Travel vs. Vacation: What's the Difference?
I try not to mix up the terms vacation and travel. When it gets right down to it, these words—often used interchangeably—mean very different things.
People talk about traveling in Mexico while sipping their margarita on a private beach owned by their all-expenses-paid resort. This isn't traveling; it's vacation. There is a significant and distinct difference.
Vacation and travel are different but both great, so please don't take this as a declaration that one is better than the other.
What Is Vacation?
To me, a vacation is going somewhere with the intention of skiing, surfing, theme parks, or lying on the beach. They’re week-long getaways to all-inclusive destinations with a focus on relaxation and fun.
That’s really the key. Relaxation. A vacation is an opportunity to go somewhere new (or somewhere else familiar) and lazy about, drink some fruity drinks. It’s an opportunity to get away from the day-to-day stresses of life and enjoy some free time. But I don’t learn on vacation. It doesn’t make me a better person, expand my horizons, or help me develop new ideas. To me, vacation should be easy.
This doesn’t, of course, mean vacations are in any way a bad thing. I love vacationing. Theme parks and beaches are among my favorite destinations, but I do recognize these activities for what they are. Resorts, cruises, and house rentals are usually vacation.
You can Instagram it, smack a filter on it, but that doesn't make it travel.
What Is Travel?
What is travel, other than the act of transit?
Travel isn’t usually easy. Travel is discovering cultures, expanding horizons, staying in crappy hostels and backpacking. It’s challenge. It's work. This is the kind of adventure that leaves you with a lasting sense of awe. For the most part, it isn’t relaxing.
People travel to experience a different way of living. To try (and see) new things. The hurdles you jump while traveling can have a serious impact on how you perceive and understand the world. People often talk about the very personal benefits they get from travel, beyond simply the experiences. It opens your eyes, you learn who you are, it will help you discover new skills, and gives you perspective.
If you’re going to a new place to discover how they see the world, you can probably safely describe it as travel.
To be fair, you can definitely vacation while you travel. When I was younger my family and I went on a three week trip to Europe. I can safely define two of the three weeks travel (museums, historic locations, trying new foods) but we spent the last week in a rented house on an island in Greece. During this time we went on a day-cruise, spent time snorkeling and on the beach, and relaxed. This is 100% vacation. It didn’t teach me anything or make me a more cultured person, but man was it relaxing and memorable.
In fact, for a great trip I would recommend taking a vacation from your travel. I know that sounds weird but if you think about it, it does make sense. If you're spending three months on the road plan for at least a day or two a month to relax. Whether it's on a beach, in the hostel, in a park, or wherever you find relaxation. Trust me, after too many days of no sleep you're going to need a break.
Your Trip Is What You Make It
No country is a “vacation-spot” or “travel-spot.” You can vacation or travel in any country, and in any city. For example, a vacation in Mexico would be staying at an all-inclusive resort in Cancun. Travel in Mexico would be staying in Mexico City and exploring the streets, meeting locals, and probably getting lost.
Some trips have elements of travel and elements of vacation. But in the end, your trip is what you make of it. You can vacay or travel and nobody is judging you, but you have to know in advance what you want out of your trip. Similarly, your wanderlust may not be for old churches and getting to know a culture. It may be for beaches or parties. To each their own.
What does travel mean to you?
So you decide. Do you want your next trip to be relaxing or challenging?