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Holiday vs. Vacation: which do you prefer?

[this post is inspired by the recent thread on British vs. American usage of English]

When I said that going on holiday is not quite the same thing as taking a vacation, people quickly agreed --
so what's the difference, do you think, between a holiday trip and a vacation trip?

And which do you prefer? Why?

(I wonder how this relates to our dreaded topic of tourist vs. traveller, if at all)

(To stay within the recommended books forum category, and to indicate where my thinking leans on this question, consider reviewing your copy of Mircea Eliade's classic The Sacred And The Profane https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/28024.The_Sacred_and_the_Profane )

Posted by
4470 posts

I worked in US for a large Dutch company, so a lot of people internationally referred to it as a holiday. And since I went to Europe yearly, I thought in keeping with the spirit of it, I referred to those trips as going on holiday. But, I referred to our US trips as going on vacation.

Holiday is mentally leaving it all behind for three weeks; no laptop. Picture my long hair flying in the wind riding a Vespa! (I have neither long hair or a Vespa - LOL!)
Vacation is having a break from the routine - still fun but not unfamiliar.

Posted by
3662 posts

Holiday is a paid day off work for everyone. Vacation is a trip. Mixing the two meanings gains nothing.

Posted by
1893 posts

Jean is on an interesting track:

Holiday is mentally leaving it all behind for three weeks; no laptop. Picture my long hair flying in the wind riding a Vespa! (I have neither long hair or a Vespa - LOL!)
Vacation is having a break from the routine - still fun but not unfamiliar.

So Jean is saying there's a state-of-mind aspect, and a not-the-routine aspect. Interesting.

Keep sharing your thoughts, forum folks!

Posted by
3685 posts

And then there's the potential "lifestyle" corollary when we take lots of vacations or go on lots of holidays or take lots of trips.

A few years ago a friend said that her husband thought they took too many vacations. The discussion that followed ranged around how many vacations per year or how much time away from home equaled a lifestyle. I'm sure that varies by who's doing the counting.

Some people have a home but are rarely there, at least according to their Facebook posts. To me, that's a lifestyle. The ones I know personally have good health, lots of money and few responsibilities. If I was lucky enough to be in their positions, I'd be gone most of the time, too.

After we retired, our work-related concepts of vacations or holidays seemed irrelevant. A vacation from what? A holiday how?

So almost anytime we're gone from home it's just a trip or a visit, with no modifier. It's been that way for the past 18 years.

I'm not sure what to call what my husband has done for most of those years -- rented a place in the Seattle-Tacoma area for 4-6 summer months and used it as a base to pursue his racing hobby. It's not a vacation or a holiday. It's not a "rainbird" lifestyle because we are AZ residents, only own one home and the temporary move is not about the weather.

During that time, I would frequently fly back and forth, primarily because we had a dog, and partly because our son was a pilot and I got flight privileges. In the space of 6 months, our dog crossed over the rainbow bridge and our son quit his pilot job.

So this year my lifestyle will change to be more like that of my husband and I'll make the temporary move with him. I'll fly back to Tucson at least once for a couple of weeks due to medical issues.

My annual trips to Europe will resume this summer after 3 years (dang Covid!) with the RS Best of Ireland in 14 days tour, followed by a self-planned visit to Wales. I'll be flying from and returning to Seattle, not Tucson.

I'm sure there are as many definitions of these terms as there are people and I suspect most of them are based on attitude changes as has already been mentioned.

Posted by
5549 posts

I have never been on a vacation. I am British, so I go on holiday. Some holidays are for a weekend and some are 7 weeks long.

Vacations are what Americans mean by holidays I always thought.

Posted by
13555 posts

Jennifer, you are correct, it is a difference without distinction. I have a number of English friends and a number of European friends with whom English is a second language; they all use Holiday, so more often than not when talking to them that's the term use. With American friends, Vacation. We all understand what we are talking about and no one tries to over analyze it.

And I am a tourist as it implies I am just a guy on a trip. Traveler, for me, implies some self claimed higher distinction. I avoid those.

Posted by
5621 posts

Holiday trip or Vacation trip, all just trips. “Holiday,” i.e. Holy Day, would seem to suggest a religious connection, not just a day at the beach. For many, travel is practically a religion, so maybe that’s not such a stretch.

“Vacation” indicates vacating the premises, so clearing out for elsewhere. That’s hardly a trivial move, not a slight straying, but an actual commitment, and a major event. The American “vacation” is likely related to the French vacance and Italian vacanze. Just a different term meaning the same thing. Americans say “eggplant,” while it’s the French “aubergine” to Brits.

While on vacation, you can stay at a Holiday Inn. On holiday, some people have searched on Vacations Unlimited. So are either terms describing a different experience than “getaway” or “sojourn?”

Then there’s Holidaymaker and Vacationer - any implied status with either?

