There’s a reason most of us feel like we need a vacation after our vacation, and that’s because travel is hardly a vacation at all. What exactly is the difference between traveling and taking a vacation? And how do you know when you need one or the other?
Traveling is not inherently relaxing
Like many hobbies, travel takes a lot preparation and effort. Most travel bloggers like me would probably tell you that they rarely take a vacation; they travel. That’s because travel means your reason for visiting a destination is to discover its cities, people, food, cultural events, and important sites. Nothing about bouncing around a destination trying to fit as much of it into your week off is relaxing. It often involves long travel times, early mornings, late evenings, exhausting hikes and endless adventuring. As fun as that may be, it’s not a vacation. It’s actually a lot of work.
How a vacation differs from travel
The two are often used interchangeably, but a vacation feels completely different from a trip for the purpose of travel. A vacation involves disconnecting from your regular day-to-day activities at home (especially work) and kicking back and enjoying yourself. A vacation doesn’t involve checking off all the best-of sites of anywhere. It’s about getting up whenever you want and taking a walk only if you feel like it, not because you have a million things to see. For most people, a vacation means staying at an all-inclusive resort or going on a cruise where you don’t have to be responsible for anything – not even finding a cab to get you home at the end of a drunk night out.
What do you really want to do: travel or take a vacation?
If you’re itching to go to some of the best art museums in the world or get lost in a souk or hike all the sites of the Sacred Valley, you want to travel. You will probably return home wrecked, having walked three times as much as you normally do at home and pushed yourself to make the most out of every day. There’s nothing wrong with that as long as you adjust your expectations accordingly. It’s not a bad idea to give yourself a buffer day or two off at the end of the trip to rest from the strenuous toll of travel before getting back to work.
On the other hand, if you want to soak in a hot tub in a mountain cabin or spend a week lounging on the beach and reading, you want a vacation; you don’t want to travel. In fact, some people don’t like to travel, which is why they’re miserable when they end up darting around Paris trying to see everything. These people like to get away from life by truly doing nothing. After all, can you really even say you took a vacation if you have to wake up to an alarm every day? A lot of travelers rag on people who prefer to vacation because they don’t experience much of the destination. While that’s true, it’s equally true that how someone else likes to spend their time off is no business of yours.
Where to go?
The answer to that question should always depend on whether you want to take a vacation or travel. To choose the wrong destination could ruin your entire trip. If you’re in the mood to adventure and discover and you end up at a touristy beach with nothing to do but drink and swim, you’ll probably find yourself feeling bored. If you’re trying to unwind and relax, then it’s not the time to strap on a backpack and tour half a dozen European capitals.
Successfully traveling or taking a vacation involves tuning into what you need at any particular moment. Sometimes that’s hard to identify. In fact, it wasn’t until I was forced to quarantine for two months that I realized I truly needed a vacation. I had spent so many years traveling constantly that being home doing nothing and not being able to go anywhere was an incredible experience. Quarantine turned out to be a vacation from the past couple of years of travel. It’s taught me that sometimes maybe I would prefer to lounge by the pool with a margarita in my hand and not a care in the world.
Ideally, we would have both
If Europeans have taught me anything about travel, it’s that I’ve been doing it wrong my whole life. To enjoy the benefits of a vacation when you travel, you have to slow down. Instead of going to three Greek islands in one week and spending all your time packing and unpacking and taking ferries for hours, pick one place and stay there for a longer time.
That’s the best way to get the most out of a destination – both if you want the cultural immersion of travel and the relaxation of vacation. You don’t have to wake up at the crack of dawn every day if you’re staying in the same city for a week. You can allow yourself to rest and still find time to do everything you want to do. By combining travel with vacation, you don’t feel like you wasted all your time at your hotel’s pool and you don’t feel the exhaustion of having done a million things every day. You can do both! If you manage that, there would be almost no difference between traveling and taking a vacation.