On Vacation

We’ve been asked a fair number of times, during the course of dinner at a hostel or speaking with various people around town, whether we’re “on vacation.” Now this is all meant very informally as a social icebreaker of sorts, but frankly, I find that question hard to answer. Almost as hard as the “so where are you from” question. After a five year residency, are we from DC now? Even though we’re not returning there? Is Theresa from Kentucky and I from Seattle? Either way leaves out the explanation for the Texas accent I’ve managed to acquire or why my passport says Sweden. Just answering that question leads to a half hour discussion … which I suppose, in the end, is the point.

Anyway, I digress. This question of vacation comes up a lot. And frankly, my answer is usually, no, we’re traveling. “On vacation,” implies a absolvement of major thought and an indulgance of relaxation. An escape from the busy-ness of life to refresh and renew. And believe me, I do love a good vacation. This, however, is not what we are doing.

We posted awhile back, when this whole plan was somewhat in its infancy, about the comforts of home versus the lure of the open road, so to speak. And what you come to quickly realize is how complicated things become when you don’t have those comforts. At home, you know where you will be sleeping at night. You know you have food in the fridge, or if not, you have solid knowledge of the network of nearby groceries, restaurants and fast food joints ready to serve you, and in addition, your means of getting there. You know how to use your shower, what key goes where to open your house, and whether you should put the toilet paper in the toilet or the trash bin. You have a system for cleaning your clothes, be it your own laundry machine (I yearn for the day I own my first washer and dryer … how simple life will be), or something nearby.

When traveling, none of these things are ever abundantly clear. Life is a neverending series of decisions, often dominated by where do we sleep tonight, what do we eat tonight, and how can I clean my clothes? It’s amazing how much time you can spend on these basic questions, especially when you are as over-analytical as Theresa and I are. Just this morning, we spent almost four hours at the grocery store, with another evening trip tonight (in our defense, we were planning our meals for our five day trip into Torres del Paine starting Thursday).

Now, I don’t want this to seem like a complaint, especially this week, as I truly enjoy every bit of what we are doing. But I do want to draw the distinction between vacation and travel. I think of our traveling as basically, what I do. It’s my “job” for the next year. This is what I put my energy and focus into. This is what I will need a vacation from every once in a while.

11 Replies to “On Vacation”

  1. I like the last line – b/c I think it will be true. We’re hoping that some extended stays in places will allow for some ‘home like’ feeling to keep homesickness at bay, and also to give a sense of relaxation. I expect travel to be exhausting and trying – you will need a vacation every once in a while!!

  2. Make sure you don’t “work” too hard at your “job” over the next 11 months. You know, sliding down glaciers, hanging out at pristine beaches, so on and so forth is just so “trying”. I’ll just be in Muncie “hanging out”, that’s all.

    So yeah, don’t forget the “vacation” part.

  3. Many of our friends have commented to us that we’ve been on vacation the last two years, as if we’re spending the whole time sipping cocktails on a beach! Long-term travel the way you (and a lot of us) are doing it is so much on the opposite spectrum – uncomfortable buses, daily uncertainty, planning and trying to anticipate, and then the constant observations and learning. The last point is one of the main reasons we’re all on these journeys and it is wonderful. But, we normally find ourselves pretty exhausted after a day of taking in markets and street scenes.

    You will definitely need “vacations” from time to time. At least, we do. Visiting friends (or friends of friends) on the road can help with grounding – it gets you into a family/home/apartment environment with some feeling of “normalcy” for a short while. We visited a friend in Beijing last year thinking we would stay for 10 days and stayed for a month! We hadn’t realize how tired we were from our time in Central Asia and just needed to be still and have time to reflect.

    I laughed at the bit about the washer and dryer. We had to restrain from physically jumping for joy when we stayed with friends in Europe and could do our own laundry at ANY TIME. Heaven.

  4. My dictionary defines vacation as “A period of time devoted to pleasure, rest, or relaxation, esp. one with pay granted to an employee” — doesn’t quite fit your situation. There is also an archaic definition that I think fit what you’re doing better: “The act or instance of vacating”. You have vacated your “normal” lives for a period of time and what I remember from my own traveling days is that it takes so much of your time and energy to find accomodations and food and to plan activities and further travel that you don’t care too much about other things that “normally” would stress or upset you. For me it was a sense of freedom, every day a new day with its ups and downs, new adventures, new people — I guess it’s the closest to “living in the now” that I have experienced. I realize traveling today is very different in terms of staying in touch with the world, family and friends — when I traveled 30 – 40 years ago I was truly “vacated” from any kind of information for longer periods of time. It’s great to be able to stay in such close contact with you two and follow along here on livesofwander. By the way, “Happy Thanksgiving”!

  5. When I told my family that I will travel around the world my father asked me: “How many days of holiday are you taking?”
    I answered:”Dad, I will travel for 11 months but not on holiday, I will travel”, my father looked at me with his big eyes and replied:”I think 11 month of holiday is a bit too much, don’t you think?”.
    ME:”Dad, I am not going on holiday but traveling!”
    He just replied “Are you going to work during your trip?”
    Me: “No dad, traveling will be my job”.
    My Dad:”Do you know where I can find a job like yours?”

  6. Hey! I love your job! Where can I get one? I’m doing laundry and it’s way less than glamourous. Hope you guys have a great Thanksgiving! We will be talking about you around your Mom’s dinner table!

  7. ‘Traveling’ to me means ‘in transit’ or ‘on the go’ … as in, “I’ll be traveling to Chicago on Monday to attend the conference next week.” Anyone on the move is a traveler. I don’t think that totally describes your situation, but then again it does: you might be a traveler, but I wouldn’t say you’re traveling. You’re explanation of vacationing was perfect – and that doesn’t describe you either.

    There are few others you missed: As an ‘explorer’ that to me conjures up visions of Christopher Columbus or Americo Vespucci. You probably have a bit of what they had in you, and for the most part what you’re doing is really exploring. But that word doesn’t work during a conversation – “What are you two doing – traveling? Vacationing?” “Ummm, no – we’re exploring.” Ugh. The term ‘trekking’ is now too closely related to the term ‘trekies’ … to be “on a trek” is best used for those on some sort of organized tour maybe to cross a glacier or making their way to the North Pole. That’s not you, is it?

    ‘Hosteling’ is another good term, but it’s still a bit awkward in a sentence … “I’m hosteling up and down Peru.” Sorta sounds rude. I would say ‘backpacking’ is the best word to describe what you’re doing, the downside being that makes some people believe you’re out putting up tents, picking berries and heading off to the woods with your toilet paper. I backpacked around South America for a year, but I never once slept in a tent. Go with ‘backpacking’. 🙂

  8. I fully agreed with Audrey, but when I read Chris G. answer I thought he has a point, too. But then again, one can be a backpacker for two weeks, a trekker for a few days, an explorer on vacation. And see what happens if you talk to Chris@Travel around the World’s dad – it’s really confusing. One thing you are definitely not: on vacation! My best wishes for your Torres del Paine trip.

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