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Return Trips: Why the Second Time’s a Charm

If love is more comfortable the second time around, then why not say the same of travel?

Perhaps it’s because I’m a bit road-weary at the moment, or I’ve had one too many overpriced, underflavored meals outside one type of terminal or another. But recently I’ve found the prospect of repeat trips to favorite destinations appealing, even preferable to striking out to find new territory, sights, sounds and smells.

If It’s Good Enough for Wordsworth…

Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey” addresses the issue of how the memory of our lives and loved ones is often tied to a place, and how a return to that place is often more freighted with meaning, intensity and emotion than a first visit — as profound as that initial impact might be. The first time you visit, you see the sights; on the second visit, you’re more likely to see the people, the rhythm, the true heart of the place. If it’s good enough for the most vaunted of Romantic poets, it’s good enough for me.

The Shock of the New

On your first visit to a new locale, you are ambushed by unfamiliarity:

– The first night’s meal always costs a fortune — you’re hungry, tired and in no mood to scrounge around for good deals.

– Your hotel room is always a surprise, and not always a good one — maybe it’s just above the noisy sidewalk cafe, or your room in the riverfront hotel faces onto the alley behind the building.

– You could have saved hundreds of dollars by buying a bus/ferry combination pass (or some other such locals-only tactic).

– You get lost (not always a bad thing, of course).

– By the time you finally acquaint yourself with the area, you’re leaving for home.

The Upsides of the Return Visit

1. People know you. If you stay in the same hotel or have local acquaintances with whom you’ve stayed in touch since your last trip, the added level of comfort and trust can open doors you never even knew existed.

2. You get better service. Repeat visitors to hotels and restaurants tend to get slightly better service, and even better rates.

3. Time slows down. This is a subjective appraisal, but time seems to slow down slightly on a second visit. The barrage of new impressions doesn’t come so hard and fast, and I’m able to take in more on the whole.

4. The familiar becomes new again. I’ve found that there is always more to see than I’ve ever seen before. Even return visits to my own home town, a small town by any standards, offer unknown delights. It is the very familiarity with the surroundings that can make you so tuned into the most minute but profound changes in your environment, and yourself.

5. The place remains the same; it is the traveler who changes. Like Wordsworth, each time I go home or revisit a familiar destination, I find that I am a different person than I was on my first visit. Return visits to favorite places, places that loom large in your memory and imagination, are often the best measure of your progress, a source of insights into the delights and miseries of growing up or getting older, or even a check against them. This may be why you can’t go home again, but you can certainly find out where you are.

Tips for the Second Time Around

1. Get a bike. If you took trains and buses everywhere on your last visit, try renting a bike this time. It lets you cover ground fairly quickly, so you can get away from the few blocks around your hotel, but forces you to pay attention to your surroundings in a way that you never would from a bus window.

2. Go on foot. Slow down even more by walking everywhere you go. There’s no deeper immersion in a culture than stepping right outside your door. Hike your way up the hillside instead of taking the tram; on the tram, your view is framed by the windows, not your imagination. It’s like the difference between real life and TV.

3. Read a different guidebook. All guidebooks are not created equal. One guidebook might lead you into the heart of the shopping district; another might lead you into the heart of the local bohemia. Try a different guidebook for a different view of the city.

4. Leave the guidebooks at home. Most guidebooks follow the same rutted paths across every town and country. Go without, and find your own way.

5. Stay in a different part of town. Your local launching pad will have everything to do with what you go out to see. More importantly, every neighborhood has its own special vibe, even in the most homogeneous of destinations. Stay in a different neighborhood and see a completely different city than you saw before.

6. Stay in a different type of digs. Hotels may have clean towels and free breakfasts, but staying in a local’s house offers a sense of place, home and neighborliness. See our guides to vacation rentals, home exchanges and homestays for some of your best options.

7. Go at a different time of year. Visit a favorite winter destination in the summer, or vice versa. This is especially true of a destination’s off season. In addition to smaller crowds and lower prices, during the off season you’ll find that the locals are far more tolerant of tourists. In peak season, you’re just another language-butchering invader; in the off season, you’re a fascinating out-of-town guest.

8. Bring a different traveling companion. A new set of eyes can open your own to things you might never have noticed; it may surprise you what they will help you to see.

The Downside

Of course, the adventurer in all of us sends out very different signals:

– It’s a great big world, and you want to see more of it, right?

– Same meal, different day.

– Hey, look, the Alps again. Where’s the McDonald’s?

– Yeah, yeah, Hemingway drank here too.

– I sent this postcard last year.

Florida, again?!?! Ugh.

Know thyself, traveler. It’s up to you to divine if it’s time to strike out on new paths or to cover familiar ground while nonetheless in search of new sensations. Even Wordsworth had enough at some point. Of his fifth and final visit to Tintern Abbey, he had only this to say:

“Thence we came along the Wye the banks of which noble river I was truly glad to revisit — to Tintern Abbey where last Tuesday we had the great pleasure of meeting Miss Fenwick and Dora.”

This time, nothing about that much earlier, muse-inspiring visit — just a note about meeting some new people. It was time to find new places and make new memories.

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