What's the Difference Between a Vacation and an Adventure?
Updated: Jan 25, 2018
What’s the difference between a vacation and an adventure?
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. I’m going to Japan in a week. It’s a trip I’ve wanted to go on since I was a kid. I’ve always loved Japan. I trained in a very traditional dojo when I was a kid, read books on samurai, read Japanese philosophy books. just another tourist walking around in a crowd of people and taking pictures of the beautiful cherry blossoms and ancient shrines and temples that we all saw in our travel guides.
What I want is an experience. I want is a story.
When I was a kid, my friends and I would do thing thing we called, “Go.” (No, not the Japanese game of skill and strategy.) One of us would call the other and say something like, “Hey man, do you want to Go?” and then the other would say, “Yeah, let’s go!”
Then, we would get in the car and drive. No destination in mind. No time frame. No plan.
Sometimes we’d be gone for hours, sometimes for days. We never knew where we were going but we always knew when we got there. One place we landed once, which became a favorite camping spot for us, was this secluded beach in Half Moon Bay. We’d stopped by the ledge of this cliff to enjoy the views when we noticed a rope tied to a pipe leading down the cliff. We half climbed, half repelled down to find a massive beach, surrounded by cliffs on all side.
We were completely alone. We were completely free. Down there, there were no parents, no laws, no social stigmas to break. We’d camp there, set off fireworks, build huge bonfires, even run around completely naked!
It was an adventure, because we never knew what was going to happen.
But is that what an adventure is? Just doing something that you don’t know the outcome of? If that’s the case, then a lot of things would be adventures that I wouldn’t classify as adventurous: Gambling. Watching professional wrestling. Teaching. (I mean, you can hope for a specific objective from that last one but there’s way too many variables involves to actually know if you’ll attain it or not.)
Do we know that outcome of anything before hand?
Then I started thinking about another factor: risk. (again, not the board game) Something I’ve always said is that in order for something to be a true adventure, there needs to be something on the line. Money, health, possibly your entire life. (especially your life) I think most true adventures have had this risk involved.
Riding the razors edge makes us appreciate what we have. The thrill of loss sends those endorphins into our heads, our adrenaline spikes, and we feel well and truly alive.
But again, there’s a lot of things that do this that I wouldn’t call an adventure: Gambling (again), bungee jumping, sky diving. These are all things that give us a thrill, but that’s the only thing to them. Where is the story in: I went up in a plane. I jumped out of a plane. I landed on the ground. (unless you missed the ground entirely and accidentally learned how to fly!)
So I’ve thought about this a lot. What makes an adventure? And I started thinking about the explorers from days gone by who ventured out into unknown wildernesses in search for something new and I hit upon something that I think sinks true into the heart of what really separates a vacation from an adventure.
These explorers had the aforementioned element of the unknown. And they had great risk involved in their tasks. But they had a third element: They were trying to learn something new. Something no one really knew. Something you couldn’t learn from books or the internet (not that they had that), you could only learn it from having an experience. And therefore you HAD to venture into the unknown and you HAD to put something on the line because that was the only way you would learn it.
No-one jumps out of a plane or gambles their life savings away to learn something- they do it for an emotional thrill. A rush. But at it’s heart, adventure isn’t about thrill, it’s about a quest for knowledge. All the excitement, the exhilaration, the unpredictability- it’s all but a byproduct of the search for truth and meaning… probably.
But now I’m left with a harder question to answer: What is it exactly that I need to learn in Japan? Why Japan? Why have I read so many books on it? Why am I drawn by it’s movies and anime. It’s food. It’s tradition and culture. I’ve been fascinated by it, sometimes even obsessed.
And I don’t know the answer to the question. I don’t know what I need to (or even hope to) learn in this other world. And I suppose that’s why I need to go.
Because I'm looking inside of myself and seeing a mystery. A dark continent. An unexplored land. Not Japan itself, but why it fascinates me so. And I think that by exploring that place further, I'll be learning about myself more as well.
And that may be why we go on any adventures at all.