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In the Longman Dictionary, "Excursion" is defined as:

a short journey made for pleasure, usually by several people together

This is similar to "to go on a trip". Is there any difference in meaning between "to go on an excursion" and "to go on a trip"?

We can talk of a school trip to the Science Museum. Is "excursion" also an option in this case or does "excursion" always involve going as a group to another city rather than to a museum?

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    I think the two words are pretty much synonymous, although trip seems like a possible hypernym of excursion. Of the two words, excursion is the "fancier" word, but it's very hard for me to come up with a scenario where one word is spot on and the other is not appropriate.
    – J.R.
    Commented Oct 30, 2015 at 22:18
  • @J.R. What about the Science Museum situation mentioned in the question? Are both words possible and if yes is there any difference in meaning between a 'school trip to the museum' and a 'school excursion to the museum'? My impression is that if children go as a group to a museum in their own city, 'school trip' is the word to use, however if this visit is part of a longer stay of the group in a foreign country 'excursion' works better, 'excursion' also seems to imply doing a number of things, e.g. going to a cafe after seeing the museum, while 'a trip' only involves seeing the museum. Commented Nov 4, 2015 at 6:39
  • I don't think it's quite that cut-and-dried, but it's too hard to explain in a comment. Perhaps my answer below might help.
    – J.R.
    Commented Nov 4, 2015 at 9:54

3 Answers 3

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Using dictionary.reference.com:

Excursion - a short trip or outing to some place, usually for a special purpose and with the intention of a prompt return

Trip - 1. a journey or voyage: to win a trip to Paris. 2. a journey, voyage, or run made by a boat, train, bus, or the like, between two points: It's a short trip from Baltimore to Philadelphia.

Hence where "excursion" is used for an outing, "trip" is also an acceptable word.

For "trip" definition 1, "excursion" could also be used, provided the trip is short enough. Although it's not explicitly stated in the definitions, I'd suggest that if it is up to a day long then it can be either a trip or an excursion, but if it is longer then it would be a trip. For example, a 3 day visit to Paris might be a trip, but a day's outing to see the Palace of Versailles could be described as either a trip or an excursion.

For "trip" definition 2, "excursion" would not be a valid alternative word. i.e. where you are only talking about the journey in terms of transport, and not in terms of actually "doing anything" at the destination, then "excursion" is not valid.


As noted by @Mrstupid in comments, "trip" is more commonly used than "excursion" in India; in my experience this is true in the UK too; and in JR's experience it is true in the US.

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    Trip is more widely used than excursion.
    – user25493
    Commented Oct 30, 2015 at 16:37
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    @Mrstupid - I agree, especially from my experience in the UK. I might edit that in actually. Would you mind letting me know where you're from (I may as well include it in "areas where trip is more common than excursion")? Ta
    – AndyT
    Commented Oct 30, 2015 at 16:39
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    I am from India
    – user25493
    Commented Oct 30, 2015 at 16:40
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    "trip" is more common in the U.S., too. Also, I think you're getting too technical (and arbitrary) when you talk about that three-day trek. Time is relative, and therefore it's quite possible to have three-day excursions.
    – J.R.
    Commented Oct 30, 2015 at 22:10
  • for that matter, week-long excursions are not uncommon. An excursion can be used in the context of a short (day) trip, but it can also be used to refer to any round trip taken by train, ship, etc.
    – user20792
    Commented Nov 5, 2015 at 2:57
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From Wiki:

An excursion is a trip by a group of people, usually made for leisure, education, or physical purposes. It is often an adjunct to a longer journey or visit to a place, sometimes for other (typically work-related) purposes.

Public transportation companies issue reduced price excursion tickets to attract business of this type. Often these tickets are restricted to off-peak days or times for the destination concerned.

Short excursions for education or for observations of natural phenomena are called field trips. One-day educational field studies are often made by classes as extracurricular exercises, e.g. to visit a natural or geographical feature.

The term is also used for short military movements into foreign territory, without a formal announcement of war

Tour means travelling from one place to another with the purpose of visiting various places and in the end coming back to where you started.

Expedition is a journey undertaken by a group of people (organized company) with a definite objective (accomplishing a specific purpose).

Outing is a short pleasure trip usually lasting no more than a day. Trip is a journey for some purpose, usually including the return.

Excursion is a day trip made for pleasure, usually by a group of people.

Journey may indicate a long distance or a short one travelled regularly (daily journey to work, for example).

One has to understand what a trip means. While mostly will not agree to this, but all of the above terms comes in the definition of trip.

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    It seems to me that the idea that 'an excursion' "is often an adjunct to a longer journey or visit to a place, sometimes for other (typically work-related) purposes" really specifies the context where the word should be preferred to the more general word 'trip'. While 'field trip' does work better when we talk about regular school extracurricular activities. This distinction seems really helpful. Commented Nov 4, 2015 at 7:00
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    A "tour" doesn't have to return to its starting point (e.g., a tour of Europe may start in Italy and finish in Denmark). An "excursion" isn't necessarily for pleasure (a school excursion may go to somewhere really boring). "Journey" doesn't imply anything about travelling regularly.
    – nnnnnn
    Commented Jun 5, 2016 at 2:23
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In the context of a school visit to a science museum, both words are possible. Neither would violate any grammar rules, but excursion may sound a little unnatural and forced.

Consider:

Bobby's class is taking a trip to the science museum on Friday.
Bobby's class is taking an excursion to the science museum on Friday.

In my mind, the first sentence sounds more natural – possibly because, in schools, such events are often called field trips. Plus, excusion simply seems like too fancy a word to use for an ordinary field trip.

However, let's say I volunteer to be a chaperone on the trip, and I'm talking to a coworker about it the following Monday. I might say:

I chaperoned Bobby's field trip to the museum last Friday. It was a nice little trip.
I chaperoned Bobby's field trip to the museum last Friday. It was a nice little excursion.

In this case, I like the second one better. For one, it avoids reusing the word "trip" (by the way, such repetition isn't always bad, although it can play a factor in word selection). More importantly, though, excursion seems to fit better in the context of "nice little" – particularly if I'm trying to emphasize that part of my enjoyment stemmed from the fact that I got out of my workplace for a day.

In short, when choosing between two synonyms, context often plays a major part in choosing which word to use. Oftentimes, the simpler, more common word is the better one to use, because the fancier word sounds pretentious or unnatural. However, at other times, the synonym might carry some small nuance that makes it a better choice. Going back to the comment you made, excursion might also be a better word if the class is taking a four-day trip to the national capital. In that case trip seems like too ordinary a word for such an elaborate undertaking – one that involves hotel stays and multiple destinations.

Avoid using less common words like excursion just for the sake of sounding erudite. As often than not, such efforts will backfire. Only time and experience can help you decide if a fancy synonym would improve your sentence, or seem like an unnatual force-fit.

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  • Thank you very much. It does seem a little tricky. I might consider some corpus research to try and understand the nuance better as a follow-up to this really useful discussion. Commented Nov 6, 2015 at 17:40
  • Here in Australia, "excursion" is the word commonly used for school field trips, especially for day-trips.
    – nnnnnn
    Commented Jun 5, 2016 at 0:01

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