Destinations That Change and the People Who Change With them

I remember so vividly my first really proper international trip, to Johannesburg, South Africa 10 years ago. Though 10 years later I’m often tasked with the duties of documenting the highlights of destinations I visit, that first international trip was as much of a trip of lowlights (like our accommodations getting broken into twice and having a gun pulled on us in the township of Soweto) as it was of highlights (like attending my first professional rugby game and going on a safari through Kruger National Park).

Yet this summer has seen me do something that I largely hadn’t done before, and that’s revisit destinations abroad that I had previously traveled to. It’s brought with it a collection of experiences and feelings that only I could have had, and only I could have had in those destinations. It’s not a type of experience I could’ve had the first time I went to these countries, nor was it something I could have experienced without revisiting them. In that way, it felt like I was seeing the destination all over again for the first time.

A few weeks ago I landed in Johnnesburg, South Africa, 10 years after that initial visit, a two-month trip in South Africa (safari and all), my first real trip abroad. It’s a trip and destination that to this day, I refer to as my favorite trip and destination. It was a trip that turned me onto travel, which as a result, has led me to having a career in travel for more than six years. Leading up to my most recent South Africa visit, and on the trip itself, I kept hearing the same thing over and over, “You’re not going to believe how much it’s changed.” Yet as much as South Africa, and more specifically, Johannesburg, could have changed, the same could’ve been said about myself. 10 years ago I had arrived as an amateur traveler. A few weeks ago I arrived much more seasoned, invited to speak alongside Google, Facebook, Twitter, TripAdvisor and other major brands about my expertise on travel.

Maboneng Precinct, Johannesburg, South Africa
Maboneng Precinct, Johannesburg, South Africa

A couple weeks ago I walked the streets of Johannesburg’s Maboneng Precinct, my iPhone and camera out, snapping photos at every corner, as long-time Johannesburg local, William Price, showed me a reclaimed part of Johannesburg. We walked every inch of Arts on Main, an arts district in Maboneng, which comes alive on Sundays, with salsa dancing, vibrant art galleries, bartenders whipping up cocktails, artisans selling crafts, and local chefs making an eclectic range of food from around the world.

Arts on Main Johannesburg, South Africa
Arts on Main Johannesburg, South Africa

I walked around so wide-eyed, as every part of Arts on Main was a feasting of the senses. After eating what seemed like all of the food in the marketplace (there’s quite a lot of it), William took me upstairs to the top floor of the industrial space, housed primarily with retail merchants, artisans, and galleries. The first we entered, “iwasshot in joburg,” was lined with beautiful photos of Johannesburg. My eyes welled up as William shared with me the story of the gallery, which is the work of former street kids who have been given a camera and equipment to tell the story of Johannesburg through their own eyes, selling their work and making income from it.

 iwasshot in Joburg at Arts on Main

iwasshot in Joburg at Arts on Main

It felt like I was in a hip, urban neighborhood of the west coast, but no, this was Johannesburg, South Africa, the same place we had had guns pulled on us 10 years prior and had our place broken into multiple times. Then, I walked the streets of Johannesburg amidst a group, apprehensive of my surroundings. On this day, I walked by myself down Main Street, snapping photos with my iPhone at ever corner, without a care in the world. It truly had changed.

But as much as Johannesburg had changed, I too, had changed. On my last night in Johannesburg, as I waited for my flight home, I sat at the airport bar, writing about my experiences and comparing them to notes I had written 10 years prior from Johannesburg, South Africa. It was like I was reading the writings of two different people. The one, a naïve, college tourist who had largely taken life for granted and was quick to be alarmed, often seeing the world how he wanted to see it. The second, a more conscious traveler who despite the downs of life and travel had used it as opportunity to learn and progress, seeing the world as it actually was.

This trip was a reminder that while I am eager to visit far-flung destinations I’ve yet to experience, there’s something to be said for a trip that revisits a destination. It offers a certain travel experience that is missing from visiting a destination for the first time. As Marcel Proust put it, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”