Do You Vacation or Travel?

I recently got back from a 2-week trip to Southeast Asia. Over 12 days, 7 flights, 5 hotels, 3 visas, and a 1 literal leap of faith (off a waterfall), we had an amazing trip. Every day we’d get up early and do something exciting until our bodies gave out, only to fall asleep in moments at the end of the day. The trip was amazing, and I plan on doing a photo post about the experience in the coming weeks. This is one thing it didn’t feel likeΒ — a vacation. Let me explain.

Green trail

Travel vs Vacation

A few years back, I was watching an episode of Departures on Netflix. The show follows two friends as they travel around the world – each episode to a different location. Unlike high-production travel shows, the entire Departures crew is just these two guys and another friend of theirs behind the camera.

Departures image
Josh and Justin from Departures

If you haven’t watched the show, I can tell you from experience it’s a fun one to binge-watch.

One moment in the show really stood out to me. Justin had just scaled a dangerous cliff and was watching a sunset over an amazing site that looked like an Indiana Jones movie crossed with an Instagram post. As he was admiring the view, he started talking about his thoughts on the difference between vacation and travel.

The heart of his explanation went something like this:

Vacation is a way to unwind and give yourself a break. Travel is a way to challenge yourself to explore.

When looking at definitions of these two, it seems to fit, with recreation/unwind and journey/explore being the parallels.

  • Travel – Make a journey, typically of some length or abroad.
  • Vacation – An extended period of recreation, especially one spent away from home or traveling.

That got us wondering — which do we like to do? Is one better for us?

Travel vs Vacation Spectrum

There are too many ways to travel to list them all. Here are a few of the types that I’ve tried and where I think they’d normally fall on the spectrum.

Travel vs vacation

A few types of travel aren’t included here (business, event, volunteer, school abroad) – because that doesn’t imply what you’re actually doing in your off time. Similarly, the size of the group isn’t included here. You could do each of these by yourself, or with a complete expert.

When I think about a “vacation” my mind goes to the idea of sitting out beachside with a frosty drink relaxing. Certain types of getaways set you up for this experience much more than others.

It’s still possible to take a road trip that is an odyssey through Siberia like Ewan McGregor did in Long Way Round – which is another amazing travel show worth watching on Netflix. You could also take an Antarctic, or a Mekong River cruise – which is worlds different from a Caribbean one.

Which Do We Prefer?

We haven’t done everything on this list (…yet), so it’s impossible to say. Since we’re still working, we tend to book trips that we can do in a 2-week period that lean towards the travel side of the spectrum. When we want to vacation, we tend to stay at home and enjoy recreation time here (which is quite a bit cheaper too).

Part of that might be because both Mrs. Minafi and I grew up in Florida, with the beach right around the corner. The idea of traveling far and wide to hit a perfect beach has been somewhat lessened due to our easy access (Fort De Soto State Park in St. Pete still ranks as my favorite beach). I’m sure eventually we’ll see amazing beaches in Thailand, Hawaii and the Indian Ocean, but I tend to think those won’t be the primary reason for those trips.

Neither of us has ever tried backpacking as a means of traveling, but want to give it a shot sometime.

Different Journeys for Different Reasons

We’ve tried a bunch of these, and they all feel like they solve different problems. The more time we have, the easier it is to lean toward the Travel side of this spectrum. The less of an agenda you have, the more “lost” you’ll be able to get. This is one of my reasons for FI for me – the added time to be able to in longer trips which could enable getting more lost in the local customs (in a good way!).

haiti cruise
Me on a cruise by the island of Hispanola.

There’s nothing wrong with using trips guided by others. When you have limited vacation time and want the most out of it – a cruise can be an amazing way of relaxing much of the time while throwing in some adventures on shore. One of the moments I felt most euphoric was actually on a cruise – when the cool sea air washed over me as we saw the mountains of Hispaniola. Without trying one, it’s hard to know which type of adventure you prefer.

If you’re stressed out and a break from activity sounds the most refreshing, this could be a good chance for a quiet getaway. For Mrs. Minafi and I, our absolute favorite “relaxation” type trip is staying at a ryokan in Japan – specifically one with a hot spring in your room and a kaiseki meal (a many-course meal) each morning and night. We stayed in one during our honeymoon, and absolutely want to go back.

Staying in a place where they cover everything can be refreshing for a short time. We would get antsy and leave to explore all day, but then return to our haven to unwind at each night and enjoy a warm refreshing soak in the hot springs.

Which Do You Prefer?

Is there one category on this spectrum that you tend to favor when you choose your vacations? There is no right or wrong. I doubt most people live their lives at one end of the spectrum either. Do you mix things up? Or tend to choose the same type of getaways?

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I'm , a full-stack product developer in Salt Lake City, UT. I love enlivening experiences, visualizing data, and making playful websites.

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