I used to visit favorite cities fairly regularly – London, Paris, and Florence in particular. I somehow managed to find a reason, whether visiting a friend who was studying or working abroad, or attending a conference that I justified as critical to my career development. But as I ventured out on trips to new continents, and started networking with other travelers who would turn me on to new destinations, repeat visits seemed, well, redundant. With limited vacation time and resources, I wanted to see everything once, then consider return trips.
But, as I’ve mentioned in other writings, Scotland changed my travel plans. After my first visit, I immediately wanted to go back. And while my second trip was to explore other parts of the country, I spent a few days back in Edinburgh. I had an itinerary based on places I ran out of time to explore the first time around, and made sure to bring the right clothes this time for a hike up Arthur’s Seat. Yet I found so much joy in seeing familiar sights. Is it possible to feel nostalgic after only eight months away? But sitting at my favorite Starbucks along the Royal Mile and looking out the window to see the same busking bagpiper as from my first visit, I couldn’t describe my emotion any other way.
In that moment, I was reminded what I had enjoyed about repeat visits. It’s feeling comfortable in a foreign place – walking down the street without needing a map, getting to the subway and heading straight to the correct platform, paying cash at a drugstore without having to study every coin for its value. It’s being able to check out a quirky museum or out of the way landmark because you’ve already been to the “must-see” sights. It’s going to a movie or a nightclub, because you don’t have to be up early the next morning for a full day tour.
I don’t really know if it was the destination or the point I was at in my life that found me once again enjoying repeat visits and planning for more. Certainly, having taken trips to trendy spots only to find them saturated with tourists reminded me to follow my own interests when traveling. If that interest was in returning to discover more about a destination, then I needed to follow my heart and not my Instagram feed.
Granted, as travelers, we get excited over exploring new places. We tend to like the unknown. But I think that same desire to see a part of the world which is different from our own is connected to the thrill in feeling at home in another country. It’s that mix of the foreign and familiar that makes a return visit fun. To sit at your table at your Starbucks and watch the tourists walk by, maps in hand.