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Vacation vs. Travel

To many people vacation and travel are the same, but not to me. As I look up the definition of vacation it usually starts with relaxation or a period of time away from duties. Travel may be included, but it is not the first thing listed in the half dozen or so definitions I just read. So I think of vacation as a time to simply relax/get away/recharge and travel as a way of learning about the world/exposing yourself to other countries and culture. This came up as I was telling a friend about a particularly physically challenging trip in Asia and he said "Sounds like a terrible way to spend a vacation." Well, given my definition that's true; it was a terrible vacation but a great trip (just physically demanding)! So, what do you think: Do vacation and travel mean the same thing to you?

Posted by
5789 posts

In a way "vacation" can be more about doing something different. The concept of "vacation" being equated to leisure may better apply to folks whose daily lives involve heavy physical labor such as those involved in primary (extraction) sector of the economy or secondary (manufacturing) sector pre-robotics. Many of us are now or have been employed in tertiary (service) sector of the economy with jobs that are not physically challenging.

If your work is cutting wood and carrying water all day every day, you may want/need a vacation filled with lounging and resting. If you work is sitting and looking at numbers or reports and/or answering phones all day every day, trekking hut to hut is a form of mental lounging and resting.

Posted by
2163 posts

They're different to me. Mostly I travel - long circuitous routing, with planned sites each day, pre-purchased tickets and an itinerary I've created that we follow. Sometimes I vacation - like when we go to Hawaii. We plan nothing other than the car rental and we get very little accomplished. I have limited patience for vacation and a lot of interest in travel.

In recent years, I've started doing a hybrid sort of a trip. We'll do one of my specific itineraries and then our last stop will be a vacation type place in a European city. Last time it was Positano, where we just hung around for 3 days. It was perfect after Paris, Barcelona, Venice. On my next trip we're mixing it up a little more...Krakow, Budapest, Santorini(vacation) and then back to travel with Crete.

Posted by
1172 posts

To me, they mean different things. A vacation means time away from my regular schedule/duties... in my case work, home, kids' homework, kids activities etc.

Travel just means being away from home. I also travel for work which is far from a vacation :)
Many times, my vacations include travel but not always. We love to travel and I find travelling while on vacation relaxing and recharging. I love discovering new places, doing new things, meeting new people, trying new foods etc.

Your vacation sounds perfect to me but then again I am not the park myself in a lounge chair by the pool kind of person :)

Posted by
3353 posts

I think I agree more with Sharon. A vacation is just time spent away from our usual day to day work and routine; no matter how you choose to spend that time. A vacation may be a relaxing one , like our last cruise - lazing the days away by the pool or Beach. Or it might be a fairly intense one - like our 3 week driving tour of New Zealand. Or it could be a combination of both. I don't think they're mutually exclusive at all. And I don't think the degree of physical exertion you expend enters anywhere into the picture.

Posted by
6880 posts

I don't use the two terms interchangeably. To me "vacation" is simply some predetermined chunk of time off you get from your employer, like sick leave. "Travel" is how I choose to spend that time (when possible of course). I rarely ever say "I'm going on a vacation". It's more natural for me to say "I'm taking vacation [from work] and traveling to...". Similar to "I'm vacating my usual post". I get a kick out of the Brits when they say they are "going on Holiday". I guess you have to dig deeper to understand what people really mean when they use these terms :-) Like the OP, "relaxing" is typically not my highest objective on any trip.

Posted by
1958 posts

This is a great topic -- and I'd add the preferred British term "holiday" (strangely abbreviated to 'holi') to our consideration,
not least because the association with an actual holy day helps with Edgar's observations: a vacation functions semantically as an antonym to our usual routines and our usual duties and constraints. It is a break from work --
and for many Americans embodying the ugly American stereotype abroad, it is a break from adulthood:
Being on holiday or vacation means that you are in a separate status and therefore under separate/contrasting rules and customs.
On vacation you are the opposite of what you are in 'real life' -- you indulge, you don't defer gratification, you don't cooperate so as to put the whole ahead of the individual, etc. In short, for Americans on vacation, you literally expect pampering because you are literally giving up on being an adult for a while.

Travel is a different animal. An acquaintance says he's flying to Las Vegas this week. Good for you! Let it all hang out! No, you don't understand, my older brother who lived there has died and I am going to settle his estate and close up his house. Oh, that's no vacation. No, it sure isn't.

I spent semana santa in Tarragona, attending religious processions each night and church events during the day. But I also dined extravagantly and walked the beach and the walls and toured the museums. Travel, certainly. But was it a vacation or a holiday or a holy day or research? Yes to all. I usually enjoy a drink only on the weekends, but on this trip I had a glass or more at every meal -- does that disqualify it as a pilgrimage? We make allowances for circumstance. When I travel for business I look for off-hours opportunities for leisure that I don't have locally, especially cuisines and historical sites that I won't come close to again. It's still a business trip.

Posted by
5630 posts

I have lived overseas in Germany and Saudi Arabia as well as travelled extensively from our home in the USA. Our travels have always been far more than a so called relaxing vacation, where you go to one place and lay on the beach.

