‘Once a year, go some place you’ve never been before.’ – Dalai Lama
I love this quote. It’s a great reminder that travel is a constant, a lifelong passion, something to be pursued year after year.
This year has definitely been a year of new places – but it’s also been a year of revisiting places I’ve been before.
I don’t hold with the idea that every time you travel it should be to somewhere new. Yes, it’s great to have new experiences and seek out new horizons, and to challenge your perceptions by experiencing different cultures and ways of living. But sometimes, you can gain a lot from seeing an old place with new eyes.
This year actually started with one of these throwbacks, with a few days with my parents in Portugal’s Algarve. This is somewhere we used to come a lot when I was younger (my dad loves golf, and we all enjoy somewhere a bit warmer than Cumbria from time to time). Coming here just felt like coming to a kind of home. Everything was familiar, nothing was too mentally taxing. We spent our mornings strolling along the beach or through little seaside towns, then had (very) late lunches, and vegged back at the apartment. It was the kind of super relaxing holiday that I so rarely have, and which I thoroughly needed after a busy end to 2015.
Closer to home
Other throwbacks this year were a few trips to London (including a day trip to see Matilda for Mum’s birthday, and a gloriously girly afternoon tea in the summer), and a week in St Andrews for StAnza Poetry Festival. I spent a year living in St Andrews when I did my Masters, so I can always kind of feel it calling me back. Spending a week there for StAnza was like a wonderful mixing of my former student life and my current professional(ish) persona. Like I had all the best bits of my former student self and the freedom that goes along with that, and all the maturity (no, really!) of my slightly older self.
And there have been a couple of other amazing revisited places this year:
I seem to have spent a lot of this year in America. The first of these trips was a week staying with family in Kansas, which was an absolute blast. I thought I knew what to expect from this, that it would be a lovely chance to see family and catch up with people I hadn’t seen since I was a child. I didn’t bargain on Kansas getting under my skin the way it did.
I hadn’t been to Kansas since I was 10, and I did have a lot of fond memories of it. It was the first place I ever went trick-or-treating, and I couldn’t wait to revisit the Little House on the Prairie. But really, Independence is a small rural town. And as someone who comes from small rural towns in England, I thought I knew what to expect.
Maybe that’s why I fell in love with it so much, because it was so familiar and yet so different from home: the flat wide prairies, the big open skies, the searing heat. The stories of family members I never knew. Sitting on the back deck and watching the lightning bugs at dusk.
Of all my travel loves this year, Kansas was definitely the most unexpected.
I’ve wanted to go back to New York ever since I got off the plane from my first trip there a couple of years ago. Then when my friend Sarah’s wedding invitation arrived in the post, it was the perfect excuse to book a trip back there.
I have so much love for this busy, bustling, unexpected, chaotic city. I guess it reminds me a bit of London in that way. And, having already done a lot of the main touristy bits on my first trip, I could spend the week there living like a local, sitting and writing in independent coffee shops and wandering through Central Park.
And then there were the new places I visited, and now the list of places to revisit is even longer.
Every year, I like to visit at least one new country, and this year one of those was Morocco.
Morocco was a wild card. I knew next-to-nothing about it, except that there was a cheap trip there. And I can quite safely say: 3 days was not enough. I totally fell for the wonderful and unknown chaos of it. And the friendliness of the people.
My only regret is that we were only there for 3 days, and didn’t have time to explore the rest of the country. I definitely want to go back to Morocco, and travel to Fez, and Essaouria, and up into the Atlas Mountains. This year’s trip was just dipping my toes in the water – next, I want to really dive in.
But why visit just one new place when you can visit lots of them? One of the great things about a road trip is the sheer number of new places you get to stack up on top of each other. True, sometimes that can be a bit overwhelming, when you’re only spending a night or two in each one, but the overall experience is totally worth it.
This summer, I spent five weeks in western America, staying with a friend in Oregon, and then road tripping almost the entire western seaboard of the United States. A brief revisit to Nevada and Arizona, then California, Oregon and Washington (all new states for me) and up into my other new country this year: Canada. A bit like Morocco, my Canada experience was really just dipping my toes in, but I’m desperate to go back for more.
And at the end of that I look back and think: wasn’t it all amazing? And bring on 2017!
What about you? Where has 2016 taken you?