Chasing Ghosts Again

sunset in ios greeceLast year, I talked about how travelers are often chasing ghosts. We re-visit places, trying to capture that initial amazingness we felt while we were there. And, most of the time, we end up disappointed. We go back and try to recreate something that can’t be recreated. We are all like drug addicts, simply trying to chase that first high. But we can never quite reach it. After all, it is people who create our memories, not places.

And so last year I vowed never to chase ghosts. It’s why I’ll never go back to Ko Lipe in Thailand, and why I said I would never go back to the Greek island of Ios. The memories I made in those places were too special, and I knew going back wouldn’t be the same without the people who were there the first time around.

Yet here I am, writing this post from Ios, a place on my “do not return” list.

Yes, I came back here. But it had nothing to do with chasing the ghosts of travels past.

It was my birthday on June 12. I turned 30. In marking that special day, I wanted to go to a place where I knew I could celebrate like I was turning 20. And I wanted to do it on a beach. In Europe. There are a number of places I could have chosen from (Lagos, Barcelona, Corfu), but I knew Ios would have everything I wanted.

I’ll admit, I was reluctant to come back. But after a few friends of mine said they would come too, I thought, why not? Even though I knew I wouldn’t be able to recapture those old memories of Ios, I knew I would still have some fun.

After two weeks here, I’ve changed my mind about last year’s post. You can return to a place and still love it. I’ve had nothing but fun here. The locals have remembered me. Many of my friends from last year returned. I’ve made new friends. I’ve learned even more about the island. I don’t regret coming back here at all.

I’ve avoided revisiting a lot of places for fear that I’ll “ruin” my initial experience there and walk away disappointed. For example, in my mind, Ko Lipe is a deserted island in Thailand where I made lifelong friends. Going back to a now-developed island teeming with tourists would be something I couldn’t handle. Paradise lost.

But, in some cases, you can go back – you just have to go back for different reasons.

This year, I came back to Ios not because I wanted to chase that high from last year, but because I wanted to celebrate my birthday. It’s as simple as that. I didn’t want what I had last year. I wanted to party and ring in my 30th birthday with my friends.

I came here with a different mindset this time, realizing that what I had last year was unique. It can never be recreated, but that doesn’t mean I couldn’t come back and make new memories.

Years from now, I probably won’t reminisce about this second trip to Ios like I will the first. Years from now, I probably won’t be talking to people from this trip like I will the first. But I came in recognizing that; I didn’t expect this trip to outshine my first.

Was I chasing ghosts in Ios? I don’t think so. Even though I think we as humans are wired to hold onto those highs and try to recreate them, going back to a place you love doesn’t have to be about chasing ghosts. You can return to a destination and just enjoy it for what it is – a good place. But if you expect it to be as good as it was that first time, you will be disappointed in what you find. Instead, come expecting nothing. Just be there to enjoy a good place as a good place, having a good time without comparing it to the past.

And you’ll leave your ghosts in the past, where they can never haunt your present again.

  1. Hey Matt,
    great article. I can definitely relate. I am always chasing ghosts. Chasing the companionship specific to a place. A few years ago, I visited the squat in Antibes France where I spent 4 months with homeless people. When I arrived, there was no one to be found. The only person I found was the shirtless old man on his bike who would occasionally drink with us. He told me that everyone had moved on. It was really depressing.
    Safe travels,

  2. i was in guillin last 2008 and it was awesome… i went back in 2009 and it wasnt as close as to what ive experienced the first time i went there… the people that ive met were not there anymore… i guess i was chasing ghost and there i realized that travel only becomes special when you get to connect with the people… belated happy birthday matt…

  3. Ren

    I’d like to think I haven’t been chasing ghosts during my travels… sure, I’ve been to Bangkok several times, but each experience had been different, and I wasn’t trying to recapture anything. However, there ARE certain places where it will probably be some time before I go back for fear that I’ll be chasing ghosts, or try to recapture the glories of trips past. High on those list for me would be Pai and Koh Tao, both in Thailand.

    Great post, definitely made me think about this….

  4. Wow, I went back and read the first post on this topic and you are so spot on about the whole chasing ghosts thing. It’s one of those things that has a high degree of difficulty, but as you have discovered, it can be pulled off. I have visited Hvar in Croatia twice and managed to pull it off, Oktoberfest in Munich seems to have gotten better all three times I’ve visited, but I will admit others have fallen flatly. Anyway, great post man.

  5. You’re spot on in this article. There’s definitely a tendency to return to a place in hopes of re-creating an experience, and it just ain’t gonna happen, but it’s true enough that you can go someplace and enjoy it for what it is. In my case, I traveled through Peru in 2008 – pretty much my least favorite country in South America, but I was fond of the little beach town of Huanchaco. As the locals say “es muy tranquillo aqui”. It’s everything that a sleepy little fishing village should be. Ultimately it was the weather that drove the decision to come back…for now, we’re calling Huanchaco home.

  6. Matt, interesting observations. I’ve personally found that some places retain a certain spark and others simply lose their charm for a variety of reasons. I just came home a few days ago from what was nearly a continuous 18 month journey in South America & Asia. I revisited several destinations I enjoyed along with a few others I didn’t. What I found interesting was that certain places I found myself questioning why I ever enjoyed in the first place while I found others even more intriguing than ever: however, the most fascinating aspect was that a few places (specifically countries) I didn’t enjoy the first time around I ended up loving this time. Some areas I vowed to never give a second chance became my new ‘it’ spots. I suppose what I’m trying to get at is that a person can change as much – if not more – than even a place. Sometimes we can never rekindle the magic once captured somewhere; yet, in other circumstances we’ll find new treasures we’ve never expected just around the corner.

  7. My guess is that the chances are 50/50 that it will be better or worse than the time before. Sure, you won’t get the same anticipation of stumbling into the unknown, but spending additional time in a certain place may produce new (different, better?) experiences that you didn’t have the first go around.

  8. I’ve never heard the term “chasing ghosts” before, but I’ve definitely thought about it many times! I have a lot of really special memories of certain places, but I’ve never actually revisited them yet…I think you’re right though…I am scared that it the special-ness won’t be there a second time.

  9. This makes me happy to read. I am heading back to Koh Tao to live, a place I left two year ago and have thought of every day since. I know it won’t be the same and I fear disappointment, but my heart won’t let me stay away!

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  10. That’s how it was for me in moving permanently to New York City. I moved here after college to chase and re-create the fun I’d had vacationing and interning here for a short time, and once I got here, I was disappointed because I was here without my fellow interns and I had to start all over and make new friends… The magic and mystery of the City itself was gone too because reality kicked in and it was no longer a dream. I went back and forth about moving back home to Florida so that I could un-chase ‘the dream’ and make it desirable again, but I stuck it out and 4 years later I’m pretty content!

  11. I agree with a lost of this post. Some places you can’t go back too, as sometimes you visit them just at the right time before they change for the worse or become far more touristy.

    However every year I go back to Budapest, Hungary, as to me it’s more like a second home now than a trip away. It can be great going back to see old friends, and there is always something new to experience.

    It is the people who make the journey, and I just find that there is so much left to explore, that sometimes always returning somewhere is just because it feels safe, and the best trips are always outwith your comfort zone!

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