The Importance of Going Back: Montreal, Flagstaff, and New York City

I am learning that, for me, it is important to visit places twice. That is because the first visit always consists of doing what you feel you must do. The second visit, with all the must-do’s out of the way, is filled with less anxiety to see everything, and you end up doing more of what you want to do, how you want to do it.

My first visit to Montreal, I ordered Poutine, went to the best sex store I could find, visited Old Montreal and the science center, and stayed in a swanky hotel right downtown. It was really fun, but slightly stressful, and filled with quintessential Montreal activities for a tourist. My second visit, I stayed with friends at an AirBnB apartment in a funky neighborhood, which allowed us to see the city from the point of view of someone who actually lived there. I enjoyed stumbling upon weird local bars and cafés, tried kombucha for the first time, and spent a whole day wandering around a nearby national park with my camera. I had my first “dark dining” experience simply because a neighbor recommended it. I also got to meet the makers of a vaporizer I had bought in the States and was invited to see their workshop. The first visit was important to get out of the way, but the second visit was much more intimate and relaxing. I believe that the general feeling of “up for whatever” actually led to more exciting things happening.

The same goes for my two visits to northern Arizona. My first visit, I saw the Grand Canyon and hurriedly hiked around Red Rock National Park, then ended the day at a very fancy restaurant. It was all very breathtaking, but a little stressful trying to pack everything into one day’s worth of sightseeing. My second visit, my boyfriend rented us a cabin in Flagstaff for us and five friends. There, we drank on our own budget, ate brunch at a cabinesque mom & pop diner, had a cookout for dinner, and played endless games of pool. The views were stunning as well, but not necessary. Everything we did was happened upon, and now northern Arizona is more than just the Grand Canyon to me, and I have the photos to prove it.

Going back to New York more than once has been important to me for another reason; instead of the second visit relaxing my need to see particular points of interest, it changed how I encountered particular people of interest to me – my friends. My two visits to New York since traveling have been very different from each other. My first was for a friend’s wedding. I hit up all the friends I could possibly see and talked endlessly about what I had seen so far traveling and how the city had changed for me, had become more noisy and overwhelming and unaffordable for my lifestyle. I drank too much, spent too much money, and missed nothing about the big city.

My second visit, I came with no agenda but to see a few friends who would all be at one party that weekend. I left places I didn’t want to be, made no promises, and committed myself only to take a cab if I was alone at night. I even managed to take some time to myself to get a massage from my old favorite spot (Super Magic Fingers, but only the one on the Upper West Side, if you’re looking for a cheap but effective deep-tissue massage).

It’s not so much that, during my second visit to New York, I decided to say less about my travels and how they had changed me, it’s more that I had learned by then the importance of just being where I am, and that’s how I try to be now. There were a few moments where I found myself sitting back and quietly observing that I now felt out of place where I once would have fit in, and I preferred those moments to speaking up about what it was like to be back, as though there was something to prove.

This might be a bit sidetracked, but there was a night out in New York where I met a guy from Cleveland and bought him a beer, and my friend turned to me and asked why I was talking to this creepy person. And I realized that that’s how it looked because my friends hadn’t grown accustomed to talking to strangers (albeit I use my good judgment on which strangers to approach), and that I had. I’m always praised for being able to make friends anywhere I go, and that’s how I do it. But I didn’t say this, I just said goodbye to the stranger from Cleveland and went back to my night with friends.

I think visiting somewhere twice gives you perspective of your perspective, and I think that’s ultimately what cleaving your leaveland is all about. It’s about getting somewhere new by working through what you’ve left behind, by taking your past with you, knowing it in someway defines you, while letting new experiences shape you as well.

In fact, I think I’ve started to become defined by something else – my traveling lifestyle. I thought that at the end of all this I would end up some cultured combination of all the places I had been, that I would be able to make an educated decision about what it means to be a united states of people as I finally chose one of those states to live in permanently. And while I have gathered a well-rounded understanding of this country, and with it a new kind of empathy for places I never expected, I realize that you can’t just stop in somewhere and decide what that place is to you, because even Cleveland is not what it was when I grew up there. What has most profoundly stuck with me throughout all of this is the act; the act of visiting, of traveling, of moving away and heading towards, of taking things with you that you know won’t be evergreen. I’m not saying that my first visits to all of these places weren’t wonderful, they were, but I am saying that if you ever get the chance to, visit twice.