trips and journeys

At one point last month, I tweeted:
watching music channel w/ subtitles. Makes me think I shd do a blog post on Estelle's 'American Boy'. Or is it just too embarrassingly late?
I was encouraged to take on this project by an American boy (if he'll put up with me calling him 'boy') called NativeTexanZach, and promised him that I'd dedicate the resulting post to him.  So, feeling a little guilty that I might be disappointing the youth of America, I went back to find out what it was that I'd promised to blog about -- and all I found was the unimpressive tweet that you see before you now.  I found the lyrics of the song, and, you know, there's just not that much to it.  I mean, there are Americanisms, but why did I think that the song cried out for its own blog post?  Was it just the inversion of the usual American-women-think-English-men-are-sexy stereotype?

(Incidentally, if you are an American woman and take the advice of this eHow piece on 'How to date a British man', I hope that you will live up to another American stereotype and sue the site for its utter uselessness.  They seem to have got their idea of British men entirely from Hugh Grant [AmE-preferred] movies/[BrE-preferred] films.  "Expect to be called duckie"?  Reader, I married him, and the only animal name I've been called is (BrE) miserable cow, which, I have been told, is used with affection.)  

So, rather than taking you tediously line-by-line through the song, let's just home in on one word, found in the first line of the chorus: trip.
Take me on a trip, I'd like to go some day.
Take me to New York, I'd love to see LA.
I really want to come kick it with you.
You'll be my American Boy.
I'm not saying that Estelle is saying anything that wouldn't be natural in either dialect--this is just a convenient way to pay my debt to NativeTexanZach while writing about something I've decided I want to write about.  The difference for trip is that Americans use it more often than the British do, and more often than journey.  BrE, on the other hand, uses journey as much as it uses trip.  To illustrate, the British National Corpus has roughly equal numbers of trip and journey (4432 & 4620/100 million words), whereas the Corpus of Contemporary American English has two-and-a-half times as many trips as journeys (8063 & 3131/100mw).

I was drawn to writing about trip because my use of it was commented upon by an Englishperson who will remain anonymous only because I can't remember who he/she/it was.  That person claimed that BrE retains the original sense of a trip being a particularly short journey.  However, the BNC data doesn't immediately bear this out.  Among the BrE examples are trips to the Arctic, the States and the moon (and many more like that).

The more I look at the data, the more it becomes evident that the difference isn't it trip, it's in journey.  Here are some of the BrE journeys where I would say trip in my native AmE:
PAMELA makes another journey round the stage with her bundle. 
We arrived at the French Riviera town of Frejus after an overnight journey on the Motorail.  
All of which makes the Jorvik Viking Centre not just the journey of a lifetime, but the most exciting journey in a thousand years.
There are also five BNC examples of break your journey, but none in the four-times-larger COCA:

Break your journey at Marton for a short walk to the site where Cook was born in 1728 

In AmE one would make a stopover rather than break a journey.

My impression was that Americans are more comfortable than BrE speakers in using trip to refer to just the journey portion of the travels--for example in Have a good trip!  The only problem with that impression is that, again, the corpus data don't support it.  BNC has 20 cases of Have a [adjective] trip and only 15 of Have a [adjective] journey.   But, once again, the data do support the difference being American non-use of journey.  COCA has 96 cases of Have a [adjective] trip, but only 19 of Have a [adjective] journey.  (COCA is four times the size of BNC, so the trip rates aren't very different from the dialect-comparison perspective.)

Of course, if I weren't a native English speaker, I wouldn't have needed to go through all this Googling and corpus-searching, since by this time my teacher would have given me a nice 'common mistakes in English' handout that tells me:
Journey (n) is used more in British English than American English. It means the 'piece' of travel between 2 or more points. The word journey is very rarely used as a verb.

ESL teachers: 1
Lynneguist: 0


  1. Do Americans also use trip in a drug context? Because I think that may be one reason why it's less commonly used for journey in the UK.

    Also, I would have said that trips were short journeys, too, but of course you're quite right that trips to the moon are not at all short. Hmm.

  2. @ros: The 'drug trip' meaning is originally AmE.

