“Travel” Vs. “Vacation”

Filed Under: Travel

Sometimes we at OMAAT get philosophical and ponder some of the more personal issues relating to travel and aviation, the 30,000-foot-overview (so to speak) stuff that’s deeper than, say, the differences between an angle-flat seat, a lie-flat seat, a reverse herringbone seat and a seat that just shakes you until you fall asleep, like a baby in a rocking cradle (that’s the best feature of American’s new business class in my opinion).

Mike has posted recently about how he manages to travel within the limited timeframe of a typical U.S. paid vacation allotment (keeping in mind, Mike’s 6 weeks is actually a lot; many folks don’t get more than 2 weeks). And that got me thinking.


My travel this year started January 1st on a Delta flight from Nice, France to New York — and while it slowed down a bit for the remainder of the winter, it’s about to ramp up quite a bit. I’ve got a trip to France planned in April, a trip to Spain planned in May, and a trip to Southeast Asia planned for November. Given that blogging is a side activity and not my day job — I actually do need to be in the office on a daily basis! — that’s a ton of international travel coming up.

My travel in 2015
My travel in 2015

Last year, I traveled constantly: I was in Argentina, Mexico, Madrid, Amsterdam, London, Tokyo and France in 2015 — and that was just my international travel.


This past weekend I went on a 4-day ski trip to Utah. It wasn’t a new destination or a new activity for me. But it was the first time in a very long time that I actually, unequivocally, felt like I was “on vacation” and not merely “traveling.”


What do I mean by that? I mean that I was relaxed. I had a big grin on my face the entire time. I had no stress. I was enjoying life, and scenery, and the mountain. Sure, every day on the slopes was physically exhausting, but at the end of the trip I felt refreshed in a way I hadn’t in quite a long while.

But here’s the thing — Salt Lake City is an hour and twenty minute flight from LAX. It is by no stretch of the imagination an expensive flight, or an aspirational one. Our travel time — even on I-80 between the airport and the ski resorts — was minimal.

That got me thinking: do I value long-distance “aspirational” travel over equally (or perhaps more) rewarding domestic trips because I’ve been reading and contributing to this blog for far too long? 😉


Putting It In Perspective

The truth is, I love to travel and see the world. To me personally, it’s part of my own intellectual and social growth; a chance to learn about other cultures, other people, other histories. I never want to stop circling the globe for those reasons.

That said, I think my expectations before international trips can sometimes be distinctly tied in to, “ah, I’m going on vacation!” Which is true: I’m using my vacation days to travel. But at the heart of it, I’m traveling. Navigating my way around Tokyo may be a memory I’ll have forever, but I don’t find it relaxing or refreshing. (Does anyone?) That doesn’t make it less valuable, of course.

It has been quite a while since I have taken a ski trip, which for me serves more or less the same purposes as a beach trip (or a lake trip, or a desert trip, or whatever floats your particular boat). And I forgot how wonderful it is to just … do nothing. Or to do something familiar and enjoyable. To maximize my time at my destination.

So maybe those are two separate buckets of fulfillment: “travel” and “vacation.” Travel is for seeing the world, revving up your sense of adventure and putting your brain to work processing new experiences. Vacation is for re-energizing yourself, enjoying your surroundings at a slower pace and melting away your stress and anxiety.


What This Means For Me… And Maybe For You?

Nothing I’ve written here is earth-shattering or not already obvious to the vast majority of people. But for me, it was a bit of an a-ha! moment.

For instance, the Maldives are certainly the aspirational getaway du jour in the miles-and-points world. The resorts there, of course, look fabulous. Ben always comes away relaxed. But if I were to crunch the numbers, I’d see that I’m paying through the nose (even after using miles and points — those seaplanes aren’t free) and spending three or four days of my life in transit so that I can lie down on a beach with a mai tai and a book. Hey, if that works for you, fabulous. For me, I can fly to Hawaii or Cabo and get a similar experience — or even drive to Palm Springs for the weekend.

Sometimes in this miles-and-points world that I orbit from afar, it’s very easy to confuse “aspirational” with “I should want this.” But as they say, your mileage may vary. Believe me — I would love to see Bora Bora someday. But that’ll be “travel,” and if I get some “vacation” out of it, all the better. For me, after my refreshing vacation 590 miles from home, I’m going to take a bit more stock of what travel means to me.

