Vacation vs. Travel

April 09, 2020 by Greg

Travel vs. Vacation

We haven’t written on here for awhile. It’s been a busy couple of years, hopefully we’ll catch up on that later.

My wife and I have been talking a lot lately about the ideas of travel and vacation. We both know we don’t really believe in the idea of vacation the way most people do. At the same time, we both want to travel, although for awhile I didn’t communicate that well and my wife didn’t think I wanted to. I made her nervous by the way I talked about it, so I wrote her a letter to try to describe how I thought about the difference between travel and vacation. And that’s what this is.

Hi Beautiful.

We’ve talked a lot about the idea of traveling as we get older, and maybe sometimes there’s been a disconnect about exactly what this means and what we want to do. I thought it would be worthwhile to outline what I want to do and what I don’t want to do and see how aligned we are.

First, let’s start with what I don’t want to do. I don’t want to go on vacations. I think the entire point of a vacation is kind of ridiculous. Some people do them right and some people do them wrong, but I think the people that do them right are just lucky.

Vacations are generally about escaping. They’re about putting daily life aside and doing something extravagant and lazy. Not all vacations seem extravagant, but they are if you think of them in context. What do most people want to do on vacation? Nothing. They don’t want to work. They don’t want to do the things they normally do in life, like laundry or cooking or groceries. They don’t want to work out or keep up with anything.

It’s true that you do some of these things on some vacations. If you go to Disney, you’ll end up walking a lot. If you head to the Caribbean, you’ll end up doing some swimming. But that’s not really the point of the trip, and you don’t think about these things as activity or work because they’re novel and different from everyday life.

The other thing about vacations that is true is that they’re expensive. It’s normal for week-long vacations to be thousands of dollars. Disney is $10k easy. Hawaii or the Caribbean are more.

Those prices are insane. It means people are sometimes spending 10-20% of their yearly expenses on 1 or 2 weeks away. What’s worth that?

The answer is escape. Vacations and resorts are built to whisk you away to a little bubble where you don’t have to lift a finger and you can put your daily worries aside.

It doesn’t make sense.

It will make even less sense when we’re older. Financially, our houses will be paid off and our kids will be (mostly) on their own. We have a good life and the daily schedules and chores we do help bring balance and make it a full life. I still want to do those even if we are somewhere else. Heck, I still want to work a little bit - exercise my brain - even if we’re somewhere else or not working full time.

I think the idea of vacation grew from the 20th-century middle class world where most people didn’t like their jobs but had to do them. The 21st century world is changing rapidly, we’re very fortunate, and that’s not the situation we’re in. We’ve already recognized that by buying a second house and eschewing a normal concept of vacation with children. That’s why I don’t think of the beach as an “escape” but rather as a change of scenery. It’s pretty well integrated into our lives.

So I don’t want to do vacation. And now I should confess the exception to this rule so I’m not a complete hypocrite! I love the idea of us getting away with a couple of close friends and no kids for a long weekend or week sometime in the next year. There is something to the idea of parents being able to get away every once in awhile from their kids so that they can enjoy and focus on time with each other. It’s much more vacation-is, although there’s almost a retreat or honeymoon aspect to it. So I’m down for that. I can see doing it once or twice in the next 10 years. That’s about it.

So what do I want to do, if not vacation? Well, I definitely want to travel. I’d like to travel with just you when we’re older, and I’d like to travel a bit with our kids when they’re old enough to appreciate and really remember it.

Travel to me is a way of learning about the world, enjoying life, and keeping ourselves engaged by changing scenery. I wrote this last year about the beach - Churchill had the idea that change itself is the master key in staying sharp.

The right way to do this is to gain a sense of place wherever you go. You do this by living there for awhile, by adopting the local schedules and understanding the dynamics. You take your own practices and learn how to do them wherever you are. You go shopping at the market, get tea at the cafe, learn when and how to work or write when it’s appropriate to do so, all in a different place. You need to settle into it and this can take a bit of time. For me, the idea of travel involves trips that are measured in weeks, not days. You get to live there for a time, and you can really understand it, and your place in it.

Incidentally, this is (yet another) reason I don’t like flying as much. Yes, I’m afraid of it. But it’s also true that you get more of a sense of place, of distance, and of change, if you travel by car or train. If we’re going to go somewhere like Europe, I’m all for flying there, but I’d rather drive or train around once we arrive.

Travel over weeks has some other benefits financially too. Weekly or monthly rentals are much different and much more affordable than hotels and resorts. And plane fares only seem expensive when they bracket a week of time. But a plane fare spread over an 8 week trip? That seems much more reasonable. Same goes with things like groceries and travel. Counterintuitively, it all gets cheaper if you plan on staying for awhile.

There’s reasons I think people end up gravitating towards vacation, mostly around the perception or reality of the freedom they have from work and money.

The next real question becomes: where do I really want to go? Well, here’s my list of things I’d love to do.

With the kids:

  • Italy. I fell in love with the lakes once, then fell in love with it all over again with you. I want to do a 4-6 week trip with the kids when they’re old enough to really enjoy it. I want to live in an apartment and live the village life. We could do day trips to Switzerland, and maybe some weekend trips elsewhere. I think a trip like this would be great in May/June (maybe pull the kids a week or two early).
  • National Parks. I’d love to do a trip through the western part of the country and focusing on national parks. Yosemite, Arches, Yellowstone, Glacier, Grand Canyon, etc. I’d like to do it by car or RV, but I agree that’s a lot of driving with kids. This is also the one that would probably be the most expensive.
  • Ireland. Same as Italy - find a home base where we can live in the town and have day or weekend trips to places.

With you once the kids are grown up:

  • I want to go to Europe and just drive wherever with you. It would be fun to do a European delivery of a car just for this purpose. Switzerland, Austria, Croatia, Spain, Portugal, France, Germany, Belgium, Scotland are all on my list. Why not spend 8 or 10 weeks doing it? As a more fun idea, wouldn’t it be fun to get tickets to a couple of F1 races in Europe and hit them while we were there??
  • There’s something called the Pan American highway that goes from Canada all the way down through South America (there’s one gap from Panama into Venezuela). I don’t know why, but I think it would be amazing to go drive down to South America. Or we could pick a home base like Buenos Aires and go discover.
  • The same car trip but north up to Newfoundland sounds fun during the summer. Both Maine and Newfoundland are spectacular.
  • Madeira is an island of Portugal in the Atlantic Ocean. It has a rich old history and is a place I’d love to go spend some time.
  • If we’re getting more adventurous, Cape Town is a place I’d love to visit. I’m not sure how interested I am in going over to Asia. I like the idea of living somewhere for awhile (weeks) and I don’t see that as interesting. Maybe it’s too much of a culture change, I’m not sure.
  • Ireland/Italy. These are places I want to go back with you just like with the kids. I imagine waking up with you in Menaggio and writing in the morning while you drink coffee, then heading out for our daily hike and grabbing our vegetables for the day. After an afternoon workout, we head down to the square for vino before heading back to the apartment to make veggies and pasta. I don’t know about you, but I could do that day over and over.
  • Not sure I’ve ever sent you this, but this is a community of remote workers that love to travel. They provide a ton of detail on different locations around the city including how affordable, safe, etc. they are. It could be a really good guide for us to pick places to go: NomadList

So that’s it. I’ve been meaning to get this out there for awhile, so I can’t wait to talk about it over some cheese and wine. I love you!