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How to Make Travel Decisions: Should You Revisit a Familiar Place or Try a New One?

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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…


Chocolate con churros, possibly my favourite food group

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.

Discovery is…

  • 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.

You might also like…
17 Ways to Avoid Paying a Single Supplement
Round the World Tickets – Demystified
How to Visit Any City if You Only Have One Day


  1. Dyanne on January 22, 2017 at 5:00 pm

    Well first of all – “Do you ever get the urge to travel without knowing…”? Rarely, do I NOT have the urge to travel. It’s in my DNA, and I honestly live only to regroup from one adventure – and prep for the next! And even more rarely do I have even the tiniest inkling as to *where* my next destination might be. Indeed, the impetus for most every adventure is often but a stray blog post about an obscure custom in some far-away land, or merely a momentary utterance by a Facebook chum of some extraordinary sight in [fill in some new corner of the globe I’ve not yet laid eyes on here]. Leastwise that’s where I’m headed next: to the forests of Michoacán, Mexico to witness the legendary annual (for *thousands of years*!) Monarch butterfly migration.

    I also must be a “creature of [anti]habit. Because – though I have uber fond memories of many of the (near 50-odd) lands that I’ve explored – rarely do I wrestle with the urge to retrace my steps. I guess it must be – for each of us personally – the reason WHY we venture forth at all. For me, it’s clearly all.about.the.unknown. For better or for worse, I’ve apparently been endowed with an insatiable CURIOSITY. A curiosity to see for myself what lies ’round the bend. The bend I’ve never before been around. And blessedly – there’s ever plenty of such bends on this Big Blue Dot left to explore.

    • Leyla Giray Alyanak on January 22, 2017 at 5:13 pm

      I understand that feeling of curiosity so well! But I’m often torn between the two… as much curiosity as I have, I’m still drawn to places I’ve loved. The coin helps 🙂

  2. Andrea on January 22, 2017 at 5:07 pm

    Great guide … I’ll have to use it to make some choices soon.

  3. Catherine Sweeney on January 23, 2017 at 9:04 pm

    Although it’s not always possible because of cost or time, I try to combine new and familiar destinations. For instance, one year I revisited Germany for Christmas market for half of the trip, and spent the other half in Austria for the first time. Another time, I desperately wanted to make return visits to Budapest and Prague — did that, but added Bratislava into the mix. But next time I have to make a single difficult choice, I think I’ll try your flipping the coin method!

    • Leyla Giray Alyanak on January 23, 2017 at 9:13 pm

      And maybe I’ll try yours! Next time I’m drawn to Madrid yet again, I’ll take a few days to explore a new neighborhood or a nearby city. Beloved, AND brand new, all at once!

  4. Deanna Debrecht on January 26, 2017 at 3:29 am

    I also feel the tug of the familiar but love to explore the unknown! I am planning my first solo trip to Europe in the next year, and am combining these two approaches – I’m starting in Paris, because I want to start somewhere I love and am familiar with, then from there will branch out to some place new, whether its just a new part of France or somewhere completely different. Not sure where yet but planning is half the fun!

    • Leyla Giray Alyanak on January 26, 2017 at 9:24 am

      I’m heading in that direction as well – combining the two, if only because I can never make up my mind!

  5. Cherrie on January 31, 2017 at 6:00 pm

    Because my travel fund is so limited and because it takes me such a long time to save up for a trip, I always feel like I want something totally different each time if I’m traveling out of my home country. Even traveling domestically, I want to discover a different vista and new experiences. However, for a more close to home escape, we have our favorite places that we will go to because we are guaranteed to know that it’s always good or relaxing or beautiful. There is a place for both. If money were no object, I would just probably rarely be home and just keep seeing things…as many things as possible. The world is such an amazing place.

  6. Lori on February 7, 2017 at 8:25 pm

    I am a creature of habit. I admit it. Paris had always been on my bucket since I was a teenager (many many years ago!) I have been there twice now and am faced with the dilemma of wanting to go back or going somewhere new. Paris pulls me in, but I do want to make the leap to discover other places. I will after reading this. Paris will always be my second “home” but it is time to spread my wings.

    • Leyla Giray Alyanak on February 7, 2017 at 8:38 pm

      I know exactly how you feel!!

  7. Maria on February 12, 2017 at 5:13 pm

    I think I am about the new as age creeps up on me. I have spent the past few years doing the adventurous National Geographic locations on my bucket list but the last one really wore me out – to the extent that I didn’t think of travelling (even to a nearby city) for over a year. With a big birthday coming up I wanted to celebrate it with a trip to Europe and I had to go through the mental exercises above. Italy (again) but somewhere new? Vienna, Prague, Budapest? Spain? Italy, I decided was a bit of a cop out and even with 3 weeks I felt there was too much I wanted to see. Vienna, Prague, Budapest – new, but I still felt rushed as there were many in between places I wanted to see….so I moved it to my retirement gift to self when I had more time. Also the thought of different currencies and numerous different languages was more than I wanted to tackle right now. So Spain it is – new, but one currency and one language I am already somewhat familiar with…..and it has been on my bucket list since I was 9 years old. Tick.