Posted by
1190 posts

We call it traveling. I once read that vacation is when you get away relax, gain five pounds and return rested. Traveling is when you are on the move, walk five to ten miles a day, lose two pounds and come home needing a vacation. Oh,but the memories! Last day of our 15 days in Spain We hiked five days, saw the Andulusian horse show, visited Gibraltar, Alhambra, flamenco dancing, tapas we packed it in and loved every minute. And yes, we had some relaxation too. Just got our negative covid test and we are cleared for take off tomorrow. Right now we are in line for the Madrid palace. Happy travels!

Posted by
681 posts

Am with Jennifer on this one, thought vacation was American for holiday.

Posted by
921 posts

I don’t think there is a difference, just a British and an American term for the same thing. I am American so I go on vacations. Actually, I usually use vacation to refer to several days off work, regardless of if I am going anywhere. When I go some where, I say I am taking a trip, but a trip is a vacation. It sounds as strange to me if an American says they are going on holiday as it does if they refer to their backyard as their garden, or say they are going to get the jab.

Posted by
355 posts

There is a holiday next weekend for Easter - I'm not going anywhere, I don't get paid for it because I'm self-employed but I used to get paid days off. I have 3 trips away planned this year - one lie on the beach in Fiji, one catching up with expat family in NZ and one traveling 1/2 way around the world for months. All of these things are holidays. I've never taken a vacation

Posted by
743 posts

At work, we used to get “vacation days”. Now it’s called PTO, paid time off. No romance to that. You could be cleaning leaves out of your gutters, or getting a colonoscopy. Les vacances is what Monsieur Hulot did, except in translation it became a holiday.

Posted by
226 posts

@Barbara hahaha

I am with @Tom here “ Holiday is a paid day off work for everyone. Vacation is a trip.”

Posted by
6642 posts

To me its all about getting the information across to the intended recipient. I'll say holiday to a Brit; vacation to an American. Chances are the Brit is bilingual too, and would understand vacation, but the American is more likely to be confused by holiday.

So the real question to me is which word in English is more likely understood by a non-Brit European? James says its holiday, so that is good to know. It's a happier word anyway.

Posted by
1350 posts

In my everyday use, holiday and vacation are almost interchangeable. Our Collective Agreement differentiates; it's holidays for statutory holidays such as Good Friday, Labour Day, etc, and vacation for our earned paid time off. As a union rep, I have to be careful which term I use when members ask a question.

Now, when I take vacation i might stay home, or go away. If I go away, then I say I went on a trip. And when I'm working and really need time off, I say I need a vacation, which means time off - spent in any way.

Posted by
2321 posts

For me, it's the same thing. As a Canadian, I'm more used to saying holiday, but when I'm talking to an American or writing on this forum, I usually switch to calling it a vacation because I've always understood that to an American, a holiday is a day off such as Christmas.

Of course, when it comes to spelling, I stick to the Canadian/British versions of words such as colour, centre and traveller.

Posted by
5621 posts

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation and Bational Lampoon’s European Vacation. Vacations in each case, although one occurs during a holiday. Maybe Clark Griswald is a goof, but it’s all about a vacation, both at home and abroad. Just don’t plug in too many lights, and don’t park too close to Stonehenge.

Speaking of movies, how about Roman Holiday? American actor, British actress, European-American director. If it’s tossing coins in the fountain, it’s a Holiday. If it’s slapping a German dancer, it’s a Vacation.

Posted by
2716 posts

I do not naturally use the word holiday to refer to a vacation/trip/time away from home. I understand the usage, but I still instinctively think of a holiday as a specific celebration or day recognized by the culture at large. So Christmas or Memorial Day are holidays, my trip to Greece is not. I actually kind of like the idea of using the word holiday for trips/vacations, but it's just not natural in my dialect.

I don't like the word vacation, though. To me it implies a sit-around-the-resort type of thing, which is fine if that's what you are doing but it doesn't seem applicable to a week hiking the Rockies or visiting churches in Rome or scuba diving in Belize. I don't generally use the word, but right now I could use a vacation-by-my-definition, so if I can figure out how to take one in between all the other travel and work and family stuff I have going on, I will call it that.

Generally I just say "I'm traveling April 9-29" or "I'm taking a trip to Paris next week".

Posted by
2650 posts

I agree with a prior post that (for me, in the US) a Holiday is a company paid day off work: Christmas, Thanksgiving, 4th of July. And I might choose to take a vacation during that Holiday, or I might stay home and read a book and have a glass of wine. Which, if I were doing in a piazza in Italy, would be a vacation. but at home, it's just a relaxing "day off."

If I take my own paid day off and don't go anywhere, then that's also just a "day off" but not really a vacation because I didn't go anywhere. So I might still say that I took a vacation day, even if I didn't actually go on vacation.

But then, my parents say I'm the only one who thinks you have to go somewhere to be on vacation. I like it here, where so many people disagree with that!!

Posted by
3662 posts

At work, we used to get “vacation days”. Now it’s called PTO, paid time off.

I’ve also noticed the switch from “vacation days” which was the widespread default term. Where there’s still a distinction between sick and non-sick PTO the military term “leave” (as in AWOL) seems to have taken over the American vernacular, “sick leave” and “annual leave.”

Posted by
7713 posts

As an American I have always thought vacation was American and British is holiday, same meaning, just different words.

