The idea of “vacation” dates back a long time, all the way to William the Conqueror. However, nobody cares very much about old William the Bastard these days, so we can push all that to the side: what is a vacation today? Obviously, a trip away from home; we “vacate” our house. But that doesn’t help us very much: such a technical argument has no place in a piece about vacation. No, what we really care about is why people go on vacation.
This question is as old as time: why do we feel a need to “get away?”
Some go to see family, some go to escape stress, some go for the bikinis, others for the hiking. But everyone “goes.” We can’t just reduce the limitless “reasons” for vacation to just “excitement” or “relaxation,” nor can we accept the Helium poll as a valid sampling of the whole population. The reasons for this are also limitless, but mostly it’s just because of what we mean by excitement and by relaxation.
Most people do sleep in on vacation, and do relax. Obviously, nobody turns down a chance to “take it easy.” But if all we wanted from a vacation was a chance to “take it easy,” we could just lock ourselves in our house. Or we could go to unexciting places like Dalton, Georgia, home of the great American carpet industry. Now that would be relaxation: sit and lounge about in inland Georgia, in the city of rugs and carpets.
But we all know why that wouldn’t be much of a vacation: because it would be boring. When we think of vacations, we think of going to the beach, or the mountains, or to an interesting city, or a summer home: places that evoke our sense of what is beautiful, what is alive, what is exciting. We do not vacation at a place for its dullness, but for its liveliness: for its inherent excitement. Yes, we sleep in. Yes, we relax. Yes, this is a fundamental part of a vacation. But when it comes time to decide if, how, where, and when we will go on vacation, the decisions are made in large part based on the potential for fun and excitement.
The problem with this question, and I suspect the reason most people chose “relaxation,” is because of the associations of those words. Excitement screams of adventure, which seems difficult. When people think of excitement, they are more likely to think of kayaking, rock climbing, and roller coasters than swimming, hiking, or seeing beautiful places. Yet those things also excite us, they also make our blood flow at a more lively rate. Excitement is the spice of life, and we go on vacation for that spice, away from the dullness of the every-day life. Relaxation is best on the day after great fun: when we have run splashing through the waves, and then returned, and fling ourselves in the sun-warmed sand. We are able to relax and let go because we have released ourselves in excitement.