Zen Revisited

“I haven’t been everywhere but it’s on my list.” – Susan Sontag

Travel can lead to conflicting emotions and priorities. Consider the oft repeated Susan Sontag quote above and what it inspires. Most travellers know that it’s hard not to agree wholeheartedly with Sontag and want to keep exploring new places for the foreseeable future. Meanwhile they also know that it’s true that there is value in slowing down and savoring their surroundings in the present. That is the Zen way after all. But instead of being diametrically opposed, these conflicting priorities can be reconciled in order to achieve travel Zen.

The key to really enjoying a place is to keep finding reasons to revisit it.

Allow me to explain. Rushing from one place to another can be physically and mentally draining. Furthermore, a place rarely reveals its inner workings at first blush, so it’s important to keep an open mind to coming back when travelling somewhere new. When we breeze through somewhere we risk missing the chance to glimpse at the grit, soul and complexity that makes a place worth visiting in the first place.

While revisiting a place that inspired and excited you may not help you carve out any new notches in your belt, it can impart a wonderfully dichotomous sensation of wonder and familiarity. Just as a person can never truly come back home after being away for a spell, a place that one once visited doesn’t remain static, suspended in time waiting for you to come back. Seasons can impart a different feel, as can a high season versus low season dynamic. In short, there are many reasons to revisit a place that once brought you Zen.

Going to the Sun Road, Montana
I had been to Montana probably 5 times before I saw the famous Going-to-the-Sun Road.

My fondness for Montana illustrates this situation nicely. Whitefish and Glacier National Park are about five and a half hours from my Canadian home. Canada is so immense that I can drive in any cardinal direction for 5 hours and still be in Canada. Not much will change in those five hours, but Montana always feels like somewhere special. Somewhere just different enough to be exciting.

Revisiting Montana in Spring

Montana in spring greens up earlier than it does at home, so it is a good place to go when you’ve got a post-winter hiking itch. Whitefish in winter is full of out of town skiers and bars and restaurants bustle as if it were a big city. Glacier National Park in the fall is beyond magical and mostly free of the summer crowds.

Avalanche Lake, Spring in Glacier National Park
Avalanche Lake for some early season hiking

Each visit I am reminded of why I was so fond of it in the first place, but I also discover something that makes me want to come back. Whether a new restaurant, hiking trail or ski terrain, there’s always more to see, and more to look forward to discovering. Revisiting favourite old local haunts is also a great way to satisfy wanderlust urges while saving money and time for bigger adventures.

The pursuit of going everywhere is certainly a noble one, but so is getting to know and love a place for what it really is. Knowing when to do so will put you on the path toward travel Zen.



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