Travel vs. Vacation

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The first day of a new year offers a chance to reflect and dream.  What has the last year been like?  What does the new year hold?  What do I hope to see happen in my life?  The google will tell us that travel is one of the most common goals and aspirations people have on their resolution lists and dream boards.  I know that’s true in my life.  I’ve always had dreams to travel the world.

And why is that?  What are the underlying reasons I have for wanting to see new places?  I’ve been thinking about this since we left Canada, but more specifically, since we wrapped up our Christmas trip to Sri Lanka.

I think if we’re honest, some of the reasons we long to travel are not worthwhile.  It seems cool to say we’ve been to some exotic place, far from home.  Somewhere few of our peers have seen.  It sets our life apart, somehow.  As if it expands our importance and justifies our existence.  We would likely never voice this, or maybe even be aware of it, but when a well traveled person talks about their experience, it’s hard not to feel like your life is smaller and in some way, inferior.

That’s what the online “100 places you have to visit before you die” type lists have done to us.  You know those things that go around Facebook where you check off all the countries you’ve visited and we unwittingly compete to see who has the biggest number and therefore, the biggest life?  But what does a number ever tell us about a life?  Nothing.  Someone can travel to 60 countries and have an impressive looking map checklist, but not have allowed it to change them in any way.  Another person can live in one country their whole life, and never leave, and grow more and more in compassion and love and appreciation for people different than themselves.  Who’s life is bigger and who comes out ahead?  No one can say for sure- life is not measured in numbers.  It’s measured in things like love and impact.

So, what then, are the worthwhile reasons to travel?  Why is travel still on my list of goals for 2015?  My hope, as we visit new places and countries, is that we will be transformed.  That our understanding and appreciation of different people and cultures will grow.  That we will learn to love people more deeply, judge people never, and move through our lives with more compassion.  That we will marvel at the glory of God through his beautiful creation, and at the ingenuity of humanity throughout the ages.  And that along the way, we’d have some fun and make a lot of great memories together as a family.

But note, all of those goals can be achieved without ever leaving our home country.  That we have the opportunity to do these things in another country is indeed a privilege, but in no way makes our lives more exciting or more valuable.  So, as I post pictures and stories from this trip, and any that follow, I pray that this would not spark in anyone a twinge of jealously or a sense of smallness, as it once did for me.  I pray instead that you would hear of the growth and change in us, and be inspired to experience the same, wherever life has you.

And Sri Lanka was indeed, a growing experience for us.  I understood, for the first time during this trip, that traveling is different than vacationing.  The goal of a vacation, for the most part, is relaxation, fun, entertainment, and generally having a break from the challenges of life.  The goal of travel, as I mentioned above, is much deeper.  Seeing, experiencing, reflecting, changing.  So while we had some vacation-y moments along the way, this trip was all about travel.

The tricky thing is, our life is one colossal challenge right now.  Every day is a learning curve and a bit of a mental battle.  Right when we could use a vacation the most, we find ourselves instead, perfectly situated for travel.  So, we take a break from our challenging new lives to challenge ourselves and our perspectives with a trip to Sri Lanka.  Seriously, I don’t think we’re even going to recognize ourselves in two years.

20141220_1437Our first of several tuk tuk rides.

20141220_1645The kids first run into the Indian Ocean, fully clothed.

20141220_1423Two family homes near the beach.

20141221_1325Riding Manika at the Millennium Elephant Foundation, which rescues elephants from abusive situations.  Now, they’re like union elephants, who work from 9-4, with multiple long breaks, and a maximum number of rides.  They dance in the river.  Seriously- I have video of it.  So cute.20141221_1625 20141221_1366This was our first day with our driver, Seneca, pictured here with us.  We didn’t know yet how awesome he was, but he was excited as we were to visit the elephants.

20141222_1539Our rainy day visit to Sigiriya Rock, which despite the opening of the heavens with water, was magnificent.

20141222_1541The water pouring down the steps.  Our feet were…wet.

20141222_1551Less water near the top.20141222_1566She was kind of excited to see monkeys.

20141222_1281Monkey family photo.  Teenager monkey on the right was giving attitude and refused to look up and baby monkey on the left was scared and finding solace in his siblings arms.

