Travel vs Vacation

Travel and vacation are common terms of venture that seem rather similar. To others, especially those that consider themselves to be travelers, these two words bear significance beyond the literal concepts and hold radically different meanings. One concept is a more straightforward form of relaxation, while the other is more adventurous and spontaneous. Being the passionate traveler that I am, I frequently find myself locked into this dispute. I believe these words hold strong contrasting nuances and find it frustrating when someone claims to be a traveler and does not understand what being a traveler actually entails. I would like to share a personal story from my travels in pursuance to break down this topic.

In August of 2015 I purchased an overnight train ticket from Krakow, Poland to Bratislava, Slovakia. The departure time was set for just after 11pm which provided me with more than enough time to prepare my day accordingly. On the morning of my last day in Poland I gathered my day pack necessities, stowed away the rest of my belongings in my backpacking bag and set out for the Jewish Quarter followed by the old town of Krakow. Collectively, it was a great day until the metro was delayed. I was too far from the hostel to make it back on foot so I waited patiently. Time was running out but the metro finally came; I ran up to the 3rd floor of the hostel, snatched my pack from the locker, returned my dorm key, acquired my deposit and sprinted for the train station. Later on I will discover that I left behind my camera tripod and North Face jacket in the chaotic rush to catch my train. This was a very minor addition to my list of setbacks. Booking that ticket was difficult enough and the odds of finding a replacement mode of transportation was not in my favor. As for the icing on the cake-all other hostels and hotels within my budget were completely filled which made missing this train even more detrimental. I seemed to be making just enough haste to get me there in time. The thought of running eight city blocks didn’t seem so daunting until I caught myself in a full sprint with a fully stuffed backpacking bag on my back, a 20 pound day pack in the front while in a 38-40 degree Celsius (100-105 degrees Fahrenheit) heat wave. To cut to the chase, I arrived at my platform, panting and covered in sweat only to witness my train chugging away towards Bratislava.

I immediately went to the ticket window to see what my options were but the woman operating the only open window was not having it. This was a typical nightmare for all travelers in the making: missing train arrangements with no prior backup plans, a ticket teller who either spoke no English or was not in the mood to put up with an American tourist, paying for a hostel with no applicable cancelation policy and stranded in a foreign train station in the middle of the night with not a soul that is willing to speak English nor help a complete stranger in distress.

As minutes began to feel like hours and all sense of hope was steadily slipping through my grip, a gentleman in a suit named Aleksander approached to see if he could be of any assistance. I stood back patiently waiting as he shared a few verbal exchanges with the teller. He then turned to me and in a thick Polish accent said, ‘There is no train or bus until 9 am the next morning, sorry.” Not the worst case scenario but also not the best. It was relieving to meet someone at that hour who showed sympathy for my situation and who was willing to help me locate my bearings. We chatted briefly, searched for other ways to get me to Slovakia and I booked the next available train to Bratislava. We quickly became friends and decided to go for food and drinks. “My bus comes every hour and I start my project for work in a few days so I can always catch the next one,” he said. We made our way to a nearby bar in old town Krakow, made new friends, celebrated over drinks, ventured around the castle with our new friends, celebrated with more drinks and eventually found ourselves stumbling outside of the train station around 5am. Aleksander shook my shoulders until I forced my eyes open. I awoke early that morning, lying on a stone bench just outside of the entrance to the station with my baggage intertwined with my legs. Aleksander had left to catch his bus while I stayed put.

As I slowly came back to life, I threw back a few sips of water and tried to put the pieces together. I had a few hours until my train departed so I grabbed a quick breakfast and waited on the platform. Everything ran smoothly from there on out until one of the axles on the train malfunctioned somewhere in between Krakow and Bratislava and were left immobile. Three hours later the axle was repaired and we continued on our way.

For the sake of being transparent-my perspective on traveling does not imply you must be in constant discomfort, lost or in precarious situations to avoid the forbidden label of vacation. Vacations are generally relaxing, worry free and oftentimes short term. Staying in expensive resorts and extravagant Airbnb’s with the mission to soak up sun rays and lounge pool-side is a nice way to take a break from the work routine and is indeed just that: a break from the routine. Vacations may be a great way to inhale a breath of fresh air from the career grind but is not creditable for the term travel to those that live with traveler motives.

I deeply consider the mindset to be a prime element that sets the two definitions apart. Learning how to readjust and accept what is beyond your control constitutes traveling as an experience and not just a getaway. You truly start to think differently. Your priorities shift and you begin to take life day by day, one thing at a time. Traveling is all about seeking adventure amid gaining intellectual and social growth through other cultures, people and history. Navigating around an unfamiliar country, trying new foods, attempting to learn a new language and meeting foreign locals are a must for my definition of travel.Me inside Bulgarian UFO *Photo: Flashback to that one time I rented a car with a few Aussies to explore the abandoned Buzludzha Monument in the middle of nowhere, Bulgaria. I was absolutely thrilled but did not appear so thanks to having a cold in the 100 degree dry climate while having my first and only encounter with the atrocious bed bugs.* 

So why do we stress this so much? Why is it such a big deal to not mistake the phrase ‘I went traveling’ for ‘I went to Cancun’ or ‘I love to travel! Here are some of my favorite resorts…’? Does it really matter that much? Those that were privileged enough to have taken a leave of absence or quit their jobs in order to fulfill their adventurous needs have an understanding that although traveling is a lot of fun, it is also extremely challenging and stressful at times. Anyone who have spent months at at time exploring with friends, strangers or solo will tell you the thought of taking a vacation will become less and less appealing once you get a small taste of the travel life.

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