Can You Recapture Travel Magic? Revisiting Favorite Destinations

Wat Arun

If you’re a frequent reader, by now you’ve caught on to the fact that our trip to Southeast Asia earlier this year was an anniversary present to ourselves for celebrating ten years together. After a lot of thought, we decided to revisit one of favorite cities, Bangkok. Scott has been to Bangkok three times, but this was just my second visit. My first visit was another self-awarded present following Scott’s successful completion of a major life event. That trip remains one of my favorite travel memories and is one I think about often.

Everything about that trip was perfect, from the flight to the hotel and of course the city. Bangkok has been luring and enticing visitors for more than two hundred years, capturing their imaginations like a spider with its prey. The smells, colors and sounds are all completely unique; found nowhere else on the planet. The city was the perfect destination and our adventures were just amazing. That’s why we wanted to return, but I was secretly worried. Worried about whether or not it’s possible to capture travel lightning twice.

I don’t think I’m alone with these thoughts; I think many of us struggle with this dilemma. I know I love Paris and that every time I visit I have a great time, but it’s hard to use that precious travel time to trample down the familiar instead of the new and exotic. But it’s more than just about trying to match a past trip, that’s just not possible. Everything is constantly changing, the world, us, everything. It’s not possible to have the same trip twice and I knew that, still I had to give it a try.

Since we had visited before, I didn’t feel the same compunction to do and see as much as possible. Instead, we decided to just do what we knew we liked. Wat Arun was our first stop, the dramatic location of my favorite travel memory and the best photo of Scott I’ve ever taken.

That moment five years ago was special because it was completely unpredictable and totally random. We had just arrived at Wat Arun when the skies opened and a hot shower began to fall. Completely unprepared we sought refuge under an awning at the monastery. I looked at Scott, noticed his smile and took a completely honest shot. It was perfect; it captured not only that silly moment, but our love and affinity for each other.

Foolishly we tried to retake the photo, but of course it’s not the same. It could never be the same, and it was silly to try. No love is lost, if anything it has grown, but it’s not possible to force a genuine moment that isn’t there.

Scott 2007


Scott 2012

The rest of the trip was similar to that recreated moment. We loved being back in Bangkok, marveling at its incredible growth in only five years and enjoyed just living the Thai city life for a few days. But it was different from that special trip five years ago, and that’s ok. Nothing will ever be the same twice. Instead of trying to recapture special memories and emotions, it’s important to think instead of creating new ones. It’s ok to return to favorite cities, but just don’t expect the feelings to be the same. The city will still be there, but you will have changed.

What do you think? Where do you land in the debate?

By: Matt Long

Matt has a true passion for travel. As someone who has a bad case of the travel bug, Matt travels the world in order to share tips on where to go, what to see and how to experience the best the world has to offer.

12 thoughts on “Can You Recapture Travel Magic? Revisiting Favorite Destinations”

  1. I always, always consider a first trip somewhere a trial run. If I really like a place I know I will go back and the second time will be even better because I got the kinks worked out. I have done that for many, many destinations near and far and even though trips may be 5 years a part, the second one is usually always better,

    1. I tend to think the same thing – I never go anywhere thinking ‘This will be my one and only time being here’ and I absolutely hate it when other people tell me to ‘Enjoy it – it’s a once in a lifetime thing”. Perhaps it will end up being a once in a lifetime thing, but don’t tell me that the 4 days I spent in Spain in 2008 are the ONLY days I will ever spend there. That was my practice trip to Spain (when I was younger and had barely traveled, it was my first trip on my own and had no idea what to do with myself…) Now whenever I make it back I’ll have a better idea of what I want to do/see and be able to go a layer deeper in the cities that I visited previously. Going back to a place gives you the awesome opportunity to explore somewhere more thoroughly and have it open up to you even more.

  2. I’ve yet to revisit a country, but I’ve heard from many others that a trip back to a favorite destination is often disappointing. Like you said, maybe the expectations are too high or the initial excitement is gone. But then again, most of the people I know who are disappointed have revisited locations in which they’ve studied abroad, so the atmosphere is probably much different.

