The Difference Between Travel & Vacation

IMG_9444“Do you know what one of the greatest things is about coming back from a trip like that?” I asked Sophie on our drive to go back-to-school shopping at Target, “It’s that being back home makes you realize how everything is just so…”

“Easy!” She interrupted, finishing my sentence.

Yes! A couple days earlier we had arrived home from three and a half weeks backpacking around Europe and there we were sitting in our air conditioned car on our way to a store that had anything and everything we could ever want, with displays and signage in a language we could read.

It was one of the unexpected lessons that my girls got to learn from this trip… appreciating home and all its comforts. Making our way, mostly by train, through five countries in the peak of a summer heatwave was not like any other vacation my daughters had ever experienced. It was hot and humid, uncomfortable and unpredictable. It wasn’t Disneyland or a cruise down the coast of Mexico (which was an incredible trip they got to experience earlier this year). It wasn’t even like camping. It was way more adventurous!

One of the things I found myself repeating to the girls over an over again, every time they complained that their backpacks were heavy, that the city streets smelled of trash and urine, when they were annoyed that they couldn’t understand what I was saying in Italian or French, that they were tired of walking all day and then having to run to catch a train was “you have to realize there is a difference between vacation and travel.”

At the time, I didn’t exactly know what I meant by that, but it is clear to me now.


Vacation is relaxing and having fun. It’s about a week-long getaway, where ideally you have no stress and easy access to all of life’s comforts: yummy food and drinks (unlimited amounts of them if you are at an all-inclusive resort or on a cruise), air conditioning, comfy beds, and lots of opportunities for fun whether it be a beach and snorkeling, or a theme park followed by a dip in the pool.

I feel the need to take a moment and note that if you’re vacationing with young children, you might have fun but you’re likely not going to be able to relax. According to other bloggers out there this defines the difference between a vacation and a trip. Since that has already been covered (here’s a fun article on HuffPost) and since my kids, at the ages of 7 and 10, no longer fall in the ‘traveling-with-young-children’ category (yay!), I am more interested in tackling the definition of travel.


• Travel is having cultural experiences: tasting new foods; hearing and speaking different languages; seeing ever-changing, and at times, breath-taking landscapes and amazing architecture; learning about art, history, religion. Being open to how other people live. Lucy has decided she wants to learn Italian, move to Italy and eat lasagna and gelato for every meal. I’m in!

• Travel is being in the present moment, being spontaneous and curious, losing track of what day it is, being open to serendipity and the kindness of strangers… living the true wander and wonder way of life.

• Travel is being hyper focused on taking care of your basic needs: eating, finding a place to sleep and knowing how to say “Where is the bathroom?” in five different languages. Sophie would argue it is equally important to know how to to say “Can I pet your dog?” in all these languages too… early in the trip, she downloaded Google Translate to my phone for this specific purpose.

• Travel is learning who you are and when you’re traveling with family, learning who they are. Scott and I discovered that we have complete opposite ways of exploring new cities. He wants to know and wants to go. He wants to learn the history of a place and he walks with a destination in mind. I, on the other hand, like to wander and wonder (duh, no surprise there)… I like to move slowly and pay attention to the details along the way and generally I let my feet take me where they want to go without any specific destination. I always have a map so I know where I am but I leave myself open to finding secret corners and magical moments. Let it be known that I do have a mission when I’m on these walkabouts – capturing amazing photographs. Traveling, to me, is also about storytelling and my favorite way to do that is through my photography.

We quickly learned that the girls were most interested in souvenir shopping and trying every possible gelato flavor.

• Travel is about gaining new perspectives, whether it be opening your mind to how other people live or coming back home and having a sudden appreciation for the things you used to take for granted.

• Travel is work. It is not easy. And it’s important to take a break!

One of the big lessons I learned from this trip is that you need to sprinkle in a little vacation when you’re traveling… especially when you’re traveling with kids! They desperately needed the time on the beach, fun in the pool and time spent with other kids.

I know our family learned a lot from this trip especially the girls who had never really ‘traveled’ before, but if I’m being completely honest, if I were going to do the same trip all over again, I’d add a little more vacation into our travel.

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