    I'd say 'trip' isn't really used less in BrE--that is to say there's no evidence that anyone's avoiding saying it, it's just that journey is used more. So, the question is why did Americans lose or the British get more fond of 'journey'? And I don't think we're going to find an answer to that one very easily. 'Trip' is the newer term, but there's no indication that it came from AmE rather than starting in the 'voyage' sense in BrE. 'Journey' goes back to the middle ages.

  3. (BrE) 'Have a good trip!' (excursion/holiday), but 'Have a safe journey!' (journey!)

  4. I (AmE, NYC) would use the word "journey" more comfortably to describe a trip that really changed a person, whether the trip was short or long. Of course, the fact that I used the word "trip" twice in that sentence shows that journey is not a word I usually use.

  5. As a BrE speaker I would have said a trip was easier and shorter than a journey as well. Could it be that for the trips to the moon etc., the speaker or writer was downplaying the difficulty involved or did it come from a science fiction context where trips to the moon are routine?

    I can imagine that somebody who regularly hops back and forth between the UK and the US might speak of a trip while somebody who has never done it before might refer to it as a journey.

    Basically what I'm saying is that in some cases the difference between a trip and a journey might be purely subjective rather than connected with the objective circumstances.

  6. I (BrE) agree with RWMG that a journey would be more subjectively arduous than a trip. Thus a trip would be something I'd think of as fun to do, whilst a journey simply something to be done.

    A journey would generally also require more preparation & planning, but less than for an expedition!

  7. For me (BrE speaker), there are definitely connotations of difficulty, time, and simplicity. 'Journey' emphasises the process of travelling - to me, it implies having to change trains/boats/planes, or otherwise navigate a complicated course. I'd definitely prefer 'journey to the moon' over (flippant?) 'trip to the moon' if it took the astronauts aaaaages to get there, or if they had to pilot their way around asteroids or flying saucers on the way - but then, it isn't exactly an easy journey in any case...

    ...Also. Because, to me, 'trip' refers to the whole round trip, but journey generally refers to either leg of the journey (?), i think i'm more likely to talk about 'the journey there' or 'the journey back', rather than 'the trip there' or 'the trip back'.... but my intuition could well be wrong.

  8. I think journey can also have the sense of a process of personal development, which may explain the Jorvik Viking Centre example.

    Trip, I think of as a functional move from A to B, as in business trip. [Day-]trippers is a slightly condescending and disparaging term for people who clog up the roads going somewhere unimaginative for a holiday.

    Trip focuses on the mechanical aspects only, whilst journey focuses on what happens whilst you are travelling.

  9. This was interesting seeing as the etymology of journey is simply the part of a voyage taking a single day.

    Any road, this American (SW New England), thinks (at least for the present) that a journey places emphasis on the destination or the outcome, while a trip places emphasis on the idea of leaving, more like a vacation. I might think differently tomorrow though.

  10. Vaguely in agreement with previous commenters about "journey" being more of an undertaking than a trip --- it's a journey to the centre of the earth, but a trip to the shops.

    Also, commuting is a journey, not a trip.

  11. I, BrE, might go on a trip to the cinema or a trip to the shops, but would never go on a "road trip" like my American friends do - it is definitely a car (or coach) journey.

  12. "We arrived at the French Riviera town of Frejus after an overnight journey on the Motorail"

    Among the examples you quote, this one is definitive, I'd say: ie, we can't say "trip" in this context unless we mean that "overnight we went somewhere and came back on the Motorail".

    For this BrE speaker, a journey isn't necessarily there-and-back, but a trip is.

    (Last week I wrote an account for the Times of a trip/journey to Japan: -- or click my name.)

  13. Could it also be a difference between written and spoken?

    I don't think I would generally SAY journey, but if I were writing I might choose journey because it is a more interesting word.

    It would also help to backup the difficulties in finding the difference in Google searches.

    Just a thought.

    Oh and I'm American.

  14. The ESL handout would be even more useful if it reminded readers never to use "trip" as a verb in this context (very common error: "I tripped to New York this weekend").