    Maybe it would be better to revisit a country during a different season than the initial trip. That way there’s still a tinge of new to it.

    Interesting post, thanks for sharing!

  3. I have a tendency to return to the same places over and over. Mainly, I think, because we tend to stay in a place for a month or more so we develop a connection. When we return, we’re going back not only to place but friends and often family. So in that sense, I obviously fall well into the recapture category.

    Iceland, though, I visited once for just under a week. I cannot wait to go back, especially after seeing so many bloggers and photographers visiting lately. I wonder if it will live up to my expectation. (I hope so).

  4. You can never capture the same feeling of a time in the past, regardless of destination. Maybe we can revel in comfortable familiarity, but if nothing changed at all, what would be the point in going back to visit?

  5. I’ve been to quite a few places more than once. While, the sense of wonder or “magic” you generally experience the first time you arrive somewhere new is gone then second time, there are some definite benefits. For one, you know the place. You know where to stay, where to eat and what to see–usually I revisit some highlights from the previous trip and the things I missed and regretted missing the first time. It also gives you a chance to retake some photos that didn’t turn out quite as well as you would have liked.

  6. I’d rather do something new to a revisited city than try o enjoy the same ones on my previous visits. First time visits are always unforgettable and special because you are still exploring. Just revisit the memories on pictures and make new ones on your next visits. :)

  7. It’s never the same, but it really isn’t supposed to be, I don’t think. Each experience needs to have it’s own feel.

    That said, I hope some of the magic of special destinations can be recaptured, especially since I hope to go back to New Zealand sooner rather than later.

  8. I’m going back to Australia in a couple of months… still unsure as to whether or not return to Alice Springs. I had such an incredible time the first time, I don’t want to dash my memories of the place! Hmm. Definitely one to think about.

  9. This is why I will never return to Venice. We traveled there early in our relationship, when we were young and untraveled, so it was magical. I think now I would look at it through a different set of eyes, as someone who has traveled all through Europe and seen lots of old stuff. Now, I am afraid it would feel too touristy and crowded. It is better to leave it in my memory as a wonderful trip. We also had a bad experience returning to Siem Reap a second time.

    But, other places we have returned to with great success, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Argentina, and we will go back to each of those places again and again.

  10. I’m mixed on this topic. I have places that literally seem to pull me back — New York, Munich, Taipei, and the Hawaiian Islands; surprising places I never imagined seeing yet have visited repeatedly to because of work assignments — St. John’s, Newfoundland, and Lafayette, Louisiana come to mind; and places that I’ve only visited once and dream of returning to — Iguazu Falls, Berlin, Sorrento, Prague, Cairns.

    Every repeat visit has pros and cons. During 20+ years of annual NYC trips I’ve become an expert on certain aspects of the city (Broadway, in particular) and I find as I slip into a theatre seat I feel a glorious blend of familiarity with the venue/overall experience alongside awe and wonder at the new production I will see. When I return to Taipei, where I lived on-and-off in younger years, I always pray that my favorite local restaurant, Golden Chicken Garden, will still be there…so far so good. And every visit to that legend-in-my-mind eatery has provided an affirmative answer to Matt’s question.

    Thenn I consider the spots that I’ve only seen once but loved.My one visit to Iguazu Falls was magical beyond any words (although I did write about it at length for a couple of publications), but the combination of elements that made that trip so magic would be almost impossible to duplicate–starting with convincing Mother Nature to send exactly the right amount of rain to almost cause flooding…but not quite. None of my friends who have visited have come back with photos that look quite like mine, so I realize Iguazu is probably best left as a memory. Likewise, my experience in Prague was divine partly due to the people I traveled with and our repartee with our magnificently talented tour guide, a combination that could never be recreated.

    Meanwhile, time to check Kayak for NYC plane tickets…there’ some HOT stuff on Broadway right now!

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