repeats: on going back to places you’ve already been…

In less than a week, I’ll be back in Italy again for what will be my third trip…so far.

At the risk of sounding like a major snob, I have to confess I had mixed feelings initially about booking this trip. Really am I spending that kind of money to go back to someplace I’ve already been before multiple times?! Aside from strong personal reasons for taking this trip, I was still heavily influenced by an overwhelming urge to always prioritize going to new places over the repeats.

Maybe my obsession with the unfamiliar is rooted in fear of disappointment. Even if at the end of a trip to a new place I conclude that everything about it was unpleasant, at the least I can say that I went someplace I’d never been before and therefore it was valuable– if only for the novelty.

Instead, when traveling back to destinations that were once magically new and exciting to us, there is the quiet, underlying fear that this novelty will quickly fade. There is the fear that maybe this place you’ve idealized in your head really isn’t all that you thought it was and you may even become bored or disappointed.

After you’ve mastered the tripadvisor and lonely planet lists of must-see / must-do travel itineraries, where does that leave you? Is that what we’ve reduced traveling to? Once we’ve marched the tourist trail of tears are we forever done with that destination??!

It has been my experience so far that return trips are much harder than the first time around, but with that risk comes real reward. You have to work a little bit harder to stay interested. Yet, you take comfort in the familiarity of the same guy making your cappuccino that made it 3 years ago in the same bar. You take pride in being able to navigate the streets confidently and give directions to other lost first-timers. You are able to look deeper and see the subtle changes of a city still dynamic even though upon first glance it appears to be permanently preserved in history. You reconnect with your old community and reminisce about old times and you have the unique pleasure of showing friends and visitors your favorite spots. Little by little, you learn to better avoid the cultural faux pas and there is a satisfying sense of mastery. You get a little bit braver and start to explore past the old boundaries of your comfort zone and wander places you’ve never been before.

A lot like in modern day relationships, we’re constantly seeking the quick upgrade in our travels. New = better. I’m not at all saying let’s stop going new places–let’s just try not to always overlook the repeats in favor of new destinations. I still want to discover new destinations, but also treasure the ones I’ve already loved before.

My fascination with the new and unseen is something I’m not sure I’ll ever surpass, and that’s just fine by me. The risk of return is one I decided I’m taking because a new adventure is certainly out there just waiting for me. Italy, ci vediamo presto.

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