    And I just have to repeat this corpus example because it captures not only the lexical difference, but also chunks of my childhood in Yorkshire:

    "All of which makes the Jorvik Viking Centre not just the journey of a lifetime, but the most exciting journey in a thousand years."

    So true. And as anyone who's been there can attest, the legendary odors in the first part of the automated tour can turn the whole thing into a "trip" in any sense of the word ... Thanks for the memory.

    British-native ESL teacher in NC, US

  15. I (BrE), like others already commenting, would definitely only use 'trip' for travel that left you back in the place from which you started (so a 'round trip' is, strictly speaking, tautological). Perhaps if the astronauts were planning to settle on the moon they'd have journeyed there; the 'trip to the moon' would help settle any anxiety about whether they'd be coming back...

  16. "I, BrE, might go on a trip to the cinema or a trip to the shops, but would never go on a "road trip" like my American friends do - it is definitely a car (or coach) journey."

    We do however have the Big Brother on wheels TV programme Coach Trip. Then again coach tour is also pretty common to describe an organised holiday.

  17. 'Journey' is definitely more about the travel part, but note that it doesn't have to be long or arduous. The announcements on the train on which I take my 8-minute commute each day regularly make reference to my 'journey'.

    Here are some examples relating to a 32-minute train journey.

    One wouldn't necessarily say 'trip' in these contexts in AmE, but we just wouldn't be saying 'journey' so much either. I've just had a read through of accessibility statements on the New York MTA website and "Southern Railway, which I use in/around Brighton, and found that not only did I not find any 'journeys' on the parts of the MTA site that I looked at, I also found very few 'trips' (whereas there are lots of 'journeys' and some 'trips' on the Southern one). For example, Southern talks about 'delayed journeys' and MTA talks about 'delayed trains'. Some 'before your journey'-type expressions on UK sites might be 'before you travel' on US sites, and that sort of thing...

  18. Do Brits still refer to persons taking a trip as trippers, as in the Beatles "Day Tripper"?

  19. I wonder if the idea of "journey" as process is supported by metaphorical usage? I can say "life's journey" but not "life's trip". Indeed the phrase "life is just one long trip" would, I think, in BrE draw on the drug-related use rather than the travelling one for its simile, whereas "life is one long journey" would emphasise a process of change.

  20. As an American, I would use "journey" in a metaphorical sense, or to suggest something very long or arduous. "Trip" can mean anything, although, out of context, I would usually understand it to be overnight.

  21. It seems that the UKs and Ams here agree in general terms about the difference between 'trip' and 'journey', at least in their primary senses. I just think Ams have a higher standard for what can qualify as a journey. For me (AmE), a mere three-week vacation on the other side of the word would not qualify, nor would a trip (!) to the moon, if things were all planned out ahead of time. A journey would be something like going into the great unknown, with no idea of when and whether I'd come back, and if did, I would likely come back much wiser than when I left. That just doesn't happen so often, which is why I don't use the word much

  22. Oh, I know what I think the difference is (in BrE). Trips are fun; journeys are not necessarily. That's why life is a journey but not a trip. And of course you would go on a trip to the moon, but not a trip to attend someone's funeral. A daily commute could never be a trip, always a journey.

  23. Sounds good, Ros, but if one looks at the adjectives that go with 'trip' in the BNC there are plenty of examples of things like 'a wasted trip' and as many 'boring trips' as 'excellent trips'--not to mention 'official trips', 'fact-finding trips', 'exploratory trips'.

    There are a lot of ways in which 'trip' and 'journey' aren't comparable. It's not that one can substitute for the other in most situations, since a trip includes the time at the destination, but a journey generally doesn't. So, going to Japan for two weeks to see what it's like can be 'an exploratory trip', but probably not 'an exploratory journey', unless you're thinking of the person doing it as metaphorically moving through their experiences, rather than physically moving through space the whole time.

  24. @anonymous: 'tripper' in that sense was already quaint-sounding by the mid-70s when I was a kid. Mostly because cheap package holidays had demolished the day-trip market.

  25. @Lynneguist - ah, but Train English - from your first station stop, to alighting from the train (with all your unattended packages) - is another language altogether. You can't use that as an example of British English.

