I used to work with a woman who, like me, was an avid traveler. On the occasionally slow Friday afternoon, she and I would swap travel stories or give the other suggestions on where next in the world to visit.
“You should go to India,” she told me one day after I informed her that I had never been. “I absolutely loved my time there. It’s the only place I’d go back to, but that’s because I missed out on seeing the Taj Mahal.”
“The only place you’d go back to?” I asked.
She nodded. “I have a no repeat rule,” she said firmly. “There’s too much to see in the world to go back to a place I’ve already visited.”
That thought stuck with me.
When I was a child, I visited Shanghai for the first time. It was a hot, dusty city then, swarming with mosquitoes that left bites that swelled up horrendously and curious Chinese who would openly stare and gape at foreigners, even in the city. (That’s still common now in China, but usually only in the rural countryside. City dwellers have long been accustomed to the sight of foreigners.) I remember going on a drive to what I assume was a neighboring city. Along the way, we drove through rice paddies and I was glued to the window of the van, fascinated. I had never seen a rice paddy before, never really understood where rice came from.
I hated visiting China as a child, absolutely hated it. I hated how my mom insisted I always hold her hand no matter where we went as a measure against getting snatched even though I thought of myself as a “big kid” and certainly didn’t need my mother’s protection. (Child snatchers were said to target children of mixed or foreign ethnicity, as race was a good indicator of whether or not the child’s family had the money the snatchers were after.) I hated the food, how everything had bones in it and all parts of an animal were served and really, why couldn’t I just eat plain noodles in soup all day, every day? I hated the mosquitoes and the dust, how every day I’d be blowing dust out of my nose and wiping it off my face and itching all over from the swollen, angry-looking bumps that marked a mosquito’s kiss.
I visited China again just before I turned 18. In the ten or so years since I’d been to Shanghai, it had transformed to a city I couldn’t even recognize. Gone was the dustiness that used to be everywhere, although the mosquitoes were still vicious in the city outskirts. Fast, efficient and reliable trains now connected nearby cities to Shanghai, distancing the rice paddies from a traveler’s view by the window. The Bund was a sight to behold, Nanjing Road was peppered with luxury brands and hawkers offering their wares (“Watch? Bag?”) and so much more of the city spoke English, even if only enough to get by to sell things to tourists.
My trip to China at age 18 led to my decision to minor in Mandarin Chinese in college, which in turn led me to study abroad in Beijing for a year in college. When I arrived in Beijing at the beginning of my year abroad, I thought to myself, “Last time I was here, I was only here for four days. This time, I’m here for a year. Time to make it count.”
And make it count I did. My year in Beijing was incomparable to any other year. It was the year that changed my life, one that made me into who I am today. (I've even written books about it!)
I wouldn’t have chosen Beijing as my year abroad destination had I not minored in Mandarin Chinese, and I wouldn’t have chosen that minor had I not gone to Beijing when I was 18. And if I abided by a “no repeat” travel rule, I wouldn’t have returned to China as a teenager.
Sometimes, one just needs to go back to a place they’ve already been. Maybe it’s to see what’s changed since the last visit, or to return to a favorite location. Or maybe it’s to allow a place to make its full impact on a person, and to see how not the place has changed, but how a person has in the time that’s lapsed. No matter the reason, there’s always a benefit in returning to a place previously visited.
Manda is a world traveler always dreaming about her next travel destination, although her home city of Hong Kong will always hold a special place in her heart. Other things she’s passionate about include books, cupcakes, makeup and tea. She has a tendency to listen to her favorite songs on repeat and has been known to crave noodles at 2 a.m. She blogs at musicalpoem and can be found on Twitter, Instagram and Youtube.