Monday, June 29, 2009

The Difference Between Travel and Vacation

Recently, I've been asked more than once for advice on traveling abroad. What cities, or even countries do I recommend visiting? How should one convert currency? How can you have a great experience for an affordable price?

I secretly love being asked because it gives me an excuse to disembark on a mental vacation. Except that I don't consider real travel a vacation at all. When I think "vacation," I picture idleness, sloth, recovery from the rat race. On a vacation, I want a beach or a fireplace, a comfortable place to sit and nothing to do but read and sleep. There should also be good food and wine (and plenty of water of course. One must stay hydrated). Sure, you may travel from your home to get to the place where you will sit idly for days, but let's not get confused. Vacations are for vegging.

Traveling is different than taking a vacation. Travel is real work. There is no idleness or sloth involved. It can be as uncomfortable as it is exciting and as difficult as it is rewarding. Sometimes, it is boring and tiresome, but that makes those experiences that aren't (and even some that are) all the more remarkable, because you actually work hard for them.

You may wander the streets of a foreign city without knowing where your next meal will come from. Sometimes, you aren't even sure if you can afford your next meal. Sometimes, you find yourself at the end of a 65-mile bike ride in the Czech Republic delirious with hunger and soaking wet from the drizzle, only to go to a local restaurant that offers one dish: a grilled white fish served whole with more bones than flesh and a pea where the eye used to be. Since the menu was in Czech, though, you ordered without having any clue as to what might be delivered.

What I really love most about traveling are the stories that emerge and the characters that you meet along the way. These are the things that you never forget, no matter how marvelous or dreadful it was when it happened. I love a good story. And there is no better way to acquire one than by removing yourself from all that is familiar.