  26. 'Journey' tends to refer to the travelling part of the trip, whereas 'trip' refers to the whole experience.

    So if you're going to Paris for the weekend, 'have a good trip' means enjoy the weekend, whereas 'have a good journey' only refers to the travelling between your home and Paris.

  27. Like some others, my (BrE) intuition would be that a trip is a 'there and back' while journey might not be.

  28. My dear (tempted to write an uncharacteristic "Honey...") I married "him" too, and the only animal name he's called me has been "bitch". He means it in a very seductive way, though.

  29. Dear Mrs Redboots,

    My generation has adopted the Americanism 'roadtrip' (as one word) but it is used strictly in the sense of an American 'road movie' and is far more than a mere car journey.

    A roadtrip is a mission (in the 20-something BrE colloquial sense meaning quite far and of considerable effort to reach) across country, for several days, probably taking in several stops/major landmarks/ coming of age experiences along the way.

    Just driving somewhere in your car could be a trip or a journey, but roads need not be referenced as they are taken for granted in this instance.

    'A Trip To The Moon' incidentally is a charming children's picture book by Jill Murphy (which I strongly recommend for Grover if you haven't got it already Lynneguist). The title is deliberately flippant as the baby teddy bear builds himself a rocket ship out of a cardboard box and flies up the chimney into space with a colander for a helmet.

    The expression has fallen into common parlance, but I maintain it began as a cultural reference and is therefore not necessarily representative of the typical BrE applictaion of 'trip'.

    Consider also our national penchant for sarcasm and irony. referring to something lengthy, costly and possibly life-threatening as a 'little trip' is really just our way.

  30. @ Sid Smith - Congratulations on your marriage. You(perhaps unknowingly?)used a very humorous phrase in your article. I think maybe lynneguist might comment on the different way AmE uses the phrase "wedding tackle" !

  31. The sentence used in relation to "break your journey" made perfect sense to me (NW England BrE).

    "Break your journey" means voluntarily stop for a short while before carrying to wherever you were going. "Stopover" would include an overnight, for example such as you might get when changing planes in Dubai en route from London to Sydney.

  32. I think that for us Americans 'journey' is no longer an everyday word and accordingly it has picked up a sort of grand quality: it's a special word, not to be used for ordinary examples of traveling. At the same time, it has also lost all connection with its etymological roots, so that for us Marco Polo's great trek to China and back (for example) seems to deserve the name 'journey' whereas any particular one-day leg of it does not.

    The fact that we have the expression 'round trip' suggests that in order for a piece of traveling to be called a trip it does not have to involve ending where you begin.

  33. Somewhat OT: American baseball broadcast commentators have taken to using the word 'journeyman' to mean a player who has made many moves from one team to another in the course of his professional career.

  34. For me, the far more interesting thing about American Boy is hearing Kanye West using a few obvious Britishisms (rubbish and ribena being the obvious ones) - which is not what you're used to hearing from US rappers

  35. "Somewhat OT: American baseball broadcast commentators have taken to using the word 'journeyman' to mean a player who has made many moves from one team to another in the course of his professional career."

    Also used in sports commentary here in the UK, but for us it means "strictly average, an honest toiler, nothing special".

  36. In it's orignal meaning a journeyman was someone who had completed an apprenticeship but wasn't yet a mastercraftsman.

    I was about to say that in that respect the UK sporting meaning is closer to the orignal, but I see on Wikipedia that on the continent it was common for journeymen to move around to increase their experience before becoming a master, so that matches the US use.

  37. Some authors in the UK's National Health Service have recently started talking about "The Patient Journey", as, for example, at

    This is not about the exercise of stoicism by transport staff, and the word "trip" would therefore not be right.

    I wonder if, in BrE at least, "trip" focuses on the goal or outcome of the expedition ("I made a trip to the beach" is about the seaside) whereas "journey" focuses on the business of transportation ("my journey to the beach was slow"). This would fit with the metaphorical use in the NHS and elsewhere, where the process of travelling is central.

