The problem with bucket lists full of locations around the world is that the temptation to go somewhere new is often too difficult to resist.
I’ve already been there, you think. I should go to Machu Picchu, or Japan, or Australia, or the Arctic — somewhere I haven’t been before.
I think that’s why, most of the time, people choose to visit a place just once and then move on to the next destination on their list, whichever destination beckons to them.
But the benefit — the beauty — in returning to places you’ve already been is that you get to see them anew.
You get to notice the minute details, devote entire days to aimless wandering, and view the familiar with fresh perspective.
You get to add the word “again,” to your descriptions — not in a repetitive way, but in a way that is familiar, comfortable, loved.
And, by visiting a place you’ve already been, you’ll find that the time spent there becomes less about the place itself and more about the people you experience that place with.
By experiencing a place with someone new, you get to watch as they pick up on things you don’t, as they view the world in a completely different way.
That’s what I got to do when I returned to London for a third time, and I was lucky enough to be joined by my younger sister, Alison. Though we’ve both traveled extensively, we’d never done so together — our only joint “travel” experiences were family vacations growing up.
But since we’d both been to London, and had both already visited the top landmarks and seen the most important sights, we were able to fill our days in other ways, cameras in hand.
We took pictures and talked about movie facts as we walked along Portobello Road in lightly falling snow. We chatted with a friendly man at the half-price ticket booth in the Leicester Square Station. We saw one show and two musicals in just five days and listened to an all-women jazz ensemble on another night. We wandered around Marylebone, Covent Garden, Hyde Park, South Bank, Hoxton, Camden, and Piccadilly Circus.
We lamented the scaffolding that covered Big Ben, then unsuccessfully searched for the man I had previously met in Parliament Square. We spent far too much time in Daunt Books and shared a snack while we marveled at the British Library. We photographed our fellow visitors at the British Museum, stumbled upon a movie premiere, circled Sky Garden until we’d exhausted ourselves, and had too much to drink one night at the Alchemist.
We made new inside jokes, bought the exact same T-shirts after seeing Hamilton, and went the wrong way on the Tube at least once (okay, maybe twice — and it was definitely my fault). We laughed, we cried, we ate, we walked, we waited, we listened, we drank; we were content.
The time we spent in London wasn’t all-encompassing. I’m sure there are things we missed, corners we should have turned, people we should have talked to, and things we should have done.
But, if given the chance, I don’t think I’d change anything about our five days in London.
Those five days taught me so much about my sister — how she sees the world, what she thinks about, and, yes, how bad she is at making decisions. I’ve always known that we are scarily similar, but London showed me how beautiful that is, and how incredibly lucky I am to have someone whose soul is so like my own.
Once, while exploring the National Gallery’s gorgeous rooms (not for the art, per se, but for the setting of the museum itself), I sat on a cushioned bench to give my aching feet a bit of a break. I looked at some of the photos I’d just taken, checked my phone for texts, and then settled in and let myself relax. Alison followed suit.
Neither of us talked — we didn’t need to. Slowly, the hum of quiet conversation and muffled footsteps on the creaking floors led me to sleep. I dozed off, right there in the middle of the museum, letting jet-lag temporarily take over. It was just so comfortable.
When someone sat down next to me a little while later and the motion accidentally jostled me awake, I apologized to Alison. She didn’t care; she’d dozed off too. “Okay,” I said. “Just five more minutes.”
We leaned together, still bundled in our coats and scarves, and closed our eyes.