I found myself thinking: just because I can fly to Europe for the umpteenth time doesn’t mean that traveling to Europe will be a better experience for me than traveling to, say, Austin or Lake Tahoe or New Orleans or Chicago. I might find the “vacation” moments a lot more plentiful when I’m not transiting CDG or Heathrow.

This may make me a far less interesting travel blogger going forward (don’t worry — I will have some great trip reports coming up in 2016, and that’s both a promise to some of you and a threat to others of you), but maybe a more chill and relaxed person, too. We at OMAAT have a distinct focus on international travel, because that’s the nature of the beast. I forgot how much I enjoy domestic travel, and how it can be so uniquely rewarding. “Travel” and “Vacation” may be two separate concepts, but I’m going to keep searching for ways to combine them both.

What’s the best vacation you’ve taken — and is it the same thing as the best trip you’ve taken?

  1. To me there is no difference. When I’m on vacation – I’m not working, I’m outta town – whether it’s 500 miles away or 5,000 miles away. I’m not stressed or worked up about anything.

    For example, a few years ago, we went to Istanbul and spent 10 days there. We didn’t plan to see anything else in Turkey (I had friends ask me – you spent all your vacation just in one city?). It was vacation; it was travel. We saw a bit of the city each day, but relaxed in cafes, walked the streets leisurely, shopped, spent afternoon relaxing or reading in our room. In short, we don’t rush to ‘see’ everything, and for the most part we go and spend time in a few places.

    We always take a week of in February and go to just one place. Last year we spent a week in Venice, this year we skied Big Sky, next year it’s a full week in Kyoto. I’m sure I can add more places in the same trip, but then I’d be physically exhausted coming back from vacation!!

  2. Most Americans need to check off boxes. They visit one city, stay two days in a five star, eat out in a fancy restaurant and claim they have visited that country. Then they go to the next city in a different country and repeat and call themselves well traveled.

    I am always skeptical of a well traveled American. Especially now that it is a status amongst liberals about worldliness.

  3. Great work @Nick! I really enjoyed your perspective on this, it makes you think a little deeper about the “trips” or “vacations” you plan in the future.

  4. Best Vacation was when I finally had someone who could cover for me at work…previous 15 years I’ve done some sort of work on each trip. Those 10 days in Hawaii were great, not worrying at all about work.

    We pulled the kids from school last week to hit Sundance one last time…it closed this past weekend 🙁

  5. I completely agree nick.

    I ‘travel’ a lot for work and my love of flying. I always enjoy the experience but, nothing beats time with your partner. That’s a vacation!

    My wife and I are going to San Francisco for 4 nights in June, hardly aspirational or very far (we live in la) but I’m looking forward to that trip more than a quick in and out to Singapore in a few weeks or London in late may. I’ve even opted for a cabin on the train rather than flying up there, just for the experience. 4 nights at the four Seasons doesn’t hurt either!

    Here’s to vacationing!

  6. I agree. While I always have plenty of “vacation” moments on my big international trips, where I just relax and wander around doing nothing in particular, it’s still not nearly as relaxing (for me) as a domestic trip where I don’t have to worry about a language barrier, a 7+ hour plane ride, and a long line at customs.

    I used to have that same mindset, where I felt like I shouldn’t be “wasting” my vacation days on domestic trips, since I felt like I should save those for when I’m older or something. But, I’ve had a change of heart in recent years, as you have, Nick. Sometimes, I want the adventure and excitement of flying halfway across the world. Other times, I just want to take a short flight (or drive, even) to someplace in the US where I can enjoy myself, relax, and experience something new but without the stress of being outside of my comfort zone. And that’s okay!

  7. Best vacation:

    A week and a half in Prague back in 2014. I met up with some friends for the first two days I was there, and then I spent the rest of the time by myself. (They took off to other cities.) It’s great when you call all the shots on where to go and what to do. My flights to/from there were awesome…..first on BA on the way over, first and business on EK on the way home.

  8. Intentional travel (not business trips…) is more intellectual to me and vacation is more entertainment (Disney) or relaxation=beach. I like both.

  9. For me “travel” is an all encompassing term. It includes business excursions, tourists, and travelers. Any reason you leave what you call home for an overnight or longer period.

    A pure business excursion means at least one part of every day you are away, has a work component. Those of us that travel for work know that trips seldom are purely business though.

    A “tourist” is someone that goes for vacation for pure relaxation and very little cultural immersion. Disney, tour groups, cruises, all-inclusive resorts, pure resort stays, etc all fall into his category. Its about mind clearing relaxation.

