Why Travel Is Not a Vacation

I don’t like vacations. I don’t take them and I don’t like the concept of them.

As such, I got a bit annoyed when I returned from my recent three month stint in Asia only to have everyone ask me, “how was your vacation??” My oh-so-well practiced response to them is always, “I wasn’t on vacation…I was traveling!”

There is a distinct difference between traveling and vacationing. I mean, think about what most people’s ideas of vacations are…going on a cruise, living the high life and lounging around some exotic beach. Vacationing is supposed to be relaxing and leisurely…a chance to recharge your batteries in your two weeks off from work.

Traveling, on the other hand, isn’t all that relaxing or easy at all! Sure, there are moments here and there (like Laos’ divine 4,000 Islands) and plenty of opportunities for debauchery if you so desire (Laos’ Vang Vieng, anyone?), but all in all, travel is hard work!  Pre-dawn buses, “ass killing roads,” stiff cheap beds, no heat or air conditioning, squat toilets…doesn’t sound like most people’s version of a vacation… (not that I’m complaining because those things make a trip)!

But there’s more than just work involved here. People who take vacations to other countries have tendencies to go on pre-packaged tours with every single experience highly choreographed. You don’t eat real food, meet real people (aside from your guide and driver), see how the locals live, and don’t get a taste for a country aside from some nice pictures and souvenirs, which, trust me, are not the least bit indicative of what a culture is like!

Traveling is putting yourself out there. It’s sitting on a bus where nobody where you’re the only foreigner. It’s interacting with people who don’t speak English. It’s braving the train station for a ticket purchase where there isn’t a single sign you can read. It’s grabbing a few beers with the locals and meeting some of the most fascinating people you’ve ever met from all corners of the globe. Travel is immersing yourself in a culture and jumping at every opportunity to learn as much as you can about the area you are visiting.

Bridge Construction!
The adventures of road travel in Laos during the 2006 monsoon season!

Simply put, I consider a trip to be about living like the culture you are visiting. After all, I didn’t go halfway around the world to chill out in my 5 star hotel room! If you want to take a vacation and stay in fancy spots, by all means, be my guest. But I’ve definitely learned over the years that that’s not for me!

So next time you plan for a destination, ask yourself…”Do I want to go on a trip or a vacation?”

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2 Responses to Why Travel Is Not a Vacation

  1. adventureswithben July 17, 2011 at 10:52 am #

    This is the first time I’ve heard someone compare traveling and vacation. I really like this concept. I’m going to noodle on this one for a while.

    • Aaron July 17, 2011 at 8:40 pm #

      Thanks Ben! I really firmly believe that they are not the same thing (unless, of course, you are traveling to take a vacation!).

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