20141222_1562It’s a steep climb.  I didn’t have the guts to pull out the camera on the scariest parts, because I was focused on not slipping and dying.

20141222_1270Half way up, at the lion’s paws.  Slippery stairs still to come.

20141222_1583The steps to the palace at the top of the rock.

20141222_1282The biggest of thousands of Buddha statues we saw.20141222_1288The Dambulla Cave Temples were monasteries in the middle ages for Buddhist monks.

20141222_1532The best view we could get during days of traveling through gorgeous, lush mountains and valleys.  You can imagine with us how beautiful it would be on a sunny day.

20141224_1511Miles and miles of tea plantations. 20141224_1221Tea leaves drying in the factory.  Sri Lankan tea is world famous, and it even managed to make a temporary tea drinker out of Dwayne.  The smell in this room was heavenly.20141224_1215The finished bags are about 3 feet high.  I thought of buying a suitcase just to take one home.

20141225_1490Our Christmas Eve story could fill another post, so I’ll just sum it up with our favorite shot.  These are the cows peeking into our “room” (aka covered porch) at 5am on Christmas morning.  We’ve never related so closely to the manger scene on as we did this year.  It will be an unforgettable family Christmas memory.

20141225_1200The kids in our hostel room on Christmas Day…right as we’re about to check out, a day early.  One night in the pouring rain, in a National Wildlife Park without walls or a door was enough for us.  But look at these 2 troopers!  They slept better than Dwayne and I.

20141225_1185Elephant Rock in Yala National Park.  We went for a safari, but the pouring rain made it a bit of a bust.  Too much rain means the animals don’t need to gather at their usual watering holes and therefore, are nearly impossible to spot.  We did see a lot of water buffalo.  And deer.  And wild boar.  And birds.  Totally worth the 11 hour drive.20141225_1183These 4 beautifully camouflaged birds are cute though, right.  So worth it.

20141225_1175This photo is taken from the tile floor, which still remains from a hotel in Yala National Park that was washed away by the tsunami in 2004.  There is a monument there to the 47 guests and staff members who were swept away that day.

20141226_1091 20141226_1102One of the endless abandoned buildings on the south coast of Sri Lanka, which were left ownerless after the tsunami.  Hundreds of sad monuments to the devastation.20141226_1100These kind men were fishermen who were taking the day off to remember their friends who were lost in the tsunami.

20141226_1112Family photo at the Galle Fort.

20141226_1121Abby bought a cover up beach dress from this lovely woman, so we took their photo together.

20141226_1123Huge family highlight at a sea turtle conservation site.  All these little piles are full of different kinds of turtle eggs, covered with a net to protect them from lizards and birds.20141226_1488Newborn green turtle, just emerging from the sand.  Oh the cuteness!  He was already so strong.20141226_1137 20141226_1133 20141226_1130 20141226_1127These little nuggets were 3 days old.  We could have stayed here for hours.

20141227_1012 20141227_1016The rain cleared in time for us to have a few beach days at the end of our travels.  The boys here are in the distance playing in the waves.

20141227_105120141227_1056At a parade put on by the local temple.  Fire jugglers, plate spinners, whip snappers, Kandy dancers, and sparkly elephants.  Even more entertaining than the Stampede Parade.

20141228_0982On our last day, we took a river safari on the Mada River.  It was AMAZING!  This is our family shot in the mangroves.20141228_093520141228_1005We each took a turn holding the baby crocodile.  Oh sure, he seems small, but he looked at me like he was going to swallow me whole.

20141228_100120141228_100020141228_099820141228_0996Fish foot massage.  Gross!  But how could we say no?20141228_0971Cinnamon stalks drying out on Cinnamon Island.

20141228_0976Our take home goodies: cinnamon essential oil, coconut rope, and ground cinnamon.  All for $6.  Take note, fellow DoTerra lovers: $3 for a bottle of pure cinnamon essential oil!  Worth a flight back to Sri Lanka, perhaps?20141228_0945Life on the river.20141228_094220141229_1661 Saying goodbye to Seneca and Sri Lanka at the airport.  Our driver made our trip 100 times better than if we’d been on our own.  Great suggestions for stops, translating conversations with locals, finding us a new hotel when the hostel was too much, answering our endless questions during hours in the car.  It was hard to leave him.  But, I was also really looking forward to not feeling damp all the time and sleeping in my own comfy bed, so I pulled myself away.

