For as much as I love visiting new places, I many times find myself exploring familiar destinations – or at least places I have visited at some point. That certainly happened this year, but more than that many of those second, third or fourth visits were important for very personal reasons. They are countries, cities and regions that have meant something to me in my life and which returning to took on additional levels of emotional importance. I want to share some of those today, as well as why it’s important to go back to these special places in our lives.
When I was ten years old instead of pop stars or cartoons, I had national flags hanging up in my room, with the Scottish Royal Standard taking pride of place. What kid does that? Well, I did and it was emblematic of a deep longing I’ve always had to visit not only the UK, but Scotland. So that’s why in my Senior year of college I worked as many jobs as I could, saved up all of my money and spent a month after graduation backpacking around England and Scotland. As soon as I stepped foot in Edinburgh, I knew immediately that I was in love and ended up changing my travel plans to spend the bulk of my time in Scotland and not England. Sorry England. It was one of those wonderfully transformative travel experiences that are rare, but as soon as they happen you recognize their incredible importance. Believe it or not, that trip in 1998 was the last time I was in Scotland, until a few months ago when I had the great opportunity to return. Although my time was brief, I made sure that spending a day walking around Edinburgh was on the agenda. A beautiful crisp early autumn day, the city was just as I remembered, even though 17 years had passed. I walked past the hostel I stayed in back in the day and revisited tourist sites that I love. It was a great way to complete a circle, to bring back a flood of thoughts and emotions from my first trip. On that visit in 1998 I was unsure about where my life was going, whether or not grad school was the right choice for me and what was next in my life. Although there have been some considerable ups and downs since 1998, I’d like to think that my 22-year-old self would approve of the 39 year old he would become.
Outer Banks, North Carolina
Another college-related memory, the Outer Banks didn’t have as much to do with life changing moments as it did having a lot of fun. Throughout college, a few fraternity brothers and I spent the week after the end of classes every May along the shores of the Outer Banks in North Carolina, one of the great beach destinations in the country. I have some incredible memories of weeks spent with close friends, spending too much time on the beach and too much money on cheap beer. Returning was important for several reasons, not the least of which to revisit old spots that I knew so very well 20 years ago. More than that though, I was reminded of those incredibly strong friendships, most of which I’ve kept up over the years and everything we shared during those weeks. During college beach week, we would drive over to the massive sand dunes of Jockey’s Ridge State Park and watch the sun set, a journey I made again during my visit over the summer of 2015. It was a special moment and a nice way to reflect on the importance of having a few great friends in life.
A couple of years ago my partner surprised me with what still is the best birthday present I’ve ever received, a spur of the moment trip to Iceland. We’d long wanted to visit and I could scarcely believe it when I unexpectedly found myself on an Icelandair flight zooming towards Reykjavik. While that first trip was short, it was packed with some incredible experiences, from getting to know the capital city to journeying around the famous Golden Circle. It was at one of the stops on that famous route, the waterfalls known as Gullfoss that turned out to be the best memory from that trip. It was cold, windy and generally miserable outside and yet as we stood there, taking a selfie in front of those falls I knew immediately it was a special moment. My partner and I have been through a lot since that time, and memories like the ones created in Iceland helped us both get through some rough patches. So I was excited when we returned in 2015, retracing some old paths as well as foraging new ones. But our second trip to Gullfoss was not meant to be as magical as the first. We had just gotten into a huge argument, and instead of recreating another special moment, I couldn’t wait to leave. Travel moments are like snowflakes; while they can be mimicked they can never be exactly reproduced, as I learned this year.
France was the first foreign country I ever visited, so it’ll always have a special place in my heart. But Avignon is a little different and my affinity for it has nothing to do with the travel experience per se, but rather what happened to my while traveling. It was during a media trip in France that I received a fateful phone call that forever changed my life. The call was an end to my life as a 9-5 working professional and, although I didn’t know it at the time, signaled a shift to being a full time travel blogger. More than three years later I wouldn’t change anything, and I’ve never been happier, but last summer was a good reminder of all that’s happened to me in the intervening years, and how Avignon figured so prominently in my decision. After I received that call in La Rochelle, I continued traveling through France, upset naturally but also unsure about my next steps. Should I just find another job or try following my passion for travel? It wasn’t an easy decision, but I ultimately came to a final conclusion while on that famous bridge in Avignon. Ever since I was a kid in my first French lesson, I had dreamt of one day seeing that bridge the song I was made to memorize seemed to adore. It was a strange goal, but once I achieved it I felt like I had accomplished something, and I loved that feeling. Travel is great in that way, we constantly score minor victories and each one props us up a little more, giving us a little more confidence we never knew we had. So that’s what Avignon means to me, it taught me to have more confidence in my own abilities and for that I am eternally grateful.
These were just a few of the very personal journeys I took this year – what are some of yours?