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Traveling vs. Vacationing: Do they mean different things?

traveling on an airplane

Since I started my journey to see the world, the question I constantly get asked (and will probably continue to in a never-ending cycle) is: How do you travel so much? or Why are you always on vacation?

The way I see it, I do neither one as frequently as it seems. Sometimes I'm traveling. Sometimes I'm on vacation. It might not seem like it makes much sense to speak about them as different words as opposed to using them interchangeably, but if you keep reading—I'll explain exactly why I do so.

chairs on the beach facing the ocean with palm trees


When I hear the word "vacation," a few words come to mind. Relaxation. Peace. Downtime. I think about laying comfortably on a beach chair at my all-inclusive resort with an ocean view, holding a tropical cocktail that's probably inside of a pineapple with a fancy straw and cute garnishes while someone else is always available to assist me with what I want or need at any moment. I think about a dramatic decrease in screen time, because I submitted my request for PTO long before this moment and refuse to even let a work-related thought cross my mind.

Vacations are pretty. They're aesthetically pleasing. They're expensive. They're what all the influencers sell you on—a life of luxury. Essentially, that's exactly what a vacation is... a luxury. With the way that the "real world" is set up (at least in the United States), any opportunity to get away from the hustle and bustle of trying to achieve a work-life balance (which for most people, isn't a very even split) is a gift to cherish and be oh-so-grateful for.

backpacking woman in forest


When I think of traveling, I think about the genuine exploration of a new place. Experiencing culture in all forms, from people, to food, to music, etc. Traveling isn't always as cute and dainty as a vacation—it actually can be pretty rough and ugly. Staying in dorm-style hostels with strangers, working hard to battle language barriers, and trying to survive your entire stay with only the things you could fit in your backpack. Sometimes, though, it's the authenticity of those trials and tribulations that make the trip that much better.

I've worked remotely ever since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, so sometimes my journeys do indeed consist of constant email checks, Zoom meetings, and task completion. This is another way I decipher whether or not I'm traveling or vacationing... based on whether or not my laptop is tightly packed in my carry-on or if it's completely out of sight (and hopefully out of mind) back home in Maryland.

Now that we know the difference... Which is better?

So, whose side am I on? The minimalist backpackers or the VIP rewards members? Where do I stand in the heated debate? (Just kidding, there's absolutely no substantial argument that exists between people with different travel styles—that I know of).

I like to place myself somewhere in the middle. I'm still early in my road to who knows how many countries, being that I left the United States for the first time when I was 20 and now sit at the ripe age of 22. So, my travel style is honestly dependent on my mental and financial well-being at the moment, as well as the reason I'm traveling in that instance. If I'm celebrating my or a friend's birthday, of course we want the royal treatment and to stay at the best place with top amenities. If it's more of a simply I want to see this destination so I'm going to go kind of trip, I'm definitely willing to cut the luxury out of the equation and fully immerse myself in all the country has to offer—the real parts of it, not the version that caters to tourists from the states.

The truth is that this post was not written to explain why one is superior than the other. There are times when we all could use a relaxing vacation, the same way there are times when we should put ourselves out of our comfort zones and see how we are able to navigate through a new environment without the chauffeurs, concierges, and butlers.

How to know which style is right for you

Not sure whether you're the 5-star resort vacationer who's part of all the frequent flyer and loyalty programs or the adventurous backpacker who goes with the flow? The beauty of it is that you don't have to solely declare yourself as one or the other and have it be the end-all-be-all. However, there are some things to consider when deciding whether you want to be a vacationer or a traveler on your next journey:

  • Budget: What can you afford? Be realistic.

  • Occasion: Are you celebrating something? That might be a reason to go all out.

  • Safety: Is your destination somewhere you're comfortable with ditching the seclusion of a nicer hotel/resort? How comfortable are you with meeting new people and asking for help?

  • Group size: Are you traveling solo? As a couple? In a large group of friends? Whose opinions do you have to consider other than your own?

  • Location: Does your destination have reliable transportation? How easy is it to get around?

  • Main goal: The most important one—what are you trying to achieve on this trip? Unplugging from a stressful work week? An excursion-filled week of adventures? Or maybe you just heard that a specific restaurant makes the best [insert your favorite food here] and you're willing to hop on any bus, train, or plane to try it.

Although I discussed the different ways I comprehend the terms, the way I have just described traveling and vacationing are not the only two ways to see the world. Of course, there are middle grounds, compromises, and unique ways that each person can make their break (or in many of my cases—just working in a different location) just right for them. Don't know where to start? I can help you plan your next destination.


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