A while back, a fellow traveling friend of ours cc’ed us onto an email she had sent to friends and relatives back home. A bit frustrated with her life abroad, she ranted to those who thought that her many months of traveling “seemed like a nice vacation.” Upon reading the e-mail, I had to laugh, remembering the countless times people had expressed this same view to me. I thought that I should use this forum to dispel any misnomers about traveling merely being an extended vacation.
The first difference that comes to mind is simple. People all over the world choose vacations based almost solely on one of two things: 1) being able to relax completely or 2) seeking adventure. In both cases, people want ease. When we – I use we because I certainly can vacation with the best of them, too – go on vacation, we choose places where everything is done for us. We don’t want to have to walk far or take public transportation and there has to be a bar, a pool, and better yet, a bar in the pool.
Vacationers definitely don’t want any such thing as a language barrier to get in the way. Vacation knows no budgets, or at least, you budget ahead so you don’t have to budget. Grocery shopping is almost non-existent as cooking is rarely a thought. That’s what vacation is all about. I completely understand this. As Americans, we are usually only given two weeks out of every year to forget about all of the aforementioned things, and damn it, we are going to forget well.
But here, ladies and gentlemen, is the difference. I have yet to meet a traveler who doesn’t make rice or spaghetti at least twice weekly, take public transportation almost daily, balance a budget constantly, and deal with a language barrier that isn’t to be loathed, but appreciated.
This last one is the kicker. Suddenly, figuring out which bus to take in your native city doesn’t seem so overwhelming after all. In my travels, I have to try and communicate in my bumbling Spanish, to the curiosity of the other passengers, how to get from one part of a foreign city to another. If this were vacation, there would be a lot more people looking forward to going back to work and not the opposite. The smallest task can be dreaded in another language. How do I order this? What is the best way to get there? She seems nice, I wonder if she would be patient enough to answer my question?
I don’t mean to complain because I am the first to get upset when someone answers me in English. While I may reach more quickly and clearly the solution, I came here wanting to have this problem. Why? Because I want a challenge. I want to hear a different language and experience a culture other than my own. Vacationers don’t want a challenge; they want to relax, have a good time, have a new adventure (albeit with a guided English language tour to the top) so they can enjoy the ride down and still have time for cocktails.
Traveling around the world is not a vacation. I have experienced personal space in my travels so small that I regret to call it personal. I have traveled for days on buses with barely a place to rest one’s head. I have shared a bathroom with over 30 people and gone to bed without a mint under my pillow, but instead other less desirable and unmentionable objects. I have been stuck in the middle of nowhere without knowing a single word of the native language. I have showered with the strangest of arachnids in freezing water under the light of a weak candle.
To put it a little more eloquently is a quote by Ralph Crenshaw, “Travel has a way of stretching the mind. The stretch comes not from travel’s immediate rewards, the inevitable myriad new sights, smells and sounds, but with experiencing firsthand how others do differently what we believed to be the right and only way.”