Looking back, sometimes I worry that I didn’t do Japan “right.” I didn’t sing my heart out to 90s tunes at a karaoke bar or drink a cup of pour-over in coffee-obsessed Tokyo. I didn’t stay up til the wee hours of the morning drinking Yamazaki whiskey with “salarymen” nor did I eat Japanese curry on the same plate as Italian spaghetti. Did I fail Japan?
Every traveler has a vision of what a place will be like before they visit. Each city triggers something different for everyone. Some travelers chase the touristy landmarks, others despise anyplace not crowded with pure locals. Some only consume food from their native homeland while traveling abroad while some, like me, dive into local cuisine with full force.
My dreams of Japan were of busy intersections, sashimi rice bowls and ancient temples. All of those things I successfully checked off my list. And my expectation of Japan was not to see a landmark; I went in search of a feeling. I wanted to feel a connection with the land of my ancestors and get a deeper understanding of my heritage with my parents. That, too, I accomplished triumphantly.
Is it ok to return home from a trip still anxious to visit the place again? Absolutely. People often ask me why I return to the same cities over and over. But every time I go back to New York City the experience is vastly different. I go armed with new knowledge and venture more and more outside of my former comfort zone, therefore creating a completely different trip than the time before.
Today I am returning to Chicago for my third time. I’ve already eaten deep dish pizza, taken the architecture tour, seen the famous Bean and gone to the opera. This time, my friend Meagan and I plan to venture beyond the touristy task list and experience a different side of the Windy City. Oh, who am I kidding; we’re just going to eat at all the amazing restaurants!
So next time I go to Japan, I’ll sing karaoke, I’ll drink too much and stay out too late with the locals and I’ll eat even weirder things than last time. Or I’ll make a plan to. And if I don’t get to all of them? Then that’s ok, too.
In the end, there is no right—or wrong—way to travel. Whether you do everything suggested in the guidebooks or not a single thing it recommends, the only thing that matters is that you’re experiencing something. Even if it’s your 20th time in the same city. First and foremost, traveling is a personal journey, even when you’re with other people, and secondly, it’s an adventure. And no adventure can ever be a wrong one.