuclear disaster.
Happy (virtual) travels.
Experience: Meditation with a Japanese Buddhist Monk
Location: Osaka, Japan
I came to Kuniatsu Suzuki’s meditation class ($9) expecting the usual: a soothing voice telling you what to do, visualize, scan, breathe. This is not the way of Kuniatsu-san.
A Buddhist monk since 2002, Suzuki filled my screen with his huge smile and animated gestures. He spent the first 30 minutes of class on introductions — my eight fellow classmates hailed from as far away as the Netherlands — and the importance of steady breath, the healing effect of the human voice and how 20 minutes of active meditation can release the same amount of endorphins as one hour of running.
Then we dove in, joining Suzuki as he led us through 20 minutes of chanting OM/ bala/ da/ Han/ doh/ may/ un, a Sanskrit phrase meaning “a sort of dream come true.” For the first half, I fell into the rhythm of his voice and drum, forgetting we were on a screen. The mantra helped keep my mind from wandering — unlike guided meditation, where my thoughts flutter around like butterflies. But eventually, I found it difficult to stay focused. I opened my eyes and shared a giggle with another classmate, his cat’s head poking into view.
Overall, it was $9 well spent — a great introduction to Buddhist chanting meditation, and I appreciated hearing what other participants got out of it.
Travel tip: Get out of your westernized head and be ready to dive in. Make sure you’re sitting on a firm surface or chair. It will help you keep good posture and stay focused.
— Jessica Yadegaran
Experience: Luca & Lorenzo’s Family Pasta Recipe
Location: Florence, Italy
If you’ve ever wanted to learn to make fresh pasta, especially ravioli, I cannot recommend this class ($32) highly enough.
Luca and Lorenzo, brothers who grew up cooking with their Florentine nonna, were charming, patient and communicative as we created our dough wells and mixed in our eggs.
“Treat your dough like your boyfriend, not your ex-boyfriend,” Lorenzo quipped during kneading, focusing his camera on all 13 pairs of hands and checking our work before letting us go on to the next step. A close-up cam allowed us to watch what he was doing, too, hanging the pasta sheet over the counter between rolling to help stretch it, using the two-finger rule when plopping the ricotta mixture on the sheet and thumb-pinching to seal each ravioli.
Before long, we were all drinking wine and cooking our ravioli and other pasta shapes we’d made. My favorite trick was using a shot-glass worth of pasta water to create a creamy sage and butter sauce for the ravioli — and my husband is still swooning.
Travel tip: With your reservation confirmation, Luca and Lorenzo send a list of everything you’ll need, from fresh ingredients to kitchen tools. Have it out and ready to go.
— Jessica Yadegaran
Experience: An Evening with a Flamenco Composer
Location: Madrid, Spain
As a music critic, I go to 100-plus concerts in a typical year, so I’ve been bereft in these days of social distancing. After looking through the cornucopia of tuneful offerings — from “Songwriting with a Nashville Musician” to a “Concert from Iceland” — I decided that what I really wanted was a virtual trip back to Madrid for an evening of flamenco ($6). Of course, “evening” is a relative term.
“If you have wine everybody, cheers!” said expert flamenco guitarist Santiago, as he greeted everyone. It was 7:30 p.m. in Spain, but just 10:30 a.m. here at home. I joined the toast with an Odwalla vanilla protein shake.
It didn’t take long for the tunes to start rolling, as Santiago began strumming and creating beautiful music. The experience was billed as a bit of a flamenco history lesson, too, and Santiago spoke at length between songs, presumably about that history. It was hard for me to tell since the event, which is supposed to be hosted in both Spanish and English, was primarily the former and my Spanish is very limited. Fortunately, music — like love — is a universal language.
Travel tip: Take time to learn a few sentences in Spanish — if you don’t already know the language — so you can introduce yourself.
— Jim Harrington
Experience: Drawn from Within with a New York Artist
Location: New York City
There was a time — many, many years ago — when I aspired to be next Charles Schulz or a Disney animator. But those dreams gradually withered, and I haven’t flirted with a sketchbook in ages. So the chance to explore the “experiential aspects” of drawing ($25) with visual artist Ben Ponté sounded intriguing.
Fortunately, Ben, an affable Aussie, emphasized from the start, that this wouldn’t be an exercise in “technical” drawing. Nor was the end result important. He simply urged us to draw — and contemplate — the objects in our immediate surroundings. Which ones are most meaningful, and why? Among mine: a mud-stained baseball from a family game played on the “Field of Dreams” diamond in Iowa, the day after my uncle’s funeral.
It turned out to be a more introspective hour than I expected. At one point Ben had us quickly sketch an object, and then asked us to draw the same object from memory — no peeking. “We are always in editing mode,” he said. “How do we translate images through our minds?”
Ben was a cordial and charming host, cheering us on, while getting us to think. And now I’m thinking it might be time to dust off that old sketch book.
Travel tips: Come with paper, pencil and an open mind. No drawing experience necessary.
— Chuck Barney
Experience: Remote rescue goats
Location: Napanoch, New York
I grew up on a dairy farm, but my only one-on-one experience with goats was at county 4-H fairs many years ago. But I have a certain admiration for these little beasties and their amazing ability to adapt to almost any situation — which is how I found myself in the virtual company ($12) of Marvin, Zachary, Zoe, Ginger, Eva, Suki, Pumpkin and Peanut and their caretaker, Meagan Frederick, who tells us she’s a crazy goat lady, but nowhere near as crazy as some others.
Her Frederick Farms Goat Rescue and Sanctuary began seven years ago when Marvin, a white Saanen goat, and a sheep named Mabel wandered onto her property, obviously in need of tender care. Marvin and several other goats are presumed to be from petting zoos that closed down and turned the animals loose in the woods to fend for themselves. Pumpkin and Peanut, two African pygmy goats who are the best of buds, ended up in a New Jersey animal shelter when the would-be petting zoo operator realized how much trouble a zoo was going to be.
What I found most interesting — and there is a lot to choose from, as Frederick packs a lot of information about goats into her meet-ups — is how sweet and cuddly the goats are. Frederick agrees, but says that 95% of the time they won’t share food or treats, they’re noisy, they butt each other and they are keen escape artists. But they’re fascinating creatures with big hearts, she says, so it’s easy to overlook the jerk part.
Travel tip: Frederick does a multiple-choice quiz, awarding virtual bonus points for the right ones. Study beforehand and you’ll move to the head of the class. Or just remain in the dark and let Frederick enlighten you. Goats have how many teeth?
— Joan Morris