Do You Vacation or Travel?

When you hear the word “vacation”, what do you think? Is it the same thing as when you hear the word “travel”? These two terms are sometimes used interchangeably, but for most, they have entirely different connotations. Let’s explore the spectrum between these two and see which you prefer.

Written by Adam on 2018-02-26. adamfortuna, Blog, Financial Independence, personal, travel. 19 comments. Find out how I make money.

I recently got back from a 2 week trip to Southeast Asia. Over 12 days, 7 flights, 5 hotels, 3 visas, a 1 literal leap of faith (off a waterfall), we had an amazing trip. Every day we’d get up early and do something exciting until our bodies gave out, only to fall asleep in moments at the end of the day. The trip was amazing, and I plan on doing a photo post about the experience in the coming weeks. This is one thing it didn’t feel like — a vacation. Let me explain.

Green trail

Travel vs Vacation

A few years back, I was watching an episode of Departures on Netflix. The show follows two friends as they travel around the world – each episode to a different location. Unlike high production travel shows, the entire Departures crew is just these two guys and another friend of theirs behind the camera.

Departures image
Josh and Justin from Departures

If you haven’t watched the show, I can tell you from experience it’s a fun one to binge watch.

One moment in the show really stood out to me. Justin had just scaled a dangerous cliff and was watching a sunset over an amazing site that looked like an Indiana Jones movie crossed with an Instagram post. As he was admiring the view, he started talking about his thoughts on the difference between vacation and travel.

The heart of his explanation went something like this:

Vacation is a way to unwind and give yourself a break. Travel is a way to challenge yourself to explore.

When looking at definitions of these two, it seems to fit, with recreation/unwind and journey/explore being the parallels.

  • Travel – Make a journey, typically of some length or abroad.
  • Vacation – An extended period of recreation, especially one spent away from home or in traveling.

That got us wondering — which do we like to do? Is one better for us?

Travel vs Vacation Spectrum

There are too many ways to travel to list them all. Here are a few of the types that I’ve tried and where I think they’d normally fall on the spectrum.

Travel vs vacation

A few types of travel aren’t included here (business, event, volunteer, school abroad) – because that doesn’t imply what you’re actually doing in your off time. Similarly, the size of the group isn’t included here. You could do each of these by yourself, or with a complete expert.

When I think about a “vacation” my mind goes to the idea of sitting out beachside with a frosty drink relaxing. Certain types of getaways set you up for this experience much more than others.

It’s still possible to take a road trip that is an odyssey through Siberia, like Ewan McGregor did in Long Way Round – which is another amazing travel show worth watching on Netflix. You could also take an Antarctic, or a Mekong River cruise – which is worlds different from a Caribbean one.

Which Do We Prefer?

We haven’t done everything on this list (…yet), so it’s impossible to say. Since we’re still working, we tend to book trips that we can do in a 2 week period that lean towards the travel side of the spectrum. When we want to vacation, we tend to stay at home and enjoy recreation time here (which is quite a bit cheaper too).

Part of that might be because both Mrs. Minafi and I grew up in Florida, with the beach right around the corner. The idea of traveling far and wide to hit a perfect beach has been somewhat lessened due to our easy access (Fort De Soto State Park in St. Pete still ranks as my favorite beach). I’m sure eventually we’ll see amazing beaches in Thailand, Hawaii and the Indian Ocean, but I tend to think those won’t be the primary reason for those trips.

Neither of us have ever tried backpacking as a means of traveling, but want to give it a shot sometime.

Different Journeys for Different Reasons

We’ve tried a bunch of these, and they all feel like they solve different problems. The more time we have, the easier it is to lean towards the Travel side of this spectrum. The less of an agenda you have, the more “lost” you’ll be able to get. This is one of my reasons for FI for me – the added time to be able to in longer trips which could enable getting more lost in the local customs (in a good way!).

haiti cruise
Me on a cruise by the island of Hispanola.

There’s nothing wrong with using trips guided by others. When you have limited vacation time and want the most out of it – a cruise can be an amazing way of relaxing much of the time while throwing in some adventures on shore. One the moments I felt most euphoric was actually on a cruise – when with the cool sea air washing over me as we saw the mountains of Hispaniola. Without trying one, it’s hard to know which type of adventure you prefer.

If you’re stressed out and a break from activity sounds the most refreshing, this could be a good chance for a quiet getaway. For Mrs. Minafi and I, our absolute favorite “relaxation” type trip is staying at a ryokan in Japan – specifically one with a hot springs in your room and a kaiseki meal (a many course meal) each morning and night. We stayed in one during our honeymoon, and absolutely want to go back.