For us, travel was about discovery, exploring history, art and culture. This was true, even prior to our retirement.

After retirement, to go somewhere and relax is silly, since we leave on an island off the coast of Georgia. I do understand someone that lives in the northern USA or Canada where cold weather is a huge factor. Sure, going to a warm island in the Caribbean and relaxing, especially if you have a stressful job.

We do a fair amount of cruising and find some people on the ship are there more about the ports while others are more about enjoying the ship. We are definitely port people, while we do enjoy the ship, while onboard.

Posted by
1821 posts

I wake up early and want to see the sights, my wife says she's on vacation and likes to sleep in. ( I come back and get her after a few hours. ) That sort of sums it up I think. It's a matter of travel style and semantics. I skew to a much slower pace than many on this forum and avoid the hectic for a "less is more" attitude.

Posted by
1068 posts

Interesting ideas. Given many of the posts, I suppose that means that even someone who is retired (like me!) can have a vacation as it is time away from what we normally do. Good to know that so many share and so many have a different idea about vacations/travels than I do. Must admit though, inside my head I still don't think I go on vacation when I am going to most foreign countries. I do vacation (on rare occasion) by going to the coast or high desert for a few days. However, my travels to foreign destinations are rarely relaxing. They are exciting, interesting, powerful, uncovering, intense, joyful and occasionally exhausting, but rarely relaxing (as a whole.) I do take a bit of time to relax each day when traveling, but as that is not the focus or purpose of the trip I don't see it as other than a part of travel. Thanks for the replies.

Posted by
18384 posts

I guess in the extreme, you could take a vacation and just stay at home, lounging around, relaxing, without travel, or you could travel, say on business, without it being a real vacation. But probably at least a little travel is need for a vacation, if only to get you to a different venue, away from the everyday pressures that would keep you time from being a vacation.

A while ago, we drove (traveled) an hour and a half to Estes Park, where we spent most of a week enjoying to mountains. That was mostly a vacation.

I know of some people who went every year to the Loire Valley in France, from which they would only travel far enough to revisit restaurants in neighboring town.

OTOH, I've been to Paris twice, on business. We did walk up the Champs-Élysées one evening and have dinner with a view of the Eiffel Tower, but I never saw the Eiffel tower up close or any of the museum. I did attend a symposium on dialysis procedures and visit several doctors. There was travel to get there, but it was hardly a "vacation".

A great many posters here are proposing trips that are too heavily weighted on the travel side - definitely not vacations. ("Hey, Mary, that's Neuschwanstein. Quick, snap a picture, we've got to get to Rothenburg.")

Posted by
5789 posts

"Travel" is not necessarily a subset of "vacation". Travel was a part of business during one of my past jobs.

I "traveled" enough during that stage of life that "vacation travel" cost were greatly reduced by frequent flyer benefits. At one time frequent flier mileage benefits included coupons benefits for free or discounted car rentals and hotel chains had their benefit programs as well. And I remember post-strike programs where flying 25 segments in a given period got you two free tickets.

When "travel" was part of the job, traveling during vacation was a busman's holiday -- Unpack from a week away from home then pack for vacation travel. The only good part of a busman's holiday was having enough mileage to upgrade travel and wait for connections in airline lounges.

Posted by
10123 posts

We are retired and still vacation. A trip to Europe is usually classified as "travel" in our minds, while a weekend away from home just to hike on the beach is more "vacation." When we lived in Italy, some of our trips were more "vacationy" than others: simply time away versus the research and exploration we put into trips we would classify as travel. Sometimes when traveling, we even take a day-off from the sightseeing and exploring. As Rick Steves would say, a "vacation from vacation."

Posted by
2329 posts

I'm in the final planning stages of my 4/19 - 5/2 trip that includes a flight and train ride to get me from Amsterdam to Vienna and Budapest and inevitably at this point I think to myself "This is so much work." But it's also pleasant work, fitting all the pieces together and arranging a nice mix of exploration and quiet time so that I arrive home refreshed and also exhilarated from the wonderful things I've seen. Any time away from work is a vacation, but I never take more than a day unless I'm going on a trip, and I don't do "relaxing" trips like going somewhere and lolling around, doesn't suit me at all.

Posted by
6801 posts

I look at it this way. There is some travel that is stressful (positive or negative stress). I consider travel around Europe to fall into that category. There is the transportation, the sightseeing, the planning for food, etc. It requires some work to do that kind of trip, and I usually come home mentally exhausted.

The other kind of travel is the relaxation trip, including cruises, beach lounging, resorts, etc. I think of the second kind as being a vacation.

Posted by
8293 posts

I have been retired for many a long year, so I don't take vacations but I do take trips. When I am on a trip I am travelling, not vacationing.

