Why I Go Back

If I have one travel pet peeve (more than surly TSA agents, or long check-in lines at the airport, or carbohydrate-heavy in-flight meals), it is travelers who use the verb “To Do” in referring to a destination in the world.

e.g. “Last summer, I did Europe” or the frequently-heard, “Someday I want to do Australia and New Zealand.”

Almost without fail, the tourists’ abuse of the verb “to do” is accompanied by some sweeping hand gesture, as if sliding a pile of chips from a roulette table or cleaning up a pile of hairballs from the corner of the kitchen floor—implying that all the world is a Wal-Mart and the men and women merely shoppers who must walk each aisle before closing.

I disdain “to do” because it so thoroughly fails to describe the real miracle of travel with all of the beauty, struggle, and happenstance which accompanies the moment of opening yourself to a new country. “To do” does no justice to befriending strangers on the road, or the hilarity that follows a series of cancelled flights, or the joy of discovering a place hitherto unknown.

“To do” ignores the infinity of travel, because the world is infinite. No two places are truly alike and neither are any two moments. New York City on Monday will resemble (yet not duplicate) New York on Tuesday.

Last December I spent a month in Tanzania—one full month hopping from one fabulous national park to another. I devoted four week to just one country and its many natural splendors. Many would say that I had “done” Tanzania, and that next time, I should consider “doing” Uganda or Rwanda, Ethiopia or Congo.

But no. I came right back to Tanzania—flew into the same airport I had departed six months prior. I returned to Tanzania not because I am unimaginative or boring or fixated, but because the journey is never done. Travel is never finished, and I wanted to continue the story.

All of my travels end with ellipsis . . . waiting to pick up from I left off. From the minute I stepped out onto the high African plateau of northern Tanzania, I recognized and remembered so many things, all stowed in the back of my mind: the taste of the dust, the cool and smoky air in the morning, the blaring colors of the women’s skirts, the silhouette of heavy loads carried on people’s heads, the whiny honking horns of the dala dalas, the policemen dressed in white, and the sprinting goats.

All of these things came alive again, and I remembered and resumed my exploration of tremendous Tanzania. Although some things were the same, many things were not. I had this strong foundation of wildlife experience under my belt, and yet I knew so little of the people and how they lived, so that this time, I lived in the village of Maji ya Chai and forged a relationship with a new cast of friends. I also traveled with eleven teenagers as part of National Geographic Student Expeditions, which offered a completely different experience than the one I had before and added a whole new layer of learning in my life-long relationship with Africa.

Saying goodbye to the wonderful students of National Geographic Student Expeditions in Maji ya Chai, Tanzania (Photo by Gemina Garland-Lewis, NGSE)

This is why I go back.

I go back because no place is ever done. You cannot “do” a country or finish a destination because you have “done everything there is to do” (impossible).

I have been to Paris more times than I can count. Every time is wonderful and unique and special. None of my future trips to Paris will ever resemble that time when I first caught sight of the Eiffel Tower but each new trip will promise something equally wonderful because it is new.

I love Guatemala and in my life, I have made no less than seven trips to this country. Each time, I add a new layer of learning about the people, culture, and beauty of this puzzle piece on the world map. Each time, the space in my heart grows bigger for Guatemala and I get to fill in the blanks of my foreign understanding.

We must go back to the places we love, and we must go back to the places we don’t love, too, in order that we learn to love them. Writing guidebooks taught me that first impressions count, but never to disregard a place until I’d been back to it three or four times. Travelers have bad days, and one of the biggest sins of travel is to project our bad day on some innocent foreign place.

I write this post from Iceland, a country I have been traveling to for more than 15 years. I have delivered countless travel lectures on Iceland and published magazine articles. I have authored a 500-page guidebook to this country and played tour guide to friends and strangers—but I am not done with Iceland. I am only just getting started, and whenever I leave Iceland (or Africa), all I want to do is go back.

This year I will be going back—back to some of my favorite places on Earth. Iceland is one of them. Tanzania was, too, and though I rarely give clues about my upcoming destinations, I will drop this significant hint: I am going back.

