Confused? So was I, until a little over a week ago, as I started packing for my trip around the world. Holy Shit! I’m actually going around the world! (No, I’m not joking. Yes, that just hit me.)
(I’m back. Heartbeat normal.) Okay, then! Vacation versus travel. That’s the topic and so, let me ask you two questions. What is a vacation and what is travel?
Don’t care? Well, if I do my job correctly, by the end of this article, you’ll agree that this question ranks right up there with, “Will Trump be re-elected?” Don’t believe me? You will.
The answer to my question has far less to do with semantics and much more to do with how people look at life and their role in it. That said, words have a way of giving themselves away. Quick! Look at the word vacation, and tell me the first “root word” that comes to mind? I’m not a mindreader, but I’m willing to bet you thought what I thought: to vacate. If so, well done.
Basic Defintion of Vacation:
Late 14c, “freedom from obligations, leisure, release” (from some activity or occupation), from Old French vacacion “vacancy, vacant position” and directly from latin vacationem “leisure, freedom, exemption, a being free from duty, immunity earned by service,” derived from the past participle stem of vacare “be empty, free, or at leisure.”
Ever heard this before? “I can’t wait to get away from it all! I just want to lie by the pool all day, drinking margaritas, and not worry about a thing.” This is music to the tourist industry’s ears, as they are more than happy to offer you a plane ticket, a room, a rental car, the requisite pool, and endless over-priced (and watered down) booze! It is also exactly what keeps the modern, planet-destroying, class-creating capitalist system in place: our willingness to be lifelong drudges, economic ball and chain held in place by our own hands. Just let me burn up my savings (go deeper in debt) once a year and, I may not be happy, but I’m willing to stay on the treadmill that converts my labor into wealth accumulation for people who will never thank me.
Sound extreme? Wish it was, but sadly, it’s pretty much what’s happening. Vacation as escape is a well-oiled view that has developed into a powerful resource-redistribution machine. But, not everyone gets caught up in it!
Welcome to the travelers! Professional sports athletes, travel bloggers, journalists, politicians, international business men and women, college students, professional photographers…are you noticing a common theme? This is the easiest category of “travelers” to identify. People who travel “for work,” right? But, what exactly is work? (Yes, I’m actually pausing right now, hands poised over my keyboard, wondering whether I can jump – temporarily – into one of the deepest pools of feminist disagreement and not drown?)
(And…I’m back, fingers crossed while I type – how’s that for talented?) So, dear reader, just roll with me on this, okay? Work is defined by the culture one lives in, and those definitions vary dramatically. In America, work is generally defined as that which earns you a paycheck, and work done “for free” is divided into two categories. Charitable work, which is praised highly, so long as you are working on behalf of an actual charity, and work that is somehow categorized as a luxury. The most well known version of this is the “stay at home” mom who must never call herself a “full time” Mom or a “working mother,” because women who work outside of the home (bringing home a paycheck) object to both. Yet, on the other hand, a woman who cares for her elderly parents is often seen as doing “unpaid, legitimate work” that verges on sainthood! And, I’ll stop there, because my goal is simply to point out that Americans, in particular, have rather strict & contradictory definitions of what is and is not work. Why do we care? Because…our view of work matters a great deal, when it comes to how we live our lives.
And how we live our lives is why Trump was elected. (Boom!)
Take a deep breath, let that roll over you for a moment, feel your defensive reactions and let them go. I’m not attacking you. I’m just stating a basic fact. We’ve got around 330,000,000 people in the United States, and some subset of them have the legal right to vote, and as they all lived their lives in 2016, Donald Trump became POTUS.
“Wait, wait!” you say, rolling your eyes. “That’s a stretch! Seriously! What do the terms vacation and travel have to do with Trump?!”
“A lot!” I reply.
It all boils down to a concept that is near and dear to my heart. Engagement. To put it simply, a nation that seeks relief from their obligation to others (vacationers) will behave differently than a nation that seeks to live in various parts of the world (travelers). The mentality of escapism is a dangerous thing. One can only escape if one is trapped, ensnared, or otherwise disempowered. A prisoner with this viewpoint is spot on, but what about the free citizen with liberty and the right to vote or run for office, who has been tricked into behaving like a prisoner? Believing he or she has no influence? No ability to effect one’s own society? No chance of getting a better job or having a better life; hence the need for the vacation?
Vacation = Escape
Travel = _____________?
What would you write in the blank spot? I would write “engagement.” Travelers go out into the world, as our full and complete selves, with our goals and obligations intact…seeking proof that our dreams are possible and oftentimes building the connections needed to bring them to fruition.
We are living, not escaping. And so…travel feels different. When I used to go on vacation, I wanted to be completely disconnected. I wanted this for my husband, especially. No checking email, worrying about the bills, or receiving calls. We were getting away from the stresses of everyday life! Or were we?
Sadly, even the idea of “vacation as an escape” is an illusion. How can a 4-day weekend, a 10 day trip, or even a month-long cruise represent “an escape,” when it comes with such a clear and inescapable ending point? People who escape prison don’t make plans to return a few days later. What would be the point? Escape means…I get away (and don’t go back). Yet, people who “escape via vacation,” are not only NOT freed or liberated by their temporary respite, but the costs of their escapism/vacation generally serve to increase the economic debt that serves as ball and chain.
Does this mean that a trip to the Bahamas, to stretch your legs in warm water, soak up the Vitamin D, eat good food, make love in the Caribbean heat, and see grand historical sites is a bad idea? Of course not! But notice the way in which I’ve worded this. With positive life goals listed, versus negatives being fled from. A person in “escape mode” is far more likely to eat, drink & spend money in excess…than a person who is traveling abroad in order to “engage with the world & live my life well.”
If you know me personally, it’s obvious that I’m a fan of travel. I can think of no better way to learn about the world, humanity’s capacity for diversity, and ourselves. Travel changes who we are, but perhaps most importantly, it changes how we view life. Here on Planet Earth, the keys to a sustainable & valuable way of life exist, but they are scattered across the globe, described in myriad different languages, expressed through diverse religious or spiritual viewpoints, and present in the lifestyle choices of people everywhere. When you are blessed with the opportunity to adventure elsewhere, to live abroad, to travel this beautiful globe…keep your eyes open. Your mind curious. Your attention keen. So that you may find those keys, remember them and share them forward. In short, don’t escape life – engage it!
Be a traveler.