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Traveling And Vacationing Are Not The Same Thing. And Here's Why.

My upbringing is that of a modest middle-class Midwestern boy. Just like any other Midwesterner, I learned to be overly polite to strangers, I integrated the almost reflex-like "ope" into my vocabulary and I might have a slight obsession with cheese curds. It also means I grew up knowing the severity of winter, whose winds were so cold I'd ponder what I must've done in some past life to deserve this punishment. Winter and I never got along. Sure, I liked a white Christmas just as much as the next guy; however, after the warmth and the joy of Christmas had faded, winter became cumbersome. By the time hot chocolate began to lose its magic and the Midwestern cold worked it's way deep into my bones, I was done with winter.

My grandmother, a former journalist, once wrote an article about how February is the worst month of the year. Between a winter that has overstayed its welcome and a tacky hallmark holiday, it was easy to say she was no fan of February. I, on the other hand, seem to have even less patience for winter and find even January unbearable. It must run in the family or something... So, like many retirees, my grandparents flock south for the winter and nest up in Florida to escape the harshest punishments of winter. And my family was always more than welcome to flock with.

My family didn't take a lot of vacations growing up. Yet, one fairly regular feature of my upbringing was a week trip to Florida during January. The 20-hour road trip down to Florida was well worth it. I'd spend hours watching the crisp ocean water wash my sandy toes clean. The time spent on the beach fishing with my grandpa is for me the textbook definition of nostalgia. Watching sunsets, that lathered the sky in hues from golden yellow to deep violet, with my grandma and mom are some of the fondest memories I have. Going back to school with a post-sunburn tan to show off to my friends was always something I looked forward to. And, of course, no trip to Florida was complete without lunch at our favorite Chinese food buffet, which was just one of the many restaurants we frequented while on vacation. In retrospect, it was a time for family and for relaxation. It was a time to recharge.

I have seen a lot more of the world than compared to my teenage years. Looking back now, I travel a lot differently than I did back then. It is only now, after comparing the two, that I now see a difference in the way I approach new destinations. This is where I draw the line between the words "traveling" and "vacationing". To distinguish a difference between these two words that are seemingly interchangeable, one has to take into consideration not their dictionary definitions, but instead their common usage, connotation, and the feelings they invoke when people use them. In other words, what people really mean when they use these words.

In my experience, the distinguishing factor, the line separating "vacationing" and "traveling" lies in the fact that "vacationing" allows you, in fact encourages you, to stay within your comfort zone; traveling does not.

When I was 20, I set out on the most formative journey of my life. I strategically stuffed my life into a backpack and took my first solo flight to Europe. A month-long backpack trip with two friends of mine followed by two months of working in Southern France as an au pair stood in front of me. As I stepped foot on Irish soil for the first time, I carried with me a whole lot of enthusiasm, excitement, and naivety. This trip was going to be very different from anything else I had experienced while growing up, yet, at the beginning, I had no way to conceptualize how much it would impact my life. I was abandoning the usual characters of convenience and comfort for different, more budget-friendly ones. Suddenly, resorts became hostels, theme parks were replaced with miles of sightseeing through narrow European cobblestone streets, and all-you-can-eat buffets were now cheap hostel breakfasts and coffee. And I couldn't have been happier.

Me before my first-ever European backpack trip

Every day presented new challenges and issues. Like, for example, the time I fell asleep on a train to London and left both my laptop and Eurail train pass on the train (don't worry, I got them back... thankfully). Or when we got lost on our way to an airport in Rome and missed our flight to Madrid by 10 minutes. But for every difficult situation I faced, I had made twenty beautiful memories. It was in those trying times when I wanted to give up, throw in the towel and admit that this whole "traveling" thing it wasn't worth all the trouble; it was in those times when I was stretched so far outside of my comfort zone that I learned more about myself than I ever had before. And I grew personally more than I ever had before.

That is precisely, for me, the difference between vacationing and traveling. Traveling holds a mirror to yourself, exposing your best and worst parts, your flaws, your strengths, your insecurities. You have some of the highest highs and lowest lows and in those moments of pure happiness or deep despair, you come to terms with how you deal with some of humanity's strongest emotions.

Traveling also holds with it a different goal. On vacation, life moves slower. Rum-filled drinks blur the edges of reality as the warm sun lures you into a mid-day nap. Bliss, relaxation, and comfort. On the other hand, traveling, at least for me, usually has more of a focus on what I call "experience collection". This is a process, in which, I make decisions that will give me bold, new experiences. I do things that actively push me outside of my comfort zone, things that the regular "Max" at home wouldn't do. Whether that be approaching strangers at a bar to strike up conversations or even daring to try new foods that might not look particularly appealing at first glance, there is no one way to collect new experiences. And these experiences aren't always good. Sometimes you end up in uncomfortable and sticky situations. And sometimes you end up meeting people so interesting and different from yourself that you wonder how exactly the last three hours of your conversation flew by so quickly. Either way, these are experiences; thoughts and memories that stick with you way longer than the material things we tend to obsess over. Each memory is another piece to the mosaic of the story of your life; each one another lesson learned and another door opened.

"Traveling is brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends. You are constantly off balance. Nothing is yours except the essential things: air, sleep, dreams, sea, the sky. All things tending toward the eternal or what we imagine of it." -Cesare Pavese

There are many ways, in which you can start a journey because after that is, at its core, what traveling and vacationing have in common. A voyage. An urge to engage in a journey that leads you away from what you consider home. And that urge rests in many of us, stronger and more persistent in some compared to others. That urge also manifests its way differently in each of us. That beautiful urge is, however, not one to be suppressed.

There is no right or wrong way to see the world. Moreover, I am not here to bash "vacationing" as a valid way to travel, nor am I some authority to tell you how to see the world. Hey, if someone wants to fly me out to the Bahamas or Cancun to sit on a beach with a good book and a strong drink for a little "me time", I will not stop you (please email me... please). In any case, both are valuable. I see vacationing as a time to rest your mind and soul. I see travel as an opportunity to expand them.


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