Lonely Planet Writer

Travel debate: relaxed vs adventurous holidays

Who gets the most out of a holiday: the person who doesn't try to do too much or the person who sees each trip as their personal Amazing Race? It's a common argument in the Lonely Planet office, so we've decided to put it to a debate:

Librarian Mark is all for having a holiday on holidays:

I’m not one of those people who comes back from vacation and needs a holiday. I relax when I’m away. I don’t hike in deserts or canoe through ice floes. When it’s lunchtime I retire to a restaurant rather than a camp fire. In the evening I sample the local beers then retire to a comfortable bed.

A foreign culture is amazing enough without needing to jump off a bridge with a rope attached to my legs. And when was a bungee jump or zip-line a part of Costa Rican culture, anyway? I walk around a city taking everything in: the history, the smells, the language, the architecture, etc.

On a short vacation you are wasting your time doing Western adventures such as jet skiiing when the everyday of the locals is an adventure in itself. Sky dive at home; don’t waste valuable time overseas on things that aren’t related to the culture. And take it easy, you deserve a break.

On the other hand, Vivek, Head of Digital Editorial, casts his vote for jumping in:

We spend so much of our lives tired. We are urged to work harder and produce more so that we can consume more, and then we are asked to consume things that alleviate the stress and difficulties of working so darn hard. So visions of lazing on the beach, mai tai in hand, are understandable. But the actual experience won’t make you happy – not in the long run.

Not doing anything is just another form of passive consumption. In the end, the novelty of endless hammocks, massages by the pool and sleeping in past noon inevitably wears off. Sure, it’s great for a day or two but we are actually at our most happy when we are being truly productive. The problem is that 'productivity' has come to mean mindless labour, bereft of significant output and personal fulfilment. For too many of us, there is no adventure in productivity.

That’s not how it’s supposed to be. Truly productive people place great value in what they create – whether it’s works of art, meaningful relationships or new ways to do things. For them, life is a constant adventure, and they reap the rewards of that outlook.

Many of us will have limited opportunities for such adventure. Travel is one of the great opportunities; it allows you to be productive in the most fulfilling ways possible. On the road, you are not limited by your 'home' identity – you can refashion yourself however you wish. You can choose to be constantly challenged.

And you’ll very quickly be surprised by what you’re capable of. Turning up in a new setting without quite knowing how things work is intimidating, but you’ll soon discover your versatility. Challenging yourself to face a confronting situation – such as making friends with a room full of strangers – will boost your happiness levels tremendously as you discover how good you are at it. While travelling, you are endlessly creative, coming up with solutions to new problems and pushing yourself past preconceived boundaries. You can chill out in the sauna anytime: it’s only on the road that you can have a true adventure.

Sure, we all need rest. That’s what mealtimes, bedtime and the occasional three-day weekend are for. But don’t burn your precious holidays lazing in Catatonia. Live like you mean it – don’t just fill in the gaps. You’ll look back on your holidays and swear to yourself that you’d do it all over again the exact same way.

Rebuts Mark: Agreed. Don’t lie on a beach for your whole trip. But don’t be ashamed to lie on a beach for some of it. 'Everything in moderation, including moderation'. I recently heard of a man who did 52 marathons in a year. He has my respect for such an achievement, but I doubt he learned much about the destinations he was in except the state of their roads. Travel is not a competition.

Counteracts Vivek: Equating ‘adventure’ with ‘adrenaline-fuelled activities’ is narrow minded. You don’t need to skydive to push your personal boundaries, but you do need to challenge yourself. Taking full advantage of a new destination’s opportunities lies at the heart of adventure. Surrounding yourself with comfort and tranquility doesn’t require a plane flight: it can be done at home.

What makes travel special is the experiences you can’t have anywhere else. And it’s only by approaching every trip with a sense of adventure that you can get the most out of those experiences. In the end, they’ll make you happier than any amount of down time.

Which side are you on?

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