Do you ever get the urge to travel without exactly knowing where to go?
Do you start by asking whether you should revisit a place you know and love, or go somewhere you’ve never been?
And how do you decide?
Before you begin to make travel decisions and go rummaging through your guidebooks, you might want to settle this question first.
Returning to a familiar destination certainly has its charms – but so does discovering a new one.
It’s hugely tempting to stick to what you know
I love to go back on my footsteps and return to the scene of the crime.
Take Spain. I grew up there and go back often – and that’s the problem.
Whenever I try to head somewhere new, Spain calls me back. In my mind – and in my mouth – I begin to taste the Spanish jabugo ham I nibble whenever I visit Madrid’s Mercado San Miguel, my choice stop before heading to the Chocolatería San Ginés for a double order of crunchy churros…
So yes, we are creatures of habit.
According to a study in Psychological Science, “Under pressure, people often prefer what is familiar, which can seem safer than the unfamiliar.”
So sticking to what you know is natural.
Perhaps you’ve visited Paris several times but you’ve never been to London. You’re dying to see London but each time you finally make up your mind, you somehow end up in back in Paris.
Worse, you’re not even sure why it happened.
- Paris feels safer because you already know it so well
- You feel confident and empowered – you know your way around, where to eat, where to shop
- Your vacation is short and you don’t want to waste any of it figuring things out
- It makes you less anxious – you don’t worry about ending up in the wrong part of town and you’ll know if someone is trying to rip you off
- No regrets – you’ve been to Paris often and you’ve loved it every single time
Familiarity has a reinforcing function. The more we know a place, the more we intensify our feelings about it.
And let’s face it, sticking to the familiar is… easier.
So whatever the reason, there you are, staring at the Eiffel Tower again.
Nothing wrong with that at all.
But what about the lure of discovery?
That’s the other side of the coin: the desire for adventure, the need to explore, the excitement of the unknown.
There are many reasons we love to travel, and one of them is to uncover places we don’t know.
- The thrill of not knowing what awaits – the beguiling attraction of mystery
- A boost to our self-confidence: we feel amazing when we manage to cope despite the lack of language or knowledge
- Because we like shiny new things: new places, new people, new cultures
- A chance to get to know ourselves better
- A way to stretch our boundaries – going to new places pushes us out of our comfort zone
- In these days of social media, there’s peer pressure to share our travels with friends and family – do they really want to see that café au lait again?
- The dawn of understanding that emerges when we begin to explore a new place and become more familiar with it – after all, there was a first time for Paris too, right?
- Discovery feeds our inner explorer, the one that as a child leafed through National Geographic hungrily…
As humans we apparently have an intangible desire to push beyond what we know, to explore, to learn about the world around us. This may have come from our ancestors, who were constantly on the move to find food and water to survive, a primordial survival urge.
We also crave new experiences, and that’s why we’re drawn to London, even though Paris makes us happy.
So what now? Revisit or discover?
Perhaps what’s needed is a slight paradigm shift from the travel choice of where to the personal choice of who, what and why.
Try it and see – a slightly different take but the same type of outcome.
- What are your goals in life?
- Are you pressed for time? Are you getting older and concerned about seeing everything you want to see?
- What makes you happy?
- What do you enjoy the most when you travel?
- What do you look for in a destination?
- Do you have a bucket list? (If there’s a place on it you absolutely must visit, there you go, decision made.)
- Is cost a consideration? Would it cost less to go to a place you know?
- What about other practicalities – health, insurance, security?
- What does your entourage think?
- What will you regret not doing?
Sometimes, travel just happens. You can question and agonize about where to go, but you end up exactly where you’re supposed to.
A week ago, I was plotting a trip to Andalusia this spring.
And then a friend told me she was going to South Korea in April and that I should visit.
I rebelled. It wasn’t on my ‘plan’. (You know, the Spain plan.)
I didn’t know enough about South Korea to want or not want to go, so I countered with arguments: it’s too expensive (actually, it’s not). It’s too far (I’ve gone a lot farther). I’ll be jetlagged (not after the first few days I won’t). I don’t like the food (I had one Korean pickle I didn’t like and it’s marked me for life).
And so I bought my ticket to Seoul. It just happened – travel usually does.
If you really can’t make up your mind about whether to return to a place or revisit one, flip a coin.
You’ll know immediately where you don’t want to go. It works every time.