    • Leyla Giray Alyanak on February 13, 2017 at 9:59 am

      It’s always easy for me to agree about Spain – and while it does have one currency, Spain is dramatically different from one region to the next, so you can get something consistent along with something different!

      • Coby Sikkens on February 13, 2017 at 11:50 am

        Hi Leyla, I am off to India tomorrow. A country I have been quite a few times, mostly for work, but this is the second time I am going to visit friends and for pleasure. India is a big country and there is much to see. Last time it was Rajasthan. This time it will be different and I do not yet know where we shall go. So yes, both familiar and new. Three wonderful warm weeks in the middle of winter. And then yes, I will go back to Spain! As for Paris, yes I have been there and sort of know my way around, but why do I ALWAYS end up in London? I don’t think I plan travel a lot, it just happens…..

        • Leyla Giray Alyanak on February 13, 2017 at 12:33 pm

          Sounds like a wonderful trip! How human we are… a complex but wonderful mix of adventurous and comfort-seeking!

  8. Nancy on May 6, 2017 at 12:21 am

    This written piece waranted a second read for me. Today I booked a flight to Porto, Portugal, to hike the Camino Portuguese to Santiago de Compostela in June. I am anxious! I am going solo for the first time. I hiked the Camino Del Norte in 2015 with two friends and met more along The Way.
    My comment is about the old and the new. I have never been to Portugal I have never done a long distance hike like this alone. I welcome any comments and suggestions.

  9. Larry on June 4, 2017 at 3:05 am

    Visiting the same places can be comforting, but nothing beats the first time you visit an awesome place … no feeling like it in the world!

  10. Connie Rosser Riddle on June 6, 2017 at 10:45 pm

    I approach my yearly Solo Journey, my pilgrimage, by posing it as a question: “Where should I go this year?” It’s a spiritual trip for me and I wait on the answer, wondering where I will be drawn to and what God will teach me. The answer is usually a combination of a new place to explore and a journey that will meet my most pressing needs. One year, my desire was to follow in the steps of my mother at nineteen, when she traveled to Harrisburg, PA to be trained to work in the WWII effort. I was losing my mother to dementia and I wanted to go while she was able to enjoy the story of my trip. I visited Harper’s Ferry WV on the way, biking on the C & O Canal Towpath, visiting the battlefield of Antietam and then drove to Harrisburg to be a history detective. That trip met my needs and my story delighted Mama.

    • Leyla Giray Alyanak on June 6, 2017 at 10:49 pm

      I love the idea of planning travel as a journey, whether spiritual or personal or for any other reason – it puts my travel into perspective and gives it a reason beyond just want to visit a place…

  11. chris on July 23, 2017 at 3:37 am

    I too am filled with curiosity. Being a solo traveller for the past 10 years makes it easier to decide where to go as I don’t have to consider anyone else. My “plan” is to visit “difficult” countries for the next decade or so, and leave the “easy” ones for when I’m less fit and able. When I say “difficult” I mean ones that are different to my own culture and language; less easy to traverse by foot and vehicle (e.g. the mountains in Ethiopia). I am also fascinated by the “other” which is why I will visit New Zealand again in my 90’s as it is so familiar to me as an Australian. Having said that I had thought that the USA was very similar to Oz until I spent a year there in 2010. I also really enjoy re-visiting somewhere as usually the first time is spent seeing all the major tourist attractions whereupon returning, I become the leisurely flaneur who can take frequent spontaneous turns any/every whichway on a whim and discover the underbelly, which is invariably more interesting. That is probably because we are all so familiar with our material world through the internet, but not with the peoples and cultures, the everyday and the ordinary.

  12. Cathy Fulton on December 12, 2018 at 4:23 am

    Thanks for revisiting this post in your latest email. This rings so true for me. I am on a long-term solo journey around the world–18 months now…
    One other draw you did not mention is the abundance of friends you make as you travel. I want so much to go back and see Caitlin, Zumi, Charlotte, Lili, Adela & Manuel, Conny, Tynch and Altaynai…oh so many. But I want to go on and find out what is in Malaysia, Indonesia, New Zealand, Ecuador….and someday, I guess I need to go home. (Home? home? where is that?)
    As my new Sri Lankan friend, Raj says all the time, “What to do, What to do?”
    The next time I get stuck, I will use some of your suggestions under “Revisit or Discover? as journal prompts.

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