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Can you ever really go back?

Can you return to a place that was special to you at a certain moment in time, and recapture the magic? Can you go travel back to a place that was once sacred to you, and relive those moments that made it so? Or will it always be a series of diminishing returns, like a child growing older and realizing how Christmas changes when they know for sure that Santa isn’t real? (Still kind of reeling from that particular blow personally.) Can you go back?

I tried to do just that with my recent return to Indonesia. My first time there came at the tail end of a five month jaunt through Southeast Asia, and it was a true emotional highlight.Β  I slowed down, achieved a major goal, carved out a routine, created significant relationships, and in general had a damn good time.

Gili Trawangan Travel Blog

I loved it so much that I wasn’t ready to go at the end of my six weeks . So after six weeks back home in the states, I boarded the plane for another six weeks back in Indonesia. My itinerary here was laughably identical to my previous trip — I started with a few days in Nusa Lembongan, ended with a week in Bali, and spent the remaining majority in Gili Trawangan. I write this now from Bali, a few days before I fly once again back to New York (and no, this time I’m not heading back here six weeks later!)

Did it work? Did I recapture the magic?

Well, this might be anticlimactic, but… kind of? Which I guess means not really. But I’m still so glad I came back. When I left last time, I wasn’t ready to go. This time, I am. I’m leaving on a high note — but not so high that I won’t be able to function in the next place, haunted by thoughts of the one before it.

A few things were different this time. My first round on Gili, my main focus was on my Divemaster. While my blogging and freelancing income suffered as a result, it was refreshing to have an objective that didn’t require WiFi. This time, I had one of my most productive months ever, but I logged insane hours in front of a screen, and thus was more sensitive to the island’s overloaded power grid, constant electricity cuts, and horror show of an internet connection.

Gili Trawangan Travel Blog

Last time, I was quite the party girl and went out dancing several nights a week. This time, it was Ramadan, which kept the nightlife in check — not to mention closed my favorite local lunchtime warungs for the entirety of the month. Last time, I biked down the street and felt like part of a small shoulder-season community. This time, as high season reached a fever pitch, I biked down the street with my eyes half-closed in terror as I dodged horse carts and tourist traffic jams. And of course, an expat community is by definition transient. So as people came and went, the dynamic shifted slightly and I was surprised that my relationships on the island had changed with the season.

I hope this doesn’t come off as negative. I am so happy that I returned to Indonesia, and so blessed that I was able to. I got to spend more time with Anders as well as some friends I really treasure. Internet connections aside, I had a peaceful and affordable place to slow down and be productive and profitable for a while. I got to take advantage one last time of some great business connections I’ve cultivated in my time in Southeast Asia. I got to see a few new things that I missed out on the first time in Indonesia. And most importantly, I didn’t spend my summer thinking “what if?” the way I would have had I not come back.

While I don’t have too excessively much to write about this time period — working on the road means actually means doing nothing but working on the road, sometimes — I do have a few highlights I’m excited to blog about, such as hiking Gunung Rinjani, rafting the Ayung River in Bali, and returning to Nusa Lembongan. I hope you’ll enjoy my virtual return to Indonesia, just as I enjoyed my physical one.

Gili Trawangan Travel Blog

Have you ever tried “going back?” Did it work for you?

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27 Comments...
  • memographer
    August 13 2013

    Unfortunately, no. Time Machine hasn’t been built yet, Meihoukai. I have a list of dates too πŸ˜‰ actually, two lists – one for “repeat” and one for “redo” πŸ™‚
    memographer recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      August 14 2013

      I am patiently awaiting the invention of that time machine πŸ™‚

  • TammyOnTheMove
    August 13 2013

    I keep returning to Cambodia. Started off for six months and extended for a year. Then went back to the UK for a month and returned to Cambodia for 6 months. Then took a two months break to go to Nepal, UK and Germany, but went back to Cambodia again. I have been here on and off for almost two years now and I finally feel that I have grasped the country. But I think it is time to move on soon, otherwise I fear it won’t feel special anymore.
    TammyOnTheMove recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      August 14 2013

      That sounds like my story with Thailand πŸ™‚ It’s a place I can’t seem to stop returning to, to the point that it has become a home. Sometimes it’s worth it to keep trying.

      • sven hutchinson
        August 14 2013

        Yep, I am back living on Ko Tao, there is always the initial… man this just isn’t the same in the first few days but that soon passes!!!

  • Charlie
    August 13 2013

    For years I dreamt of “going back” to Bondi Beach – where I lived for 6 months on my first taste of travel. I never got the chance to, but now 6 years later, I’m not sure I’d want to. As much as I loved the place, it was the people who made it so special, and they wouldn’t be there anymore. I guess it comes down to what you’re looking for when you go back. If you’re going back open to have a new experience, then great, but if you’re hoping to re-capture the exact great time as before, you’re likely to be disappointed.
    Charlie recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      August 14 2013

      I know how you feel. I think no matter where it is that first taste of travel is extremely hard to recapture. It’s a special, unique moment in a persons life! Thank you for commenting!

  • Breanna
    August 14 2013

    This is the very question that scares me whenever I think of a return trip to Brasil. Now when I go back there I would be seeing places I missed but I can’t go there and not see Ipanema Beach. However I know the World cup and the Olympics will change it and that I am prepared for but what scares me is will I have changed? Its scary. But I did enjoy your take on that topic.

