I want to do China next. I did London last year.
Living in a touristy city and traveling to other touristy cities, I hear things like this quite a bit.
It bothers me. A lot.
In fact, my biggest pet peeve is the way some travelers use the word “do” when referring to visiting a place. My concern with the word “do” is how talking about a place in this way turns a city or country or culture into a tick box. As if, by spending a long weekend zipping through a list of can’t-miss-it attractions, all that is to encounter and experience has been taken in.
Just because you visited the best museums, saw the most significant sights, and ate in the highest rated restaurant does not mean that a place is “done.” The world isn’t static. Been there, done that does not exist.
Don’t get me wrong—I’d love to visit every country in the world. And I know that there are all kinds of things to consider when planning a trip, time and money being the biggest factors. The new, however, already gets enough attention.
Today, I’m here to make a case for going back.
Because first impressions aren’t always right
I didn’t like sushi the first time I tried it. Or wine. Or Russian literature. Can’t you think of ten things right now, that rubbed you wrong on the initial encounter?
Paris was on this list for me, until a return visit confirmed yet again that first impressions aren’t always right. During this trip to the City of Light, the people I encountered seemed frigid and rude. All the clerks I spoke with were irritated that I was attempting to use my three semesters of French, instead of assuming they spoke English. I was corrected each time I called macarons, macaroons (oops, they’re different).
A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to go back and was expecting the same experience I had the first time around. Instead, I spent the weekend in the Paris that everyone gushes about.
So what was different?
On this second trip I was more accustomed to European culture and how it isn’t as over-the-top friendly as in the U.S. I was a little more comfortable being outside my comfort zone when it came to not knowing a local language. Knowing what to expect frees your brain to look at and experience things differently. Familiarity changes impressions.
Because no two trips will be the same
Did you pass through a place during an around-the-world trip, when you were trying to stretch your dollars and already tiring of art and temples and museums? Of course, then, your experience would be different than on a shorter jaunt a decade later. The time of year, who you’re with, your budget—there are a million factors that can impact an experience.
Already having seen the “sights” is, in my opinion, a huge plus. Think of it this way: if you’ve already visited things you must see, then you can feel free to return and savor the things you liked best. Or, you can see things you may not have had time for on previous trips. This is the same reason I never get tired of taking our visitors to the same museums. The more I see the same paintings, the more I’m able to see them. I’m different with each visit, so my experience is different as well.
Because returning allows you to see how you’ve changed
Our olfactory sense is closely linked to memory. This is why the smell of pine makes you think of Christmas or fresh cookies remind you of mom’s kitchen. In the same way that a smell lets a memory bubble to the surface, revisiting a place can also be a tool of recollection.
I spent this past New Year’s Eve in Rome and was surprised to see how many of my beginnings are tied to this place. That trip was my first time outside of the continental U.S. It was where I learned the magic of language, by piecing together sentences from a phrasebook to order cappuccinos. The first time I saw Michelangelo’s Pieta, I felt a force almost propelling me to study art because I wanted to know everything about why it moved me.
Walking the same streets has the power to flood you with the emotion of your initial experience. Retracing my steps during those days in Rome brought me back nine years. It was stunning to view the same crushing beauty through a different lens. I remember how big the world felt. It was humbling to realize that I really didn’t know much about anything outside my home culture.
That’s nostalgia, the emotional part of remembering. These old impressions and memories are filtered through you in this moment, in your current place. It’s something worth revisiting.
When I think about it, the travelers I like to talk with most are the ones who have no favorites, who have trouble making lists of the best places to visit. There’s something about quantifying our adventures that rob them of their transformative qualities, their magic. And isn’t that why we do it in the first place?
Do you have a place you can’t wait to visit again? Have you gone “back” and been surprised at how you changed? I’d love, love, love to hear your re-visiting stories in the comments below, so please share!