Last month, I was having drinks with a well-known travel writer and like two soldiers discussing battle wounds from the same war, we talked about the cycle of travel, being on the road for years at a time, the highs, the lows, and everything in between. As we wandered the battlefield of memories, we came upon the topic of friends and re-visiting places. I lamented to him my recent exit from Ios, a place I had fallen in love with and a place that pulls me back there even now. I keep seeing Facebook status updates from friends and it makes me depressed. But I can’t go back there, what I miss is the memories he replied as he relayed his own experience with this. Yes, he was right. In the end, what he and I were really talking about was how we were chasing travel ghosts.
As travelers, we have many great memories. Once in a while, we are lucky enough to have life changing moments on the road. That time and place where every thing is magical and perfect and the people just go together like yin and yang. These are moments we wish could last forever. And the places always seem to pull us back to them. I’ve had those beautiful moments- my first stay in Amsterdam, living in Ko Lipe, Thailand for a month, and lately, spending time on the island of Ios. In all three of those moments, I found paradise. I found locations I still remember vividly in my mind and still pull me towards them no matter where I am in the world. Most importantly though, I found people I connected with and will stay with me for a lifetime.
But like all things, these moments come to an end and all of us move on to different places and different lives, though each holding on to that bit of paradise.
We live these memories in our minds often. They are prominent memories in our lives. Whenever I meet people from those times, we always reminisce about how great and life changing these experiences were. I sometimes stay in touch with these people more than I do my friends from childhood. I visit them, they visit me, I go to their weddings.
We talk about going back to those places. Reliving those moments. After leaving Ios, I couldn’t wait to go back. “Next year!” my friend Jill and I said, “we will be back.” After Ko Lipe, I always tried to return but could never quite make it.
Maybe it’s fate.
I know deep down I won’t go back to Ios. And I’ll never return to Ko Lipe. And I only return to Amsterdam but over the years, I’ve spent so much time there, I have something of a life there.
But by going back to Ios or Ko Lipe or La Tomatina in Spain, all I would be doing is chasing the ghosts of travel past.
I’d be chasing memories. The locations I went to didn’t matter. It was the people I was with that mattered. While the places were great, the memories I made were with the people. It was together that the magic was made. I’ve refused to go back to the island of Ko Lipe because I knew it would never be like before. A friend of mine did go back the following season and said it wasn’t the same. She lamented the development, the people- everything just didn’t feel right. She hasn’t been back since. Like so many, she too went chasing ghosts and came up empty handed.
Whether we go try to relive places like Ios or Ko Lipe or head back to hostels we enjoyed the first time, we are simply chasing ghosts. I love visiting cities over and over again. I love Amsterdam, Thailand, Italy and countless destinations. But heading back to relive moments and not explore places deeper is simply chasing the past. We’re trying to recapture that initial feeling like a drug addict chasing his first high. But we can never get that back. Because we can never get the people back.
Next year, I’ll be back in Europe. Next year, I might be in Greece. But unless my friends return to Ios, I won’t be there again. I’d simply be chasing ghosts and disappointment when I’d rather be chasing new experiences.