Posted by
13007 posts

When I was going to a place regardless of by plane or car that was worked related, ie, conferences, week long seminars, workshops, etc. I saw that as traveling in the professional sense, most of which was enjoyable, enlightening, and pleasant. Depending on the particular year, that event served as vacation too. That was then. Now when I travel under normal circumstances, the traveling is vacation, holiday or get-away, whether the destination is Sacramento, the Gold Country, Central Coast, southern CA, or outside of CA. Flying to Europe is a trip, and as such a vacation and traveling wrapped into one.

Posted by
1806 posts

Whether I'm only going 50 miles away or 10,000 miles the purpose of all travel/vacation, whatever you want to call it, is to recharge in some form. Depending on my destination and what I have in mind for that particular trip, that "recharge" might come in the form of doing a multi-day hike with a bunch of heavy gear strapped to my back, or it may just be as simple as arriving, plopping my arse in a beach chair with a drink in my hand and not moving much from that spot for the next X number of days.

I've got a mentally stressful job in real life. So the recharge for me might come from traveling through multiple foreign cities and learning as much as I can about the culture, food, art, music, etc. Or my recharge might come from NOT having to learn anything at all except for the name of the waiter that's bringing more drinks to my beach chair.

My significant other has a law enforcement job that is extremely stressful - both physically and mentally. He leans heavily towards travel that results in him sitting somewhere with a view of mountains and lakes, and involves not much more than cracking open a beer and listening to crickets until he decides it might be a good time to take a nap in a hammock somewhere. Because of what he's exposed to via his job, when he actually does get to take some time off, he has no interest in "learning about the world" (particularly, as he so often sees the worst of it). But I don't look down my nose at his choice like what he wants to do on a "vacation" is so trivial compared to what I want to do when I "travel". In fact, I respect that sometimes what's on my bucket list completely doesn't fit in with what he wants and I make plans to visit those spots either with a friend or else I go solo.

Not that it was your intent at all when you posted it, but to me, this is just another version of the "Are you a 'traveler' or a 'tourist'?" question that shows up every season on the board but always leads to this thinly-veiled smugness with some crowing about how they are such superior "travelers" vs. the average schmucks who just go take a "vacation". There are lots of people who can't afford to do either - take a "vacation" or "travel" - so consider yourself really fortunate to have this first world problem of having to debate over a couple of definitions.

Posted by
1401 posts

This question is sort of like the one I posted some months ago - 'Is it the journey or the destination' - some interesting responses with the population seemingly equally divided.

Posted by
5697 posts

Gee, I thought vacation had something to do with "vacate" your home -- didn't realize it was so complicated.

Posted by
272 posts

I agree that vacations (or holidays as we prefer to call them in Australia) and travel are not the same thing. To give an example, I always spend the Christmas / New Years holidays at home in Sydney. It is a very nice way to spend a vacation, and there is plenty to see and do in Sydney, if I feel like it. On the other hand I occasionally travel for work, and that is not a vacation, and is not meant to be.

As for your friend's comment, it is actually a matter of personal preference, and this does not just apply to travel. I remember someone once made a comment to me about gardening. He said that it was something that a lot of people enjoyed doing it. But look at it closely, and many of the activities involved in gardening are physically hard work, and not obviously enjoyable. But that does not mean that people do not enjoy it or get satisfaction out of it.

Posted by
1307 posts

It sounds like we need to divide travel into two categories: travel for work, travel for pleasure. Then, of course, there are those who take a 'working vacation'. As many posters, we have also been retired for many years. When working, we enjoyed vacations of camping in the forest or going to the ocean and watching the waves, both to relax and to get away from the stress of work, though we did have several travel vacations. Now we're on vacation all the time, luckily little stress so far, so we travel a lot. We don't consider it a vacation but a trip to discover other countries, their towns, history, culture, food, and meeting people who live there as well as other tourists. So, yes, to us vacation and travel are not the same.

Posted by
11450 posts

I never think about words to describe when I leave the house and visit other places.. sometimes I say travel, sometimes holiday sometimes , sometimes I say "going on a trip" and sometimes vacation.. its all whatever..

However I do two different types of time away from home.

When we go to mexico or Hawaii, its a week of sun , sand , swimming etc.. very little sightseeing..( we do see some stuff but not much, )

When we go to Europe its usually 3-5 weeks of visiting various places, with an idea of which sights we want to see , their history etc ( I don't do strict daily itineraries normally) . we do not rush about,, but its usually 3-5 days at most spots.. with Paris always getting at least 7 days cause its the best.. lol

Posted by
1068 posts

Carol, well I agree with you but didn't want to muddy the waters. I (in my mind) see vacation as a relaxing holiday (at home or away), travel as learning, seeing and doing in other places (reading and learning from a new book at home is not travel) and business/purpose trips (attending weddings, selling widgets.) I've never thought one was better than the other and when I worked often enjoyed the heck out of holidays to the Oregon coast or high desert, visiting family or even relaxing at home away from work. While it was rare, I had the occasional purpose trip to a conference etc. Today, I mostly travel and generally feel less drive to "vacation" as I am retired. But, as was pointed out, there are lots of divided opinions and I was just curious about what others thought of the topic.