Posted by
1893 posts

I'm intrigued by adding the complications of the terms 'getaway' and 'sojourn' to holiday trip vs. vacation trip, and the point about how for some privileged few more of their days are spent away from work or away from home than not. Add to that the people whose work involves lots of travel and those whose work is as travel guides and you're getting into a tangle.

Consider again the mental and emotional frames alluded to above that draw out the notion that taking a day off to relax at home is in some ways a vacation (or holiday) and in some ways not, and that being on a trip that involves close looking at important churches (you might even say research) or active diving to a coral reef are not a mere vacation (or holiday) even though you are both away from home and not following your normal routine.

So let me further seed this topic with those issues of routine and home vs. away.

Imagine you're in San Francisco on a breezy Saturday morning walking along the waterfront because you work at a shop in the ferry terminal market and you're scheduled every Saturday for a shift -- now there's a person walking right next to you on the same pavement at the same time who is in town on a trip that they had been planning for months, using their earned vacation leave (PTO) -- and they imagine San Francisco to be an open flowers-in-your-hair place where it's okay to act however you please without concern for how you appear in the eyes of others. Two people are doing the exact same thing, but they are not experiencing it the same, nor are they in the same status -- one is on the clock and mindful of a code of conduct, the other is on vacation (or holiday) and eager to breathe freely and take part in the letting-it-all-hang-out of California dreamin'

The broadest distinction between being on a trip and not being on a trip is two main qualities: outside your normal routine, and away from your normal place. That's simple enough. By posing the holiday vs. vacation riddle, I'm asking us to sketch in some more detail -- when you're off the clock that often means that you don't have to be so circumspect or solicitous or mindful,
but when you are away on a trip we sometimes tell ourselves and others that you should consider yourself a guest in someone else's home -- because when you're a guest in someone else's home you behave a little better than you do otherwise --

so is that a vacation trip or a holiday trip? I agree that hanging out at a resort poolside with a tiny umbrella drink is a more vacation-y than holiday-y, because you are clearly 'off the clock' -- what about if you're walking through a cemetery looking for familiar names on the headstones? You're still 'off the clock' but you'd best not be letting it all hang out.

Posted by
130 posts

To Nick,

I had to laugh at this part of your post.

“Surely they are the same thing. Mostly we all get 30 or 40 days paid leave each year of course.”

HaHa. 30-40 days, of course!

So not true here in the US.

Posted by
1350 posts

Treemoss2, you remind me of a conversation I had in 2016. We were on a 31-day trip (3 nights Florida - 14 night cruise - 14 nights in Spain). I met a woman who was born in Ireland but has lived in US for decades. She was truly offended I had enough vacation time off work to do this! Got a bit nasty, even.

(I didn't tell her I was granted some "educational travel leave" too. She might have exploded.)

Posted by
4470 posts

Avirosemail, and to add another word to the mix, when I wanted to retire in 2017, my company offered me a 3-month sabbatical and a 32-hour work week to continue working for a few more years.

I took a 3-week “holiday” to Spain during my 3-month “sabbatical”, and every Friday was a “vacation day”! 😉

Posted by
1558 posts

When I worked and took a day off to do anything, it was a “ day off” and that day off came from my accrued vacation time. I could have called in sick and used a day of my accrued sick time, but I refrained from doing that because I would be out and about with a good chance of running into someone from my work.
We did a lot of field work. I often used vacation time that fell over a paid holiday to save a vacation day for later. I used vacation days to go on a trip. If I stayed home for three weeks, I was on vacation and not on a trip! Holidays are what some Europeans take and we can be in the same museum with a Londoner on a holiday while we are on vacation and both gazing at the Mona Lisa!

Since when did we start calling an injection, or a shot, a “jab”! 🤭? Language usage changes over time as the global population intermingled as tourists, travelers, or through work contacts, etc.
Potato Po TA toe in a sense.

Posted by
743 posts

@tom_MN Thanks for Connie Francis! V-a-c-a-t-I-o-n
It’s replaced the previous earworm I had all day from Madonna’s hit “Holiday”. She’s on the side of holiday as a “single day off across the nation”
Just one day out of life:
https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=h4bP9tj_0Zk

Posted by
2127 posts

`holiday' reference

In British English, a period of time that you are allowed to spend away from work or school as the holiday or the holidays.

In American English, a holiday is a single day or group of days when people do not work, often to commemorate an important event. In British English, a day like this is called a bank holiday or a public holiday.

When Americans talk about the holidays, they mean the period at the end of the year that includes Christmas and the New Year; sometimes Thanksgiving (at the end of November) is also included in this.

`vacation'

The usual American word for a longer period of time spent away from work or school, or for a period of time spent away from home enjoying yourself, is vacation.

At work we called it as being on one’s “jollies” (short for jolly holidays)

Posted by
962 posts

Comparing vacation and holiday (the American definition) is sort of like comparing "Urlaub" to "Ferien" in German. Urlaub is more like our vacation - a time you take at your discretion to travel locally or far away; whereas Ferien is similar to holiday - a period of time that is given to you by powers that be where you do not have to work or go to school.