    I might make a trip to hospital for treatment, but I (BrE) don't think I'd say that I made a journey to hospital, unless I really wanted to talk about the ambulance service.

    (And I'd never talk about "The Student Journey", though I wouldn't put it past our awful university managers.)

  38. I'd like to throw my weight behind David Young's comments. That's exactly how I [20-something South BrE] understand those respective terms.

    I have always understood 'journeyman' to be someone who has passed the apprentice/trainee stage but is not yet a master of their craft and is therefore travelling about gaining experience. No?

  39. Solo - erm, no, I thought a journeyman was a craftsman employed by the day (journee) - he may have had to walk from place to place, so the two senses merged.

    In a similar vein, I read recently that the origin of the Tour de France lies in the routes taken by seasonal workers (and pedlars and tradesmen) around the country.

  40. Well, no Solo - in the UK I understood that a journeyman was hired by the day (Fr. journee), thus would work for several different employers. He might have to walk from place to place, thus the two senses merged.

    To add to the theme: I read recently that the Tour de France originally referred to the annual migration around the country of pedlars and tradesmen.

  41. I think that the meaning described by Solo and Shaun is still common in the US. Trade unions use it that way. "Journeyman work" is competent, what one expects to be paying for.

  42. In the area of creative endeavours (writing, drawing, design, etc.) "journeyman" is barely one step up from "hack". Doing journeyman work is churning out potboiler stuff that just about meets minimum requirements.

  43. I stand corrected. That comes of being a hack I suppose.

  44. No, Solo, you are right. Historically, in trades regulated by a guild, journeyman is an intermediate stage between apprentice and master.

    I did not know until now why it was called that, but apparently it does have something to do with being allowed to charge for a day's work (and nothing to do with traveling (BrE travelling ?)).

    I get a little peeved when sports commentators refer to a baseball player as a journeyman meaning simply that he has traveled a lot, working for different teams.

  45. LOL I remember when our new friends we met on our honeymoon, a British couple, came to visit and the husband kept calling the wife "silly cow." We were shocked!

  46. Massachusetts age 25-

    The difference between these and other related terms is one of scale.
    From smallest distance or least preparation on to largest and most then:


    The first two terms could also be termed an outing, the last two an adventure. The middle terms might also be an excursion.

    Of course any of the above could be interchanged for the purpose of under/over statement.

    What a mess!

  47. Basically, I use trip and journey in mutually exclusive contexts:

    • a trip is a there-and-back excursion by transport
    • a journey is a movement by transport to a particular place (The return journey is something else, which is not under consideration)

    This basic distinction holds true for me when there's an explicit to X. A trip to Russia is a holiday. My journey to Russia in 1970 was something quite distinct from my return in 1971.

    However, trip has made some border-crossing inroad in my speech — possibly an actual change in my lifetime, possibly an influence from AmE. I can use How was your trip? to mean 'How was your your journey here?'

    The all-pervasive metaphorical use of journey represents life as a one-way (somewhat difficult) progression to a destination which is some sort of psychological resolution. I hate the expression, not for the wording but because I hate the metaphor.

    On the other hand, life's journey is OK because death is a perfectly plausible endpoint.

  48. I wrote that (for me)

    a trip is a there-and-back excursion by transport

    and added the stipulation that to X is expressed.

    I see there is (for me) another stipulation: a trip is easy and simple, even trivial, whereas a journey is relatively serious and difficult. As Mrs Redboots observed, we can make a trip to the shops or a trip to the cinema.

    Cole Porter wrote of:

    A trip to the moon on gossamer wings
    Just one of those things

    But the serious, not to say dangerous, there-and-back excursion of astronauts was described as a manned flight to the moon. (When they actually landed, the description switched to moon landing, leaving the travel(l)ing element unsaid.)

    To speak nowadays of a journey to the moon would (to me) sound ominous. Not implying a return is too close for comfort to implying no return. However, I'd happily speak of the journey to the moon at the start of 2001 A Space Odyssey — in a fictional time when return trips/journeys are assumed to be commonplace.


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AmE = American English
BrE = British English
OED = Oxford English Dictionary (online)