Staying in a place where they cover everything can be refreshing for a short time. We would get antsy and leave to explore all day, but then return to our haven to unwind at each night and enjoy a warm refreshing soak in the hot springs.

Which Do You Prefer?

Is there one category on this spectrum that you tend to favor when you choose your vacations? There is no right or wrong. I doubt most people live their lives at one end of the spectrum either. Do you mix things up? Or tend to choose the same type of getaways?


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Why not add to the conversation below? Your voice is welcome!

Can me in for travel please!

I love going somewhere unusual, and getting a little off the beaten track.

Resorts have their place for risk adverse types just looking for a bit of sun, but they aren’t really for me.

I’m right there with you! I think I’d get antsy very fast on a beach, unless it was somewhere that I could explore some usual local culture.

Your concept of a spectrum is a great way to look at it. For me, I enjoy exploring new things, people, and ideas. So yes, travel is the right word. When I’ve opted for more of a vacation, it has been during times of complete burnout. Yeah, different needs for different times.

Hey, where do I sign up for that time travel? Oh, darn, I think I missed it.

I’ll be right there with you signing up for time travel! When it comes to vacation, burnout is the time I tend to favor vacation as well – usually in the form of staying at home. Do you favor vacations away? Or staycations?

We just got back from a two week trip to SE Asia too. Where did you go?

I traveled a lot when I was younger. These days, we like to vacation a little more comfortably. We don’t always stay at beach resorts, but the appeal of backpacking and hostels is gone. We like extended trips and self-guided exploration, but we like to do it our way. Hence the Smart Money and Travel 🙂

Ohh nice! I wonder if we were in any of the same places. We went to Vietnam (Saigon, Hoi An and Hanoi), Laos (Laung Prabang) and Cambodia (Siem Reap). Where’d you go?

Living a little more comfortably when traveling is pretty nice, I have to admit. When you do have the funds for a nice place where you can have some privacy, a hostel sounds a little less appealing for me. I’d be most interested in the meeting-new-people side of it though.

We were in Thailand (Koh Samui) and Vietnam (Nha Trang, Rach Gia, Da Nang, and Sai Gon). We may have overlapped!

I like the meeting-new-people side of hostels too, but what I found on this most recent trip was we didn’t have much “free” time when we felt we didn’t have anything to do. We enjoyed the sweet rooms we had, spent a ton of time at the pool, ate our way around town, and then blogged whenever we had time.

Historically and when I’m without kids it’s travel. But with kids it’s sometimes vacation. They make it harder to explore so it inches things closer to a resort but not fully

I could see that for sure. On our most recent trip we were with a group, but it was all adults. I can hardly imagine crossing a street of 1,000 scooters with a kid – it was hard enough for my wife and I!

Love the spectrum Adam, we are planning a trip to SE Asia this year too!

Nice! That’ll be an awesome trip. Do you know where you’re planning on going while you’re out there?

We will be posting about it soon but mainly Thailand.

Stop Ironing Shirts

Stop Ironing Shirts

March 13, 2018

Nice article, its a good way to evaluate the difference between travelling and vacation. Its almost a shock to the system to do an extreme vacation after finding balance.

Hawaii will always be my favorite, beach in the morning, mountain exploring in the afternoon

Hawaii sounds amazing. I’ve heard a lot of friends go there in the past few years and they all loved it for just that reason. It’s on my bucket list for sure.

Okay I love this distinction! We are travelers all the way, which is why we like to have at least one day at home to decompress at the end of the trip whenever possible. Great adventures to be sure, relaxation they are not.

These are very good ideas for a trip, but I liked the idea of going to Napa Valley the most. My mom and I are very into winemaking and recently went to the willamette wine tours and we really enjoyed it. Premium Siem Reap Tours

Jessica Milligan

Jessica Milligan

January 4, 2024

I like to travel more, to discover new places and locations. Recently I visited the island of Ibiza, although most people go there to relax, lie by the pool or on the beach, but I’m not a big fan of this kind of vacation. I rented a jeep in Ibiza here at and went to explore the island. I have a lot of impressions from the trip



March 13, 2024

As a traveler, I always appreciate new experiences and opportunities to discover new places. One such place was Guadalajara in Mexico. Renting a car in Guadalajara was one of the best decisions I made during my trip. She gave me the freedom to visit different places at my own pace without depending on public transport. It also gave me the opportunity to travel outside the city limits to enjoy the stunning natural scenery and other attractions of the region.

The less of an agenda you have, the more “lost” you’ll be able to get. This is one of my reasons for FI for me – the added time to be able to in longer trips which could enable getting more lost in the local customs . portreath cornwall

Minafi - The intersection of FI, minimalism & mindfulness.

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