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Why going on a holiday and going traveling are not the same thing

by Victor Eekhof
2 week holiday versus 6 months traveling

Travelling comes in many forms and sizes. There are city breaks, weekend getaways, staycations, summer breaks, gap years and even the “screw everything, I’m leaving” kind. Although the 2 or 3-week holiday once or twice a year is the standard in the Western world, it is getting more and more common to take a longer time away from it all. Especially amongst younger travelers, taking a year off between graduating and finding a job is getting more and more common. But why would you want to spend 6 months on the road? Is the 3 to 5-weeks of holiday a year not enough? In this article, I will explore the differences between a 2-week holiday and a 6-month trip.

What sets taking a holiday apart from traveling?

Even though the meaning of the words isn’t that far apart, there is a world of difference in what is labeled as a holiday and what one would call traveling. If you would ask a person who just came back from traveling to all 7 continents how their holiday was, they might look confused or even offended.

A holiday is often seen as a caricature of itself, with packed coastal resorts where sweaty, overly tanned retirees sit by a pool all day. Travelling has a better ring to it and is often associated with broadening one’s horizon, exploring local cultures and getting life-changing epiphanies.

So, for the cause of clarity, let’s create some scenarios to define both terms:

The Holiday Cliché

You have a demanding job and not much time left to think about planning a holiday. You got a tip from a friend to book a 2-week trip to a country that sounds exciting and not too difficult to get around in. You only have 2 weeks to spend after all, and you would like to spend as little time as possible in transit. You booked the trip through a travel agency, and with their fixed itinerary you will have a few days here and a few days there.

A typical holiday pic

A typical holiday pic

The Traveling Cliché

You’re not entirely sure if your current job is right for you. It gives you more stress (the bad kind) than satisfaction, and the salary doesn’t set it apart either. You have some money saved from a few years of saving part of your monthly salary. You feel like taking some time off to think about your next move might not sound like such a crazy idea. Besides, you’ve always been interested in the backpacking philosophy and wouldn’t mind trying it out yourself.

You do some online research and decide to make a skeleton planning by booking the flight to the first country on your list and adding a few onward flights as well. You don’t book a return flight yet. Who knows, maybe you’ll never come back! You quit your job and head off for your new adventure.

A typical pic while traveling

A typical pic while traveling

The differences between going on holiday and going traveling

The biggest differences between a holiday and a longer trip are the motive and the expected outcome. While you can casually go on a short holiday without anyone noticing (although even that is hard these days with all these social media platforms), going away for 6 months doesn’t usually happen without some serious preparation and heartfelt goodbyes and good lucks.

Is a 6-month trip the remedy for all that’s wrong in your life? Definitely not. On the contrary, taking a long trip by yourself can magnify your insecurities and fears, as you won’t have the daily distraction of work and your social life.

From my own experiences, I have noticed that there are some major differences in short trips versus longer multi-month trips:

Shorter trips will restore your energy, longer trips can make your radical changes in your life

It’s become quite a cliché: you take 6 months off, solve all of your problems on the road and return a new person. As in almost every cliché, there is a bit of truth to it. While your problems obviously won’t solve themselves, the short-lived uber-excitement of being in a foreign environment will wear off and will leave you with a lot of time to think and reflect. It’s simply how the mind works; when it is not filled with something that fully occupies it, it will dig and dig deeper into itself for things to think about. That’s when the insecurities and fears come out.

time to reflect while traveling

You will have plenty of time to think and reflect while traveling for a longer period

While in the “normal” life, being occupied with work takes one’s mind off many deeper-lying feelings, a long time away from home will give you the opportunity to mull things over. Or even better: have a long, honest talk about it with a complete stranger (read: fellow backpacker).

Of course, taking 6 months off will not assure that all your problems will be solved. What is assured, however, is that there will be enough time for the mind to unwind and unravel, like a leaf of gunpowder green tea in boiling water. It really comes down to this: you will have to deal with your own shenanigans, insecurities, and fears for a longer period of time on an extensive trip; it’s going to be a rollercoaster.

You get smothered in excitement on short trips, while longer trips can be terribly boring at certain points

If you think you can never get bored with seeing Buddhist temples or shimmering waterfalls, think again. While it is easy to get excited when seeing a new thing for the first time, it is often underestimated how quickly the mind gets used to the state of excitement, slowly diminishing it into boredom.

