I recently read an excellent online article from The Atlantic about the dire financial straits that over 50% of all Americans find themselves in and something in the article struck me. The writer mentioned that because of the various financial choices he had made regarding his and his family’s finances, he and his family hadn’t been able to take a vacation in over 10 years. They instead sacrificed their retirement money to send their two daughters to excellent universities (Standford and Emery). I’m not at all criticizing that particular decision, because wanting your kids to attend the best schools is a noble thought, but I was instead curious with how casually the word “vacation” was thrown in there. I’ve noticed that a lot of Americans much prefer to use the word “vacation” than “travel.” Now, you may think to yourself, wait a second, it’s the same thing, just a different shade of the same color, but I’d argue that the difference between those two words runs far deeper than most people think.
Think of the words vacation and travel.What images do those words conjure up?
Relaxation, stress-free, fun, lazy, easy
Explore, stressful, exciting, thrilling, scary, meaningful
Notice the vast ocean of difference between these two words. A typical vacation for a middle-class couple or family usually consists of something like this: 5 nights at either an all-inclusive or a nice resort in Mexico/Caribbean, or a cruise to Mexico/Caribbean, with maybe a safe shore excursion or two. Maybe a trip to Disneyworld in Orlando. People in these places are there purely to escape the rigors of work for a few days or a week, and don’t really want to exercise their mind too much, or be active. If given a choice between margaritas on a lazy river at a resort or a hiking trip in Jamaica, they’d choose the former 9 times out of 10.
Don’t get me wrong, I like cruises and all-inclusive resorts as well, but I flinch a little bit when people say, “Yeah, we went to Jamaica at “X” Resort and we loved it. Jamaica’s great.” I flinch because going to a nice resort where you exchange a few words about the weather with the hard-working and usually college-age local staff doesn’t really qualify as visiting anything. It’s not “seeing Jamaica” because these resorts are dime a dozen all around the Caribbean.
With a vacation, you know what you’re going to get. It’s fairly predictable. Pool, beach, drinks, buffet, more drinks, maybe dancing, day over. Travel is far more unpredictable, because you may miss your plane, your bus, you may (or will) forget an item or two, you may get sick because that sizzling kebab in the street cart looked really good, you may be helped or not helped by locals, you may get pickpocketed, you may get screwed by the rental car agency, and so on and so forth. And while I sometimes think it gets overstated, I do believe that travel truly does open you to other cultures, other viewpoints, and challenges your beliefs.
Nevertheless, I do believe that stress-free, fun vacation must be a part of people’s lives, but it shouldn’t completely exclude travel, and vice versa. It’s nice to lie by the pool and sip on a Bob Marley and enjoy the sun, but doing that every single day gets a little tiresome and narrows your cultural field of view. Go see a volcano, hike for six hours, tour a rainforest, explore an old fort or castle, talk to locals, eat local food.
Remember that the people who discovered the world didn’t take a vacation to La Florida or to the West Indies or to America. They were explorers. They were thrill-seekers. They were adventurers. Some of them were demented. Most were greedy. And what did they all have in common?
They were travelers.