When I was a kid, there was pretty much one place we went to every year for vacation:
Between visiting my mom’s family in St. Augustine and charging down I-95 towards Disney World nearly every summer, I felt like Florida was my second home.
Going back to a familiar place was comforting. I knew I’d eat at the Cheese Wheel, climb up the St. Augustine lighthouse, and wait in an obscenely long line to ride Splash Mountain. The predictability was part of what I looked forward to.
Now, of course, I’m not so easily pleased. If I was, I’d probably still be waiting in line to get in that log, jostling against people wearing Mickey ears and spraying bits of their giant turkey legs all over the place.
Since I started traveling, it’s been more about seeing the new than seeing the familiar. Why would I spend my travel budget on a place I’d already been to instead of a place I’d never seen? That just seems silly.
Last weekend, Jared and I went to Jeongdongjin for the second time. As I was snapping a photograph of the Sun Cruiser Resort, I realized – I do still re-visit destinations.
And you know what? It’s never the same. Sometimes the place has changed, but usually it’s me.
I went to London for the first time in 1998. I returned in 2003 and worked for six months, then came back again in 2007 to do a master’s.
During that second trip, I really fell in love with London. For years, I was turbulently in love with the city, insisting that I wanted to live there for the rest of my days. When I came back to study, I understood the truth.
I wasn’t in love with London. I was in love with the feeling of personal change I underwent while I was in London. It was the first time I’d lived in a big city, a city with multiple forms of public transport, historical significance, and modern appeal. I discovered the joy of living an uncharted life, with Europe at my doorstep.
Things were a little bit off when I returned. First of all, I didn’t live there anymore. I was a tourist again, and had to find accommodation in London, where I once had my own address. Occasionally, I wandered around my old stomping ground of Notting Hill, stealing bitter glances at my former flat and wondering who lived there now.
Second, I had to start from scratch, blending my old memories with my new experiences. I was there to study, not to swan about town, giggling with my equally-besotted girlfriends.
I still have a soft spot for London, and I always will. It’s just not as explosive as it was that first time. Somewhere along the way, I squeezed some of the magic out of it.
I loved living in Galway, and I was so looking forward to returning 6 years later, when Jared and I took a road trip around the UK and Ireland.
But…it was a crushing disappointment. The traffic was terrible, the cobbled streets I loved were jammed with tourists, and everything was insanely expensive. Jared and I were cranky and couldn’t decide on where to go for dinner or how to avoid the crowds.
I was trying desperately to stuff my 2003 experience into my 2009 one, but it just didn’t fit.
That said, Galway, it truly, truly wasn’t you: it was me. I was in the wrong frame of mind and had unreasonable expectations. You can’t recreate the past, nor should that be your aim.
And then I went back to Australia.
If I learned to be an independent explorer in London, I learned to be a backpacker in Australia. That first time, I worked odd jobs, laid out in the sun, and drank beer until my head swam. It was like one long spring break, but slightly less frenzied.
The second time? I was a grown up. I had bills to pay and I was living with my boyfriend’s family in Newcastle. Sun cancer was finally on my radar, so those long hours of baking myself
brown crimson had to be otherwise occupied. This time, I definitely wasn’t a backpacker.
But – I still loved it. Loved it enough to keep on coming back (ok, maybe having an Aussie fiancé plays a role in this, too).
On the flip side, I have found that when you’re taking a traditional ‘vacation,’ a place does tend to stay the same.
Take St. Augustine, for example. I’m really excited to go back there and walk along St. George’s street, get a loaf of Spanish bread from the bakery, take pictures of the Bridge of Lions, and maybe swing by the outlet mall. In the oldest city in America, I’m not interested in discovering what’s changed.
I’ve always been a tourist there, and I expect that will always be the case.
The same went for Jeongdongjin this weekend. I looked through my photos only to find that they were eerily similar to the ones I took last year.
But that’s okay with me, because that’s why I went. My itinerary didn’t change, and my expectations were simple.
Changing your status from expat to tourist throws a place all off kilter, but re-visiting as a tourist when you’ve only been a tourist keeps it frozen in time.
At least it does for me – what do you think?
What has your experience been? Is it true what they say – that you can never go back? Or am I just spouting off total nonsense?