What is Travel? What is Work?

One of the most oft-repeated arguments I get for not taking working vacations was voiced by a young woman named Sabrina in a letter on Travel For Free, a blog mentioned in my previous post.  In her commentary, she states, with apologies for the language and grammar:

“When I travel, I don’t want to work. Many people work while they travel, they get none or a shitty salary but they offer free rooms and sometimes free (crappy) food. And in the end these people didn’t really travel, they just worked around the world for free and didn’t see much. Traveling is traveling, its vacation time.”

In spite of the poorly worded sentences her argument is clear:  She does not  want to cover the cost of travel through paid work.  I hear this a lot from people who imagine an overseas experiences saddled with back-breaking physical labor, like harvesting crops, or with mind-numbing tasks such as chasing after rambunctious children 24/7.  Well, let me quickly put your concerns (and Sabrina’s) to rest about the pleasures of a working vacation.

My posts are not written for the 18-25 year old crowd heading off to Europe or Asia before starting college, graduate school, or their first job.  For these young travelers, low paid positions such as clearing tables or being a nanny may be all that is available, and these jobs do indeed pay a shitty salary.  Instead, my book and blog are for individuals with one (or more) college degrees, work experience, and, most importantly, professional skills of interest to overseas institutions.  For such people (e.g., doctors, teachers, nurses, business people, engineers, social workers, clergy, artists) there are many short-term postings that, unlike what Sabrina suggests, pay a reasonable salary–certainly enough to live on–and provide both comfortable housing and sufficient free time to enjoy the pleasures and promises of the host country.

However, the most misleading part of Sabrina’s letter is her assertion that  ” … in the end these people didn’t really travel, they just worked around the world for free and didn’t see much… ”   In fact, I would argue that professionals on a short-term working vacation do more and see more than those whose idea of travel is a week or two at the beach, on a cruise ship, or ensconced in some comfy European B&B.   I don’t learn a great deal about a culture, its people, and traditions by talking with my tour guide or peering through the windows of a bus.  Instead,  I settle into an interesting locale, make friends with neighbors and colleagues, shop at the local merchants, and participate in social, cultural, and religious events.  I learn about a culture not by observing it by become a part of it. To me that is the very definition of exciting and rewarding travel.

So, Sabrina, I am sorry to say that I could not disagree more with your argument that those who worked while they traveled “… didn’t see much.”   If by “seeing” you mean ticking off the biggies of the local tourist scene (art museums, temples, waterfalls, big game animals) then maybe you are right. But if you define “seeing” as learning, interacting, and growing intellectually and culturally, then I think that a working vacation has it all over more traditional travel.  In the words of the author Miriam Beard “Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is the change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.”  Couldn’t have said it better myself!

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3 responses to “What is Travel? What is Work?

  1. I agree! Traveling is not just about its tourist attraction. A worthy travel is something that you adopt within yourself. You should be able to connect with people in able to understand the meaning of your trip.

  2. So true! There are beautiful beaches all over the world. Cool cafes. But until you are actually interacting with people in everyday situations it is hard to say that you have really experienced a place!

  3. smart post, thoughtful comments. i agree – if you’re working a low paying job ANYWHERE in the world, you probably won’t be happy or doing much.

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