This is not because I am running out of new places. I still have never been to Rome (!) or Alaska (!!) or Beijing and about 90 percent of the globe. When it comes to travel, the world is infinite and exciting, but I want to go back and continue the story in so many of the places I have already traveled to. If travel is a contest, than I do not want to win. I want to play all day long and into then next day, like a Monopoly game that never ends.

No place is ever done, and no travel experience ever entirely complete. There is always someone else to meet, some new mountain to climb, some new food to try, some random adventure to fall in your lap, or some memory to reforge.

This is why I go back—because the story is not over, and sometimes (not always), the sequel is better than the first one.

With Loveness (left) and Praygood (right) who I met in Maji ya Chai, Tanzania as part of National Geographic Student Expeditions (Photo by Katie Burns, NGSE)
Me (Andrew) with Loveness (left) and Praygood (right) who I met in Maji ya Chai, Tanzania on assignment with National Geographic Student Expeditions. (Photo by Katie Burns, NGSE)


  1. John
    July 10, 2013, 8:22 am

    What you’re really saying is that you’re never done with life. Carpe Diem.

  2. sue
    July 11, 2013, 6:57 pm

    Great article. I’ve been to Australia twice and most people say that’s a once in a lifetime trip. I would definately go back since there is so much to explore.
    Hope you get to Rome and Alaska soon. Both such beautiful places.

  3. Colin Rebeck
    Los Angeles, USA
    July 12, 2013, 1:53 pm

    It sounds as if you are a very successful and love the work you do. The beauty of your situation is your love of travel, photography, writing, people, etc. and making a living doing it.
    Most of us folks, do not have this possibility by our own choices, or what circumstances dictate, so you are our eyes and ears, to that wonderful world beyond our reach. I thank you for your enthusiasm, knowledge, love, etc.

  4. Juliette
    Geneva, Switzerland
    July 13, 2013, 10:04 am

    What a great article!
    I am 26 yrs old and I only started travelling 5 years ago but I know it’ll never stop…
    I spent a couple of years in Australia, I travelled around this amazing and stunning country/continent and came back again after one year as I had missed it too much.
    I’ll probably go back once again soon as there are many areas I haven’t seen yet.
    Recently I travelled around China for a full month ad loved it so much that I want to go again!
    There are too many countries too visit on this planet, I know for sure that I won’t visit them all in my lifetime that is why I appreciate the ones I visit THAT much! It’s an honour to discover a new place, to be able to behold such beautiful sceneries (and some ugly too!)
    Planet Earth is just perfect <3

  5. John
    LI NY
    July 13, 2013, 1:12 pm

    Great article and perspective on travel. I hope to get to Iceland one day. Hope you get to experience Rome soon amazing people food and history.

  6. Sophie Carr
    July 13, 2013, 6:15 pm

    I’m totally with you! I love going back to places that I love – I think of it as my guilty travel pleasure – it sometimes feels indulgent going back to a beloved place with so much else to explore. Earlier this year I went back to Iceland for a 5th time – I’ll never “do” it, because there’s always more to see (and I wont’ ever get bored with the amazing place!). I live in London, but I’ll never have “done” this city either – how can you?! I went to Rome recently and people had always teased me that I’d been to the ends of the earth, but not Rome (I saw a tiny part and would love to go back again to see more). But hey, I’d rather go to Chile again, or Iceland (or lots of other places) than go to another place just to tick it off a list.

  7. Natalie
    July 15, 2013, 10:57 am

    Thanks for a very true piece of writing. Especially as a tour leader you are coming back to places a lot of times and I never have been bored since! PS: I am in Alaska right now, you should come up here, even it’s a new place;)

  8. Megan
    July 15, 2013, 3:08 pm

    Thank you, Andrew, for articulating so well how I feel about travel and how to answer the oft asked “Don’t you want to go somewhere new/else/different?”

    “This is why I go back—because the story is not over, and sometimes (not always), the sequel is better than the first one.” Yes, Andrew, yes.

