There seems to be a whole vocabulary for those who sell travel. Active travel, adventure travel, leisure travel, eco-tourism. Do you really need to know what it all means? Not really. In the grand scheme of things you define your own travel style, and it may change from day to day.
You may go to an island and choose to sit on the beach one day, and go scuba diving the next. You may spend a day in the spa that resort has down in a palm grove and go bike riding the next. You're active one day and quiet as a slug the next.
But if you are signing up for a tour, you should find out what that particular tour operator means when they say active travel. In general, an active tour will focus more on travel and transportation that requires physical activity... walking or cycling as opposed to riding along in a van or bus.
Most tours that fall into this category have a lot of outdoor activities.
OK, you say, but you can do a lot of walking if you're sightseeing in a big city.
Some companies spell it out for you pretty well... they'll tell you the activity level that will be required for the whole tour...
Will there be a lot of hiking or walking? For how many hours or how many miles or kilometers. Will there be lots of stairs or hills to climb? They may even have a "scoring" system all the way from easy to difficult... of course, you need to know what their definition of easy is!
A trekking company, for instance, might say Level One, or Easy is 3-5 hours of walking up to six miles a day with low altitude.... While Level Four or Strenuous is 5-8 hours of hiking in mountainous terrain at higher elevations.
Will you be staying in hotels? Or mountain huts where you share a bunkhouse arrangement with other travelers? Or will you be camping.... sleeping in tents? Your tour operator should give you an idea of the type of accommodations you can expect from rugged or spartan to luxury. You could be going on an African safari in the middle of the Kalahari, but if you stayed in a tent at Jack's Camp, you would definitely find yourself reveling in the luxury category... and still be active in your travels.
You may even find that you relieve more "workaday" anxieties and frustrations with active vacations than you would just sitting on the beach, eating and drinking the night away. Activity is good for you, and sometimes it leaves you just a little tired and more relaxed at the end of the day.
Brochures may use the terms active or adventure travel interchangeably. We think of adventure travel as a little more of a reach.... something that is more apt to get you a little out of your comfort zone. Active travel doesn't necessarily do that.... but it may make you break a sweat.
And what's wrong with that?