When it comes to travel, I feel like I’m making up lost time.
Like many families, mine didn’t travel much – my dad worked hard and loved many things. Namely: fly-fishing, saving money, and any excuse to not shower for a few days. So, with the exception one absolutely heavenly stint to Hawaii when I was 16, my travel experience was mostly concentrated on High Sierra backpacking and non-organized camping areas surrounding a sleepy little town named Bridgeport – trips I did not appreciate back then as much as I do now. Sixteen-year old Sarah would have laughed in your face if you told her she’d spend 2 weeks hiking and road tripping through Norway when she turned 29.
That being said, some of my fondest memories are from family road trips to Yosemite, or trolling flies from the edge of my dad’s canoe. But, I went to private school, and was surrounded by people who had the chance to travel farther and with a little more luxury. I was always jealous growing up, but now, I’m grateful for seeing so much of the US when I was a kid. As an adult, I’ve been able to take advantage of some incredible opportunities for seeing the world.
These days, I’ve prioritized travel. I’m single. I love my job. And my company has an unlimited vacation policy. Why not get away?
There was a moment earlier this year, when Emily and I were casually walking in between the European and North American tectonic plates in Iceland. We were constantly awestruck by the beauty and individuality that Iceland had to offer – and she brought up the concept of acknowledging the differences between travel and vacation. Her paraphrase was that vacation rejuvenates the body, while travel rejuvenates your soul. This idea hit a note in my heart.
Nothing against vacation here – y’all know I love a good beach read and pleasantly buzzed 48 hours away from the office. And there’s absolutely no reason to think you can’t have travel and vacation in one trip. But being aware of the difference has enhanced my own experiences, and has helped me do my part in an attempt to leave no trace on my travels.
What sets travel apart from vacation
Perspective, perspective, perspective
One of my favorite things about travel is getting to meet people who experience the world from an entirely different point of view. Whether it’s because of the system of government, what the climate is like, or the way people interact with each other, exposing yourself to other cultures can help open your mind to other opinions and perspectives.
Every time I leave the US, I try to talk to at least a few strangers. They could be locals or other travelers – but the point is to get a tiny glimpse of what they’re passionate about and what their lives are like. Befriending other travelers helps me keep an open mind… and in the process, I get to make some amazing memories, too.
Nothing kills me more than being in a foreign place and seeing a group of loud American tourists, not even trying to blend in – it’s embarrassing to be compared to the tourist fulfilling every stereotype of the obnoxious American abroad.
Dress for the weather, and do some research before you get there. Is the culture more conservative, or is it on the sassier side? Do you speak the language? If not, learn the phrases you need to know to ask for help in English, or buy a picture book. If your voice carries, talk in a lower voice than you’re used to, to draw less attention. And more important than any thing else: be aware of your surroundings. Knowing your environment and your audience can help you avoid some death stares from locals or other travelers.
Being open to unexpected adventures
If there’s anything I’ve learned in the past few years, it’s that packing too much into a trip abroad is a recipe for disappointment – especially when you’re sharing your trip with others. My best trips have come out of planning where I’m sleeping each night, but little more than that! Have a few priorities, communicate them clearly, and be open to substituting items on your to-do list for other things that might come up along the way. You never know what could happen.
For example — many people travel to Iceland with the sole purpose of seeing the northern lights. But what many people don’t take into consideration is that the northern lights depend on variables that you, as a human being, have no control over: weather, moon phases, moon set and rise times, and solar activity. If you plan a trip to Iceland solely to see the northern lights, there is a huge chance that you’ll leave Iceland disappointed. But Iceland has 4 million other (and sometimes more) spectacular things to offer — so flexibility is key!
Being open to adventure is less relaxing, but can also be incredibly fulfilling. You might need a vacation from your travels, but if you come back from travel completely fulfilled, taking an extra day or two to recuperate is 400 percent worth it.