We left Sri Lanka, blessed and changed.


6 thoughts on “Travel vs. Vacation said:
    January 1, 2015 at 7:59 pm

    So well said. You write beautifully and so thought-filled. Thank you

      jendhansen responded:
      January 2, 2015 at 4:07 pm

      Thank you so much, both for reading and taking the time to comment. 🙂

    Haley said:
    January 1, 2015 at 11:43 pm

    Thanks for the armchair travel experience this morning! What cool experiences you guys are having 🙂 Happy New Year!

      jendhansen responded:
      January 2, 2015 at 4:08 pm

      Thanks Haley. Happy new year to you too!

    Jon Coutts said:
    January 2, 2015 at 2:58 pm

    I’ve been thinking about travel too. We just bought one of these ‘scratch maps’ of the UK so we could mark all the places we visit. It is a visual way to evoke common curiosity and to log our adventures I guess. Like what you’re showing us with your family, however, it is more than that. It is about these places and people we’re ‘getting to know’ to some degree so that, whether we leave any impact on them or not, they are indeed changing us in some way. There is something about ‘travel’, however, that when taken too far (thinking of the list of 60 places visited) maybe deadens some of that in some way. I don’t know, maybe I’m just jealous, but it does seem like if all we do is tour the world we’re taking advantage of our privilege and not really getting in there and having our part in a place cost us anything (other than flight and accommodation). All that to say, I think it is wonderful the kind of ‘travel’ you are doing and describing. Glad you are sharing it with us too.

    In my late twenties I started to regret that I hadn’t traveled much–and then it kind of fell upon us to be able to do so. And I’ve noticed that, like you said, there’s difference between ‘vacation’ and ‘travel’. The difference between vacation and travel, to me, is about the time one spends there (short or extended), where one goes (tourist areas or not), and who one makes relationships with (other visitors or actual locals). Even when I was in San Francisco for only a day I tried to get past vacation to travel by walking aimlessly through town, getting into alleyways, eating in locals, that kind of thing. My pictures are all from the Golden Gate Bridge of course.

    Beyond that I’d say there is also a difference between ‘travel’ and ‘becoming a part’. We’ve noticed from our two years in Aberdeen and our three months and counting in Bristol that there’s a big jump from visiting a place and really becoming part of it. You can get a good sense of a place in a week, but there is something about really investing yourself in an area–at cost to oneself–which brings a whole other experience of locality. We had an accelerated sense of belonging to Aberdeen because of the local church and our intentional desire to walk the city and discover the outlying areas, but I realize now that even this was a bit different from what we’re experiencing now, which is this slow (and frankly stil-unrealized) sense of actually belonging to an area, embodying its language and culture somehow, without losing that part of you that comes from elsewhere. I’m not totally sure we can always say this even happens. Until it does I feel like we’re always ‘visitors’ in some sense. The world being as it is, however, I think we (Christians) need to do what we can to help ‘visitors’ more quickly become neighbours, and to do our best to be respectful visitors who don’t just use the locals for a personal experience.

    Thanks for this awesome group of photos and the thought-provoking post, I’ve been chewing on some of this myself.

    Amanda said:
    January 4, 2015 at 10:00 am

    I really liked how you fleshed out this thought. I am not much of a vacationer (cuz most vacation places are hot and I like winter!), and I hadn’t traveled anywhere until this past Spring. I went to Istanbul adn it was nothing like what I imagined it to be. I totally thought it’s in the Middle East and it’s going to be just like what I see on the Evening News. But then I got there and it was so much like a city I live near. Before that I thought the world was scary and I never wanted to go anywhere. But now that I’ve been out of my comfort zone I can see how blessed I am in things I take for granted, (like a passport that let’s me go anywhere) and my world is bigger now. I’m still not sure I have the gumption to travel with 5 small kids…. but I definitely want to grab hold of opportunities to teach them about the rest of the world, and all of the worlds in our own backyard.

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