A play on words

by Jan Wheatcroft

As I write and talk, I throw words around interchangeably, such as travel, journey, trip, vacation and holiday without thinking about the subtle meanings and impressions that they can have on the reader and listener. For me, travel is about the unfamiliar and undiscovered. Vacation is more about simplification and renewal.

A vacation involves travel, but travel is not always a vacation. By that, I mean travel can be full of uncertainty, dealing with where and when to go or move on, how to arrange it, where to stay, and what to see and do. Vacations can be a relief from that. They can include a one-place stay where everything is arranged or taken care of such as a spa, retreat, resort, lodge or a cruise where you are free to indulge in the activities of the area: shop, sightsee, hike, bike, read, eat or explore. All these things are available to you without having to do the research, make the mistakes, lose time and perhaps make discoveries involved in all of that. 

A vacation involves relaxation and even rejuvenation of spirit and body, and a time away from routine.  It can be a soothing experience, a chance to catch up on reading, sleep or a relationship, to be with family or to try new activities while the rest of life is taken care of by others. Vacations can also involve returning to familiar places over and over and repeating pleasant activities that are familiar and enjoyable.  It may not be an adventure but it is rewarding in its familiarity and the ability to revive the mind and body after a year that may have involved the stresses of living our lives. My good friend Frances does just that.

Frances tries to return to Goa, India after the harsh winters and dreary rains of London for at least once a year in February to experience her familiar take on the sun and simpler life there, with fewer choices to make and more time not to make them. She takes long walks on the sandy beach, eats simple, healthy meals fixed by local women, drinks her morning chai looking at the sea and reads many good books. She also takes long naps, has as many massages and therapies as she can afford, stays in simple but friendly accommodations and sees old friends who have been coming to the same place and doing the same activities over the years. She returns to London and its overcast skies with her work revived and lighter of heart and body. That is a vacation, indeed. 

I return over and over again to London for opposite reasons. I have plenty of sun, and the nature of my work is to be inside and creating. I long for lively and stimulating urban settings, but still enjoy the familiar places and the repetition of seeing them again and again, as well as people whom I have known for years and wish to strengthen the bonds with. I can fulfill the needs of my craft work by buying the materials I need in familiar places, staying in the same rented flat, going to long-loved restaurants, wandering the aisles of bookstores and yet still exploring new places to add to my list of favorite things to do. London is a homecoming and familiar enough to provide me with a real feeling of a relaxing vacation—a home away from home, so to speak. 

I also go to Sweden as often as possible. I could explore more as I have only seen a small part of Sweden, but I go to visit friends in their country home. We eat good food, shop at the same markets, putter in their garden which changes over the passing years, take lovely drives and visit small villages, many of that I have visited before. I sleep, have one long day in Stockholm, which is one of my favorite cities, and generally leave more relaxed and revived than when I arrived. This is a vacation for me and I consider myself lucky for it.

On the other hand, I love travel with a capital “T.” I love to plan and anticipate something that I haven’t done or seen before, knowing that adventure is waiting for me. My last trip to Vietnam, Hong Kong, Laos and Cambodia was that sort of trip. We did it on our own and most of our plans were made in the moment, when we were ready for a change. Hotels were what we could find or get. Some were reserved a day or two in advance (planned) and some were found in the moment (unplanned). There were many more decisions to make during most of the trip. 

We did have a few days at a resort in Cambodia that required very little decision-making other than should we take a swim in the river, should we walk or eat now and so on. We had no idea what we would find.?So much of the trip was adventurous and all was new. It was not a restful experience where we returned revived and ready to take on the world once again. However, it expanded our vision, enlarged our experiences in traveling, and made us feel welcome in an unknown world.

I love both of these experiences and enjoy the journeys that bring me to where I am going as well as the journey’s end. I like airplane trips and now try to make them as comfortable as possible since they are part of the trip. I like being on boats, I love going onto Islands, I enjoy historical villages and small towns and I am happy exploring big cities, especially those with separate villages or centers of their own.

I absolutely love to eat and find new food experiences, markets and cuisines, all of which create an adventure in itself. I enjoy old things, old customs, antiques, local handcrafts, youthful designers, new ideas and old items revived to be made new again. 

I love being out in the world, whether it is as an explorer or adventurer or as a vacationer searching for a means to the familiar—the relaxing and the rekindling of the passions that stoke the fires to keep my life ablaze, rich and rewarding.


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