    …and I see you did sneak on board that ship after all. Blessings and happy travels.

  9. Michaela
    United States
    July 16, 2013, 12:24 pm

    Great article. I’m traveling around Europe right now, and every day I’m absolutely humbled and thrilled to see such amazing places. It’s also comforting to know that, no matter how much time I have (or don’t have), there will always be more to see.

    Thank you and good luck!

  10. Judy
    July 16, 2013, 12:49 pm

    The air on my arms stand up when I hear someone say : I have done Cuba or done this or that place. Well done you, voicing the reason.

  11. Ginger Carney
    United States
    July 16, 2013, 6:00 pm

    Thank you for giving us “permission” to return to the places we love. I travel for the adventure, for seeing new cultures and trying new things, but I have always had a bit of sadness in my heart when I leave because I feel the world is such a big place, I don’t have time to see the same thing twice. Thanks to your article, I realize, nothing is ever the same thing twice. Bravo.

  12. KayteinLA
    Los Angeles
    July 17, 2013, 1:37 am

    I agree that most of the time when I leave a place, I’m already thinking about going back. There’s always an interesting balance between discovering new places and people and going back to revisit the places and people that I love.

  13. Bobbi Lee Hitchon
    July 17, 2013, 7:38 am

    So true and beautifully written. When I started traveling I wanted to fit in as many countries as possible as fast as possible. I was spending only a day in some places. Somewhere along the line I realized how silly that was and became overcome with emotional attachments to certain places that make me go back again and again, rather than continue on a life of travel checklists. Some places just stay with me and I need to go back. No matter how many times I visit London, I’ll want to visit again.

  14. […] spent five months of the last year here. The day I was returning I read Andrew Evans post on why he goes back to places he has already been. Not that I needed affirmation on my decision, but this article […]

  15. Kevin Revolinski
    United States
    July 17, 2013, 8:32 am

    Great stuff. As I was reading I started thinking of Guatemala –right before you referred to it. I spent a week there in 1999 and decided to go back for a month in 2000 with the intention of “doing” the country. I started in Xela and never got out. Went home and announced my “retirement” (I had a teaching contract and during breaks I started moving my things down there to live for a year.) I could never be done with that place. “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” Words to live by.

  16. Barruch
    Washington D.C.
    July 17, 2013, 9:49 am

    This was really interesting, thanks Andrew!

    I think many of us who are travel enthusiasts have a fear not of an infinite world (where admitting that by visiting a place once you really haven’t “done it”) but rather of very finite time. We work, we play we eat, we sleep, we love, we travel we… and there is only so much time to do it all. It is this fear of running out of time that I think may cause people to belittle a place by “doing it” rather than recognizing that a lifetime spent living there may only scratch the surface.

    You have the luxury of experiencing places multiple times as part of work, play, eating sleeping etc. As a result, you are able to distill out some of the nuances that we, as casual travel enthusiasts, may have (likely have) missed. Moreover, you have traveled enough to know that you don’t, and probably won’t, know a place no matter how many times you pass through its borders. That said, can we really blame people for wanting pull out their own slice of the travel pie and claim it for themselves? You have never been to Rome, Alaska or Beijing, but you will go. I have never been to Tanzania and I likely wont…

    We live in a world where the luxury of the global experience is not dolled out equally. If people want to prescribe the cult of “doing” a location, I say let em’ have it! It may be as good as they are going to do. Also, there is no use in being bothered when you hear them say it either. Empathize with their constraints on time and feel blessed with how you get to spend your own…


  17. […] title relates to a blog post I read earlier today on National Geographic Traveler about tourists “doing” a destination, i.e. “We’ve done Paris”. […]

  18. Stan Gray
    July 23, 2013, 7:06 am

    Excellent article. Thanks for writing it.

  19. Links For the Soul | Feeding Ethan
    August 8, 2013, 2:52 pm

    […] Evans, the National Geographic’s Digital Nomad talks about why he goes back to a place he’s already been rather than exploring a new place. I understand it might be easier for someone who travels for a living. Yet, there is definitely […]