Travel vs. Vacation: What’s the Difference and Why Does it Matter?

I am currently one month into my Work & Travel Experience in Canada and was speaking to a friend back home when she mentioned this:

‘You are constantly in new countries and cities. I just don’t know how you do it – traveling is so expensive!’

We had a laugh about it and I explained to her that often travelling is cheaper than what I spent on rent, food and amenities in London, or at least similar in cost. I have worked hard to have enough savings to get me started and travel is one of my personal priorities when it comes to spending my money. She completely agreed with that. What you work for at the end of the day is your decision.

However, the comment made me think.

I realised that the difference between traveling and going on vacation is not as clear to others as it seems to me. I started solo traveling at 18 and quickly learned just how different it is to going on holiday. We see all these travel influencers or lifestyle content creators constantly staying in the most gorgeous of hotels, eating incredible food, telling us that we can do the same if we just started putting content out.

The thing is, these influencers are well-established and make a full-time income while traveling. In addition, they also often collaborate with the amazing places they visit. It’s an incredibly photogenic and social media friendly way of traveling, but I don’t think it reflects what 90% of longer-term travel looks like. This is not to put down these creators – I have the highest respect for them and their work. It’s just to separate the image of traveling they put out with what travel can look like for the average person.

Because while I do prefer travel to my 9-5 office job any day, it also doesn’t feel like I’m on holiday. This isn’t me being whiny – let me explain:

When I go on holiday, I just want a relaxing, fun time. I eat out in beautiful restaurants every night, stay in a central hotel and have travel to and from the airport sorted perfectly. The experience is limited in time but aimed at maximum fun and relaxation.

Traveling long-term is not like that – or at least not 24/7 if you have a budget and are trying to make your savings last as long as possible. 

Traveling often means you stay in dorm rooms with 10 other people and eat pasta with sauce every night for dinner, made in the hostel kitchen. Traveling is dragging your 25kg luggage for an hour through a city because you can’t justify an uber. Traveling is constantly having to plan the next steps. Traveling doesn’t mean every day is filled to the brim with fun activities – there are many calmer days, just like in regular life. No one can go full out every single day.

Traveling is fun and filled to the brim with life-changing experiences, but it is not a holiday. I think if you go into it expecting one, you will be sorely disappointed and shocked.

Traveling also often means working any job you can get once the money runs out. Nanny, bartender, cashier, farmer’s help – you name it.

When you travel, you give every part of yourself to it in order to keep doing it as long as possible. And there will be so many ups, but also just as many downs. You will get stressed at times and sick of constantly having your privacy invaded. Your body will hate the terrible food you’re feeding it. You will miss home.

At the same time, you will meet the most incredible people. You will make memories that will stay with you for the rest of your life. You will grow more than you ever thought possible.

Travel is worth it to me, even though some days, I feel like I need a holiday from traveling.

Why does it matter?

I think the distinction matters because you can travel on a limited budget and work on the road. You can’t really holiday that way, in my opinion anyway.

People always assume this lifestyle is so out of reach, and it is if you’re expecting what some travel influencers are showing you. However, their target audience is often more those looking to go on luxury vacations. 

If your goal is to see the world, I think it is not as far out of reach. You will need some savings to get started and a working holiday visa but after that – it is fair game. If you have persistence and adaptability, you will be able to travel. 

The costs of traveling aren’t comparable to the costs of a vacation, BUT, neither is the experience you are getting out of it (at least not every single day). That’s why I think it matters.

What do you think about travel vs. vacation? Leave a comment 🙂

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  1. I can understand that there is a key distinction between vacationing and travel that many people miss. I see it as one is resting from life and the other is creating/living a life; both with a very different core goal. Thanks for sharing your perspective on this and how the funding travel is very different and at times more reasonable than going on a holiday.

  2. I agree with you about your distinction between the two. I also think it’s a mindset and financial one that is personal. If you’re working in a new location, you do have spare time to set out and explore the area and learn about the culture. That can be on foot or public transportation. You wouldn’t have this same experience at home doing the same old thing. Thanks for sharing a thought-provoking post!

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