Is a staycation a real vacation?

Fact Check 3 min. Femke Trommels

Any questions on social issues? Our experts are happy to answer them. We received the following question: is a staycation a real vacation? Normally, the Dutch go abroad in their millions for a well-deserved holiday. Given the corona crisis, this year’s summer will be quite different for many people. They prepare to spend their holidays at home or close to home. We asked Professor of Philosophy Ruud Welten for insights.

Ruud Welten

Staycation offers opportunities for living in the here and now’

“People aren’t trees, that are rooted to one spot. We are restless. Early humans already roamed the earth.” For years, Welten has been studying the phenomenon of travel, placing our Western Wanderlust in a historical-philosophical perspective. “The corona crisis limits our opportunities, but also offers many new ones.”

“Historically speaking, traveling has occupied us philosophers for centuries,” says Ruud Welten. “In the first century, for instance, Seneca was critical of the idea of travel. He saw it as trying to escape from yourself. Hundreds of years later, in the 18th century, Rousseau had exactly the opposite opinion. You had to get away from your books as much as possible and travel as often as you could. At the beginning of the 19th century, the French writer Stendhal was the first to use the word tourism in the sense that we use it today. And nowadays, travel and tourism are commonplace. With all its associated consequences.”

The meaning of traveling

Ruud Welten: “If philosophy is concerned with the meaning of life, then I am concerned with the role of traveling in that search for meaning. Modern tourism is an important component in this context. For many people, a vacation is not a vacation if they cannot go far away, experience new things, explore different cultures and meet people, or push their own boundaries. Now that traveling is largely impossible because of the corona measures, that lack of potential has become a big problem for people who perceive ‘vacation’ in this way. The paradox is that, if we see ‘vacation’ in the original sense of the word, so as leisure, freedom, you-time, the corona crisis does give us that.”

Elsewhere it's still how it's really supposed to be

Search for authenticity

“The whole idea of having to travel as a way to give meaning to life is Western in origin. The underlying idea is a search for authenticity, that we have supposedly lost. We are depraved and alienated from our natural instincts, but elsewhere, in Portugal or Thailand, it's still how it is really supposed to be. There is also a connection with colonialism. Getting something from far away that you can’t get at home, however, with the expectation that the world will accommodate and adapt to you. Thus, tourism became an enormously commercial business. Important economic interests are involved. But it is devastating for the climate, the environment, and people’s ways of life. Its impact is now directly visible: the coronavirus has hitched a ride with the tourists traveling around the world.”


So less travel is not such a bad thing after all. The virus has kept us all at home for a time. But is it sustainable in the long term? And how do you keep yourself amused? Welten: “Staying at home is not a fun option for everyone. Human nature and our Western culture make it hard for us. The 17th century philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote: ‘All of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone’. Despite corona, you can see many people already making plans and travel arrangements, based on the idea that if you haven’t traveled, you haven’t lived. Whereas the situation is not over yet: a lot is still unclear or uncertain and the virus is on the rise again in some countries.”  

Collective compulsive disorder

But surely it is true that traveling enriches your life and helps you to get to know yourself better? “Many arguments in favor of traveling are spurious,” Welten says. “There is really no need to go to a holiday resort in Turkey or Spain to enrich your life. Tourism is also fueled by a kind of peer pressure: the neighbors are going, so I need to go, too. It is almost a collective compulsive disorder, whereby we deceive each other into thinking that you really must have seen certain sights or done certain things. This has created a pseudo-problem that is a figment of our own imagination.”

Use this period of imposed home-time’

Here and now

How do you rid yourself of this pseudo-problem? “There are a lot reasons to be critical of our travel behavior. The environment is one of them. Corona is another. But also: do you really come home completely replenished? And: who are you doing it for, anyway? Use this period of imposed home-time as a result of the corona pandemic by asking yourself about the need for that long-distance holiday. Is it really necessary for your personal development? Or are you able to find similar satisfaction in a different way? The trick is not to look too far ahead. What life will be like ‘after corona’ is anybody’s guess, so try to live in the here and now. It can be very liberating if you can take a relaxed, critical look at your travel behavior.”


The 'New Common'

The corona crisis has compounded major societal challenges. Tilburg University shares knowledge and insights to reshape our society. We are happy to discuss this New Common.