Here I am, back in Mexico, having decided to visit Playa del Carmen again, a town I’ve been to many times before. And I’m thoroughly enjoying my stay right now, even more than previous visits. Now one might think this would be the result of spending time at all of my favorite places in town, eating at my favorite eateries, hanging out on my favorite stretch of white sand beach, going for a swim each evening at the very same spot I used to go for a sunset swim and taking day trips to the very same locations I’ve been to, and loved, before.
But actually, the reason why this current stay in Playa del Carmen is going so well is because I haven’t done much of the above at all.
Returning to a destination that you have visited previously and absolutely connected with can be a bit, well, interesting. There are expectations galore when you do this as you automatically assume that you are going to have the same rewarding experiences you once had, simply by showing up and repeating everything you did during that original visit. Unfortunately, it often doesn’t work that way because it’s almost impossible to repeat those ideal experiences and those ideal interactions that had made a particular destination so special in the first place.
When you revisit a destination and you sit down at your favorite restaurant or you go for a beer at your favorite beach hangout or you walk through that friendly neighborhood you used to wander around so often, it just doesn’t feel the same. You’ve changed, the circumstances of your visit have changed, the destination has probably changed a little as well. And all of those factors – the people you hung out with, the goals you had at that point in life, the activities that excited you, perhaps even the weather – might no longer be the same.
Sounds a bit gloomy, I know. But alas, that’s not the point of this post!
The point is that the above does not mean that you should never return to those ‘favorite’ destinations of yours, those destinations that you visited once and can’t wait to visit again. In fact, if you’re drawn to a particular place, there’s no reason at all why you shouldn’t go back for a second or third or fourth visit if that’s what you feel like doing. As I like to state often, there’s no right way to travel. Whatever suits you the best and wherever you decide to go, regardless of what kind of adventure you are seeking or whether or not you’ve been to that destination before, is your own right way of traveling.
Back to Playa del Carmen.
Yes, I’ve eaten at Dona Mary’s local tostada cafe on Avenida 30, my absolute favorite eatery here, and I’ve already gone to the same nearby street stall for some agua de guanabana, which I used to do almost every day when I lived here, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t hang out at my favorite cafe in the center of town or swim at my favorite part of the beach, just as I did before. But what I’ve realized this time around is, in between those meals and those hang out sessions and those swims, I’ve ventured off into new neighborhoods, eaten at new eateries, explored new stretches of beach and searched for completely new experiences.
When I came to Mexico to visit Playa del Carmen last year, I wrote a post about how different it felt and how I didn’t exactly connect with the town as much as I had on previous trips. But now, I’ve learned some things since then (travel is about constant learning after all!) and I’ve realized that I was going about it all in the wrong way. Last year, I thought I could just repeat everything I did when I used to live here and I would have an absolutely perfect stay as a result. However, on this visit, I realized that I need to take the foundation of why I used to love this town – the overall atmosphere and the people – and experience it all in different ways.
That’s why I’m seeking out unfamiliar places to eat, unfamiliar places to hang out, unfamiliar groups of people to meet, unfamiliar neighborhoods to wander around, unfamiliar, well, everything. And the result is an experience that far exceeds what I could have ever imagined, in the most positive of ways, giving me not only a fresh look at Playa del Carmen but a set of fresh rewards that will enhance my life from this point forward.
You know, the more I think about it, the more this could apply to visiting a country for the first time as well. It’s quite difficult, after doing research online before we leave for a particular trip, to land in a country without having formulated some idea of what we think we should expect. And if we stick to that list we make about what we want to see and where we want to go, those real experiences will have to match up with our real, and often quite high, expectations. And if they don’t match, if those expectations prove to be grander and more rewarding than the real thing, it’s easy to be a bit disappointed with our travels and in turn, gain less from our adventures than we could have gained.
Should you skip the Eiffel Tower in Paris or Angkor Wat in Cambodia as a result? Of course not. Do what you want, go where you want to go, check off the items on your list. But the idea is to make sure that you go beyond that as well. Try to seek out experiences that you never thought of having, try to find towns or neighborhoods that you never came across in your pre-trip research, try to find restaurants that are recommended to you by locals, not only those that you heard about online or in guidebooks, and try to spend some of your time doing activities that you never even knew existed wherever you happen to be visiting.
These are the ways to enhance every day of your travels and to ensure that your trip is filled with so many new and memorable experiences that, regardless of what your expectations were at the start, your trip turns out to be far better than you ever thought possible.
From Playa del Carmen, Mexico, a town that I’ve visited many times before, yet which I almost seem to be experiencing for the first time right now – something I’m extremely happy about – I wish you safe and exciting journeys ahead!
How do you feel about re-visiting certain destinations? Do you ever run into an issue where your real experiences don’t match your expectations? If you haven’t traveled yet, are you creating expectations for your upcoming travels?