Yet another waterfall

Yet another waterfall… There will come a point during your multi-month travels that you will get sick of them…

One tip I can give while planning a new trip is to make it as versatile as you can. Sitting in a hammock on a beach drinking cocktails is fun, but do it every day for three months and you’ll be bored out of your mind. I would recommend adding lots of different activities (e.g. volunteer work, cooking classes, surf lessons, bungee jumping) and switching countries (or even better: continents) at least every month of your trip, to get out of your comfort zone and get your excitement levels up again.

This reminds me of a quote from the excellent book 4-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss: “Excitement is the more practical synonym for happiness, and it is precisely what you should strive to chase. It is the cure-all.”

When you travel fast for a long time, there is going to be a point where you just want to sit on a couch and drink beer with your friends

Continuing on the last point, it reminds me of one of my own experiences. I was traveling from Alaska to Antarctica in 8 months, passing through 15 countries mostly by land and at a pretty high pace. After about 6 months, even with Antarctica still on the itinerary, I had a very strong feeling that all I wanted was to sit on a couch for a few days with my mates and play Pro Evolution Soccer (this was 2011). That’s when I noticed first-hand that being out of your comfort zone for too long is a thing as well.

On short trips, you will inevitably get into the fomo mindset of getting the best out of every day. Whether it rains, snows, or hails, you will get yourself together and head out to explore. And why wouldn’t you? If you have only a couple of weeks of holidays, every day wasted in practically a sin.

On short trips, you will inevitably get into the fomo mindset of getting the best out of every day

On longer trips, there will be many “lost” days, where you will either be on a 27-hour bus, just arrived on an international flight, slept until 12 pm, or simply couldn’t be arsed to do anything at all for a day. It’s all part of it, and let’s face it, is there a better place to be lazy than in a hammock on a paradise island?

Comfort on short trips is enjoying a nice meal at sunset, while comfort on longer trips is a warm shower and a bed

Speaking about comfort: there is a drastic difference in comfort levels on short trips and longer trips. It is quite easy to stay “comfortable” on short trips, as you will usually have more money to spend. If you are like most people, you don’t want to lose too much time on getting around or looking for accommodations on shorter trips. Therefore, you will most likely plan ahead your accommodations, transport, or even activities. This leads to a generally higher level of comfort, and you will be able to focus on other things, like finding the best places to eat. 

On longer, uncurated and unorganized trips, there will be a lot of time needed to make travel decisions, organize the logistics of local transport, and figuring out how things work in the local culture. If you leave things to the last minute, like I often do, not entirely unimportant questions arise such as “where will I sleep tonight?” or “are there any buses going to my next destination at all tomorrow?”.

On longer trips, comfort gets redefined, and when you travel on a low budget, it can be as simple as having a warm shower, a nice meal and a bed to sleep in

Comfort gets redefined, and when you travel on a low budget, it can be as simple as having a warm shower, a nice meal and a bed to sleep in. Therefore, if you decide to do a lot of Couchsurfing or staying in hostels, it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to book a nice Airbnb or hotel room once in a while to recharge your comfort battery.

Sleeping on a coach

When you’re sleeping on coaches when traveling, a shower and a bed become a luxury.

On longer trips, you will be able to see popular destinations without the tourists

You would have to try really hard to travel for 6 months and hit the peak tourist seasons on all of your destinations. Many places have a couple of months of tourist madness but turn into charming villages for the rest of the year.

Outside of the tourist season, there is simply less frustration, hawkers, scams, annoyingly ignorant tourists and, god forbid, people from your home country. With tourist-targeted organizations in hibernation mode, you can explore a place without getting hustled constantly.

On the other side, be wary of places that live exclusively from tourism, as they can turn into ghost towns outside of the tourist season with truly nothing to see or do.

After a few months of traveling, you will lose track of time (and fashion sense)

We live in a society that is driven by time. We set our alarms to work nine-to-five, plan meetings using our phone’s calendar and look forward to the weekends. When you travel, especially for a longer period, time just matters less. Weekdays and weekends blur into one and time has little meaning and gets abstract; while it’s light out, it’s daytime. Everything else counts as night.

When time is not a routine-defining factor, you learn to enjoy the slow pace of which everything seems to move

It is a wonderful state of mind, and to me is one of the pillars of traveling. Life becomes really simple and you learn to listen to your own body rather than on social cues (you eat when you’re hungry vs. you eat when someone in the office mentions it’s lunchtime). When time is not a routine-defining factor, you learn to enjoy the slow pace of which everything seems to move.

When I’m in a big city after a few months of traveling, I love taking public transport during rush hour, watching people looking stressed, sleep deprived, yet purposefully rushing to work. I get a stupid grin on my face and think to myself: why the hurry?

Losing track of time while traveling

Wine and a view.. Who cares what time it is?

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