The difference between travelling and taking a holiday

You have a choice when you leave for that big overseas trip. There are two ways you can approach the business of jumping on a plane and going to a foreign place: you can travel, or you can go on holiday.

That's the only way to split it. Forget about "travellers" versus "tourists" – I don't buy that dichotomy. It's elitist. It's snobby. You can't define people like that, because where are the boundaries? At what point do you officially become a "tourist" in someone's eyes?

There is, however, a difference in the style of trips that people tend to take. Some travel; some go on holiday. You won't always opt for the same one. But you will recognise that these two groups exist.

If you like going on holidays, then you like to relax. A holiday is not supposed to be challenging, or educational. It's supposed to be easy.

To go on holiday is to visit one or two destinations on the whole trip and to do very little. For some people that might mean the classic beach resort holiday, crashing on a sun-lounger and ordering cocktails served in coconuts and getting sunburnt for a week. It might mean renting a beachside villa in Bali or Thailand. It might mean camping out in your favourite locale.

There are other ways to have a holiday, too, aside from those cliches. You could just choose to visit one city – say, Florence, or Seville, or New York – and spend your entire time just wandering around, taking it all in, drinking coffee and going shopping and lying in the park. That's a holiday. It's low stress. It's low effort.

I would argue that even an active trip could be classed as a "holiday". Going skiing or snowboarding is a holiday to me. You don't have to move from place to place on a trip like that, you don't have to challenge yourself in any mental way – you don't have to do much at all aside from slide down a mountain all day and then go and get drunk afterwards.

Even an African safari is a holiday. Yes, there are far more early mornings than you'd typically plan for a relaxing vacation, but the safari experience, particularly at the high-end camps, is a very easy one. Everything is organised. Everything is planned. You just show up with your camera and take photos of things and get ready for the next meal to be served.

That's holidaying at its finest.


But it's not travelling. Travelling, to me, is something else. Travelling is a challenge. It's sometimes frustrating, sometimes infuriating. Travelling involves getting outside your comfort zone, taking chances, taking risks. It isn't always fun. It isn't always relaxing. But it is memorable, and very often life-changing.

Travelling is doing that rite-of-passage backpacking trip around Europe, staying in hostels, schlepping around on trains. Travelling is taking on the Trans-Siberian without a tour group, booking your tickets and jumping on board and seeing what happens. Travelling is trekking through the Andes in Peru; it's going on an overland tour in East Africa; it's moving solo through southern India.

Travelling is full of downsides. No one loves battling with cab drivers to try to get themselves somewhere without being too badly ripped off. No one enjoys overnight bus journeys. No one craves bouts of food poisoning. You get tired of the uncertainty of travelling sometimes, of not knowing where you'll be staying the next night, and how you'll get there.

However, there are enough upsides to get you through. You make friends when you travel, when you're thrown together with strangers in a strange land. You learn things about other cultures, and about the world, that a trip to a resort or a stay in a villa will never teach you. You also learn, crucially, about yourself when you travel – what you're capable of, how you react, what you love and what you hate, what inspires you, what angers you. In other words, who you really are.

It's probably clear that I prefer to travel rather than go on a holiday. I'm not in this thing for relaxation, I'm in it for adventure. The wilder the better.

However, there's no wrong or right way to do this. If you like to go on holidays, if you need to relax, then you should do that. You could even combine the two styles into one trip – spend a few weeks slogging your way around South-East Asia on the cheap, having a blast, and then hang out on a beach for a week. Nothing wrong with that.

The way you choose to travel is intensely personal, and shouldn't be guided by others' expectations. Don't fear being labelled a "tourist" by people who don't know better. As long as you're moving around the world responsibly, there's no bad way to go.

Just figure out what you want, and enjoy it.

Do you prefer to travel, or go on holidays? Do you think there's a difference? Have your best trips been holidays, or hardcore travel?



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