I remember clearly arriving back from my first major trip abroad. I'd just spent the previous three months backpacking through Nepal and northern India. I called my mother and of course she was delighted to hear from me. "How was your holiday" she asked me excitedly. "Mum" I replied rather wearily, "I've just been travelling. I need a holiday now!"
And I think some of my friends have the same misconception. They imagine that for weeks at a time my life is a string of lazy days around the pool drinking colourful drinks with little umbrellas in them. While there may be an occasional day where I can enjoy such a luxury, it's rare and the gritty reality of life as a budget traveller is very different. It's one where you are in a virtually constant state of unbalance and facing unique challenges every day.
A big difference between taking holiday and travelling on a budget is how your days are spent. This is directly related to the level of relaxation involved. On holiday, activities are generally less strenuous or done in moderation. Budget travel on the other hand can be tiring. Days are spent either travelling to or exploring a destination. There is usually a lot of walking involved, aside from more optional activities such as hiking or cycling. You'll be carrying a backpack some of the time. It may be hot, dusty or both.
Backpacking strips away the comforts and luxuries of a package holiday that may consist of a guided tour or cruise. You are directly responsible for how successful your trip will be and you either embrace that or shy away from it. Everyone is different. Personally, I enjoy the idea of meeting the various challenges of completing the journey myself. Over the years, I've saved a lot of money by travelling in this manner and I also feel that it's been a more authentic experience. I've seen countries as the local people do instead of how tourists see them from their air conditioned buses.
It's enjoyable and creates unforgettable memories but it can become tiring. You don't notice in the excitement of the first week or two. You'll have plenty of energy as you discover new and interesting places. If you travel for long enough though, at some point you will begin to feel some fatigue. There lies another major difference between a holiday and travel. The latter generally lasts significantly longer and to make this possible a backpacker is constantly looking for ways to minimise costs. This in itself can become tiring.
Personally, I find that three or four months is my comfortable limit for a single trip. After that, the fatigue factor tends to prevent me having a full appreciation for what I'm doing. I don't want to start arriving at great places without that feeling of excitement and wonder. Fatigue is not necessarily just physical either. It can be mental or even emotional if the journey has been difficult. When you feel jaded in this way, it's probably time to return home and have a holiday!
For anyone travelling for more than five or six months I would recommend planning some downtime along the way. Identify an appropriate destination and schedule at least a few days of relaxation there. It'll enable you to catch your breath and reinvigorate yourself for the rest of the journey. Call it a holiday from your travels if you like. Either way, I know you'll appreciate it!