    A “traveler” is someone that goes to learn and experience a new culture and place without retreating to a luxurious resort or familiar foods or eateries. Not always the most relaxing but enriching.

  10. As to the travel/vacation dichotomy, despite Cruise ships being increasingly wired for fast and reasonably priced digital connectivity, the vacations I’ve enjoyed the most have related to being on small (200 passengers or less) cruise ships, reading some good books and relaxing by watching the ever changing ocean and sky. My best travel experiences have been when I have been able to meet and engage with interesting people of different cultures, thinking in that regard particularly of my trips to India.

    As a long time reader of OMAAT, while I find the practical information provided helpful (along with reading The Points Guy, which is invaluable), increasingly there are times when I find reading OMAAT unpleasant, because it is clear that for Ben this is work and, while he claims to actually enjoy all those flights made for the sole purpose of justifiably enhancing his earnings, as he matures I find that more and more difficult to believe and have to wonder if Ben is confusing enjoying his nonstop travel with having chosen a lucrative but self punishing entrepreneurial job.

  11. I take my computer with me to work whether I’m traveling for leisure or work. I have a “regular” full-time job, and my own business; I don’t take days off from my business (which is conducted entirely online). When I’m not home, I “work” early in the morning, and late in the evening – maybe 2 hours a day…

    My best vacation ever? I went to San Francisco last year by myself for 4 days. I rented a car, drove down to Santa Barbara, and stayed in a vintage Airstream at an upscale trailer park. It was a dream vacation. I then drove the Pacific Coast Highway back up to San Francisco, staying overnight in Monterey.

    It was relaxing because I was by myself, and could do everything on my own schedule. There was no stress with trying to accommodate anyone else’s wants/needs.

  12. I guess I don’t really differentiate between the two when I’m going somewhere purely for personal purposes. For me, getting there really is half the fun, whether it means trying a new airline, taking a new route on a road trip, taking a bus or train in a foreign country, etc. For me, it’s just as relaxing as being at the actual destination, but then again, relaxation is usually secondary when I’m on vacation, as I’m typically out and about seeing things. But I guess I’d apply the term “travel” to a business trip. There might be a sightseeing component involved, but primarily, I’m going somewhere to work. Not much relaxation to be had at all…

  13. I been to Hawaii many, many times. The Maldives once. In my humble opinion the two are very, very different.

  14. I share the exact sentiment as you. I was always a traveling person, wanting to see every corners of the world and experiencing what this world has to offer. Interestingly, it was at the Madives where I discovered vacationing. Since then, I found myself at Cancun, Los Cabos, and soon Hawaii. I think we need a good balance both traveling and vacationing.

  15. I don’t know, but I would somewhat compare Euro trips for an European with US domestic trips for Americans. In Europe, you can go to Paris, Berlin, Milan or Barcelona. You can ski in the nordic mountains, the alps or the Pyrenees. You can sunbathe in Turkey, Greece, Italy or Spain.

    In America you go to New York, LA, SF, Seattle. Ski in the Rockies or Sierra Nevadas. Sunbathe in Florida, California or Hawaii.

    All different places, all within “domestic” range in my view if you are living in either US or Europe. Taking an Europe trip for an European is a bit like taking a domestic trip for an american.

  16. Some of my most memorable travel experiences:
    -Overland safari included through Okavango delta in Botswana.
    -Trek the Inca Trail for 4 days, follow by a stay in a treehouse in remote jungle of Peruvian Amazon.
    -Expedition cruise to Antarctica & South Georgia Islands.

    While my most memorable vacations are:
    -One week on an overwater bungalow with private infinity pool in the Maldives.
    -The last 5 days in Bora Bora during a 3.5 weeks trip to French Polynesia.
    -In a resort in Koh Samui and only step out the resort twice during one week.

    Travels & vacations are completely different experiences. For me travel often means to be outside of my comfort zone, push myself both physical & mentally. While vacation means enjoying doing nothing at all, just lay by pool/beach and read on my kindle, since free leisure time is a true luxury for someone employed in a fast paced/high stress industry.

    In the past few years, I typically plan first half of the trip (1-2 weeks) for the sack of travel and second half of trip (~a week) for the sack of vacation. So at least I’ll return to work refreshed after time off instead being physically & emotionally drained…

  17. Good article, Nick. Feel free to cover more of your domestic holidays though, for those of us across the Pond that’s international travel so always nice to know of some good locations to visit!

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