Do you travel or vacation?

“You have to be brave… because that’s what travelling is all about.”- Claire

On our recent trip to Cairns, a town located up the east coast in Queensland, I came upon the realization that there is no “correct” way to live as I started to understand a phrase that my father always told me; “your way of doing something is simply a way, not the way”.

When we travel we often learn more from the people we meet; not necessarily the places we see. I would make a clear distinction between “vacationing” and “travelling”. If one were to stay in hotels and resorts every time they visited a new country the experience would be limited, to say the least.

Our trip to Cairns was the first time I had stayed in a hostel abroad. I learned more from that weekend experience than I could have learned in a few days of class. While the trip was not without its difficulties (a cyclone interrupted many of our plans); I soon realized that some of the best plans are the unexpected, spontaneous ones.

One backpacker in my hostel, Claire, had been travelling throughout Australia for a year, and she now must complete a few months of regional work to qualify for her second year visa. In the course of one day, her plan changed many times. In the morning before I left for my scuba diving adventure, she had planned to fly to Tasmania to work. When I came home, sunburnt and exhausted, she was considering an offer to pick chestnuts as her regional work. A few phone calls later she had booked a flight to Perth to work on a farm delivering hay! She tells me, “You have to be brave… because that’s what travelling is all about.”

That evening one of the girls, Alex, casually mentions that she has just booked a ticket to Bali.

In the United States there is strict expectation for many of us to follow a plan. It is expected that you will graduate high school, study at university for four years, and then move on to graduate school or find a job worthy of the career you have been working to obtain. It is unusual for a student to take time off to travel or simply work and save money.

With some exceptions, a “gap” year is highly discouraged. You would be a year behind in the plan! A young adult who chose to travel instead of study would be questioned. Many would simply not understand.

In sharp contrast to the US, many young people from other countries value travel as an experience essential to the growth and maturity of an individual. Some students in my classes are a few years older as they have taken time to have this experience. One friend I met is from Sweden, 24 years old, and yet just starting university.

While we may think that deviating from the US plan is simply unquestionable or wrong; there are so many benefits that I can see. If you spend your whole life moving from one schooling system to another, options to self discovery and knowledge of the world around you are simply inaccessible. You can only learn so much from a classroom.

Other backpackers have told me stories about their experiences travelling throughout Asia and their incredible, cultural home stays. So that weekend in Cairns, I decided to stay by myself for a few more days as my friend returned to Melbourne. And then I realized that in reality I was not by myself as I had met a few new friends who taught me a great deal about the value of travel.

In Cairns I swam in cyclonic weather, jumped into a water-filled volcano, explored the rainforest, and scuba dived with Nigel, the Maori Wrasse fish, in the Great Barrier Reef.  But what I will remember most is the meaning of travel from the people I met.

To be brave is to deviate from the plan or make an unexpected one. It is clear to me that after Georgetown I will travel. It will be a time to learn from experiences, not only from books.


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