Exploring new places for the first time is one of the joys of travel ... but revisiting old places can be great too! Here I share some of the benefits I've enjoyed from occasionally going back to places I've already been, instead of only exploring new horizons.
By revisiting an old place at another time you are likely to see it in different weather, and perhaps enjoy different activities according to the changing seasons. These factors alone can drastically change the feel of a place and the nature of a visit.
The difference can be striking in places like Katoomba in the Blue Mountains. In the warmer months the bush has a special fragrance and colour, more people are out walking, and floating down the local rivers is a popular activity. Autumn has its own ambience, and winter is different again - cold winds and the hint of sleet in the air make cosy retreats beside log fires more appealing.
Thredbo in the NSW Snowy Mountains is a great example of somewhere that needs to be revisited at different times of year to fully experience all it has to offer. In winter it is a crowded and bustling ski village; a lovely spot to ski, snowboard, snowshoe hike, and enjoy evening entertainment (if not fully worn out by the former). In summer it is cool place to go hiking or biking in the mountains, with a blues festival and other activities for the summer holiday crowds.
I first visited Thredbo in summer to access the wilderness for hiking and camping. Then I returned in winter for skiing and snowshoeing. But it wasn’t until spending time there in the pre-winter and late spring in-between seasons that I felt like I was starting to get to know the place properly. The ambience is entirely different, as are the activities people do ... and the slower pace.
When you first visit somewhere new there is the joy of exploring new territory. But there can also be inconveniences in not knowing the place well. No matter how much research you do on the internet, the accommodation and eating places may not be quite what you expected. You don't know your way around at first, or how best to get around, and finding the best things to do can be a case of trial and error.
On the other hand, when you revisit somewhere familiar the steepest part of the learning curve is behind you. You know your way around, and any mistakes regarding places to stay and eat have been made and learned from. And you don't need to waste time with excursions or attractions that didn't impress you the first time. Instead you can head directly to the tried and tested and focus your time and money on what you know you'll like.
I've been exploring the south west of Western Australia for a few decades now. While I'm still finding new nooks and crannies, I've really come to value the conveniences of having favourite places to stay, and knowing what the local shops sell and what I need to bring.
Of course the process of first getting to know a new place can be an enjoyable adventure - it just doesn’t have to be all the time.
Most holiday destinations have more to see and do than the average visitor will have time for on a first visit. So what do you do? Without prior experience, the obvious choice is to make use of the experiences and recommendations of those who have gone before you, and choose the major and most popular sights and activities.
The downside is that your tastes may not reflect those of others, and by defaulting to the obvious sightseeing you might be missing something you may enjoy more. And trying to fit in as much as possible can be very tiring!
That's where returning for later visits pays off. You've seen the obvious sights, done the introductory tour, and all the things you felt obliged to do on the first visit. Now you're free to follow the less trodden paths without feeling that you're missing something. Or even just do less and relax more.
This freedom is something I've enjoyed in Melbourne, a city I've passed through more times than I can keep track of. On the first couple of visits I did all the obvious touristy things - or at least all the ones which appealed to me. With all the big and higher priority items ticked off my "must do in Melbourne" list, nowadays I feel free to indulge in more esoteric pursuits. Things like visiting the city's top coffee roasters, exploring suburban walking trails, browsing in specialist bookshops, or even just taking random tram rides to see where I'll end up.
Along with the freedom to bypass things already done comes the freedom to re-do things you've enjoyed before. This can occasionally lead to disappointment if it doesn't live up to memories. But in my experience, more often than not it means things you enjoyed the first time can be enjoyed again, and appreciated in new ways.
Think of it like re-reading a good book, or re-watching a great film. Have you ever done this, and noticed things you didn't see before, or enjoyed subtleties that escaped you the first time? Selectively repeating great holiday experiences can be like that.
When you travel you are moving through a landscape in three dimensions. When you return to a place over time, you are literally adding another dimension to your experience of that place. You get to see it grow and change, and can form an attachment that is absent when you pass through once. It's a bit like knowing people well for many years as opposed to meeting them only once.
Over the decades I've seen plenty of changes in places I've visited in the south west of Western Australia. Towns like Dunsborough and regions like Margaret River have blossomed from quiet rural getaways into bustling visitor playgrounds. Some say they have lost the charm that originally drew the crowds, while others rejoice in the richer menu of attractions. Either way, a visit now will not be quite like a visit years ago.
The changes in some places can also highlight the lack of changes in others. For example, the growth in coastal towns of WA’s south west have highlighted the way Walpole hasn’t changed much over the same years. To me this is a good thing, but it's only repeat visits over time that have made this relative lack of change (compared to other places) apparent.
Like growing older with friends, seeing these changes and their effects can enrich the experience of travelling.
It's not just places which change over time - people do too!
"The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes" - Marcel Proust
In the above quote, the author may have been referring to the eyes of other people, but it works well for travel. Your own eyes can become like new eyes over time, as you develop into a different version of you, who sees differently.
As you progress through life's experiences you grow and develop in your thinking. Tastes change, some of the things which captivated you when younger have less appeal, and you may have a better appreciation of things which your younger self didn't see much value in.
Just as you may no longer listen to the same music you did twenty years ago, so too you may enjoy different experiences while travelling. This means you can revisit places you went to when younger, and see them in a different light. It can almost be like exploring somewhere new.
In summary ... visiting fresh new places is undoubtedly one of the joys of travel, but don’t discount the value of occasionally going back to somewhere you’ve been before.