    • Meihoukai
      August 17 2013

      Brazil has long topped my bucket list, and I’m sad I won’t get there before the World Cup and Olympics as I agree they will probably make a notable difference. However I guess I will be lucky as I won’t have anything to compare it to! Someday…

  • Rika | Cubicle Throwdown
    August 14 2013

    I struggled with this SO much when I kept visiting Roatan and finally decided to move there. I thought I was mentally prepared, but oh boy. Living there was completely different from visiting there! Such a different vibe. But I know I’ll always go back… even now, sitting in Canada on day 5 a much-anticipated trip home, I’m already dreaming of getting back πŸ™‚
    Rika | Cubicle Throwdown recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      August 17 2013

      Yeah, I think the issue is different and more complicated once a place becomes “home” as Roatan has been for you and Koh Tao has been for me. That’s a whole complicated set of emotions worthy of a post of its own πŸ™‚

  • Shaun
    August 14 2013

    I’d consider “kind of” a win. I have gone back to places and had a completely different experience. Some better, sometimes not…

    When’s the 3rd time?
    Shaun recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      August 17 2013

      Well my best friend on Gili is very pregnant right now, so I will have to return as some point to meet her little girl! Probably in about a year or so I will head back to Southeast Asia, if all goes according to plan!

  • Natalie
    August 14 2013

    I was lucky enough to “go back” to Kenya and Tanzania, where I studied abroad, two years later with my younger sister. I didn’t feel the same way I did the first time, but it was really cool to see my sister have a lot of the same emotions and thoughts that I did two years prior. Sort of like looking at yourself in the past…
    Natalie recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      August 17 2013

      That is a good way to look at it and a nice way to go back somewhere a second time. I always love playing tour guide and showing friends and family around the places that have been special to me!

  • John
    August 14 2013

    I like to visit new places rather than return to ones already visited

    • Meihoukai
      August 17 2013

      That’s fun too πŸ™‚ However I find myself going back to the same places over and over again. I love that feeling of the exotic becoming familiar.

  • I am travelling back to Ireland this September & seriously wondering if my 2nd Euro trip can possibly live up to my 1st, but all hope that it does πŸ™‚ Loved this post! xxx
    Jacquie @ Must for Wanderlust recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      August 17 2013

      I wish you all the best and hope it does for you! I’ve done five big trips to Southeast Asia now, and each one manages to be special πŸ™‚

  • KiKi B
    August 14 2013

    I had my first backpacking adventure to Thailand in 2011 and I fell in love with the country. But, as I got ill last time I had to miss out a few stops on my itinerary like Pai, were I really wanted to visit, and I only spent a night in Koh Tao which was nowhere near enough to explore the island.
    In two weeks I’m lucky enough to be ‘going back’, this time with a friend from university. Part of me feels the same as you, that going back to places with so many memories may be anticlimactic, but at the same time I’m excited to make new experiences to add to all my amazing old ones of such a lovely country!
    I’m looking forward to seeing your posts on Indonesia, I’m currently debating where to go next summer
    KiKi B recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      August 17 2013

      For me the best solution has been mixing in the old with the new…. visiting old special places but also making time to visit fresh destinations within the same country. That’s what makes Thailand remain such an exciting place to be despite the million Thai stamps in my passport!

  • Erika
    August 15 2013

    I’ve only been back to one of my favorite places before — Vienna — and, I don’t know… so much time had passed that I didn’t expect it to be the same or anything… I didn’t know what to expect, but each visit I’ve made has been really good, really important as a transition period in my life.

    But as for other places? Like where I had my favorite vacations — Lisbon and Athens? I’m a little afraid of returning because I know it wouldn’t be the same. And while that’s okay, I kind of want those memories forever etched in my mind… I probably will go back someday, but this is a fear, to be honest.

    Your photos are beautiful and I love when you open up and share thoughts like these, Meihoukai! πŸ™‚
    Erika recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      August 17 2013

      Yeah, I too have certain places I will never go back to. I spent a week in the Perhentian Islands in Malaysia almost five years ago and it was such a special week, I would never want to mar those memories by returning. Some things deserve to stand alone πŸ™‚

  • Kathryn
    August 18 2013

    I just experienced something stateside – The Grand Illumination on Martha’s Vineyard – for only the second time in 19 years. It was blessedly unchanged, and the magic was still there.

    • Meihoukai
      August 19 2013

      I hope that I will be there next year to report on it for Meihoukai in Wanderland!

  • Carolyn Kerr
    December 23 2015

    I’m planning a trip to Lombok and Gili Islands next year and as of now the dates are looking like it will be during Ramadan. Did you find that many shops/cafes/bars were closed during fasting hours? Or were there any cultural sensitivities travelers should be aware of during that time?

    • Meihoukai
      December 26 2015

      Gili Trawangan is heavily influenced by Ramadan and if you can avoid it, I would not recommend traveling during that time. Western restaurants will be open but all the local warungs and food carts and whatnot will be closed during the day, and many during the night at well (they close for the month). The mosque calls will be twice as frequent and loud, which makes it tough to sleep. And unfortunately, I found that tired and sleepy people are also cranky people πŸ™‚

      Also, local divemasters will not be working at that time — part of what I loved about diving in Gili T was it’s one of the rare Southeast Asian destinations with plenty of local dive staff, so that was a bummer too.