The one place

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I’ll be back here again.

If travel was a pop song, this would be the catchy chorus that gets repeated half a dozen times throughout.  Whatever other tangents the verses might take, no matter how unusual the bridge or solo might be, there’s no escaping the chorus’s familiar refrain.

Show me a traveller and I’ll show you someone who has uttered that phrase.  Whether it’s the package tourist who realises that one night in Paris is only about a dozen nights too few, the round the world backpacker whose visa and money run out after falling in love with a tiny village in the highlands of Borneo, or any of the other thousands of people every day that have to move on from somewhere that they just aren’t ready to leave, we’ve all declared – with utmost sincerity – that this moment will not be the last time that we draw breath on this particular patch of the planet.

And yet, more often than not, it is.  Life continues on in its inexorable way with ever new places to visit, new people to meet and new experiences to have.  Time and money are both limited resources and it’s always easier to justify spending them on the potential of the unknown rather than the relative certainty of the known.  I’ve been as guilty of this as anybody else – while I’ve managed to make it back to a few of the many, many places to which I’ve vowed to return, they are so much in the minority that it’s not even funny.  All of the rest sit uncomfortably on The List in some kind of netherworld between ‘must see before I die’ and ‘been there, done that’, resembling nothing more than that painful home renovation project that gets started but never quite completed.

So I got to thinking – if the magic travel genie appeared in front of me and offered to take me back to just one of these wonderful places, where would it be?  Of all of the spots on the globe where I’d belted out that catchy chorus and yet never returned to sing the final bars, to which one would this granter of wishes be whisking me away?  It took me quite a while to decide, but after eventually discarding such worthy candidates as Boston and Ithaca, Florence and Amsterdam, Hoi An and the Scottish highlands, the one place became clear.


Ten years ago I spent a couple of days either side of Christmas in this small, landlocked country as part of a month long overland trip through Eastern Africa.  Having had such a wealth of highlights on that trip, it really should be almost impossible to narrow down a single place that stands out above all of the rest – and yet when I find myself reminiscing about that magical month, it is Malawi to which I return in my mind time and time again.  Spotting the Big Five in the Masai Mara, exploring the history of Zanzibar, rafting the Zambezi and seeing in the millennium at Victoria Falls were all incredible, almost unbelievable experiences, but it was the beauty and simplicity of life in one of the poorest countries on earth that made me declare at the time that one day, I would come back.  More than the brilliant sandy beaches and abundant wildlife of the lake that dominates the country, the open hearts and ready smiles of the people living in the towns and villages nearby opened my eyes and mind to a way of life that I never knew existed.

And yet for all of that, reflecting from the vantage point of a decade later, I realise that the reasons that I would choose Malawi as my ‘one place’ are as much to do with what I didn’t do there, as what I did.  The limitations of an organised tour – no matter how great a trip it was – meant that it was time to move on long before I was ready, and by necessity the parts of the country that I saw were only those that fitted into the driving schedule between Tanzania and Zambia.  Next time, I’d like to spend some significant time in the highlands as well as near the lake.  More importantly, I’d also like to give a lot more back directly to the local community on my next trip, both financially and in other ways.  With everything that I feel Malawi gave to me in those few days, giving something back seems the least I could do in a country that while it has made significant progress in the last several years, is still desperately poor and ravaged by the crippling effect of HIV/AIDs.

Will I ever get back to Malawi, or will it forever remain at the top of that special section of The List?  I honestly don’t know – my travel plans are always too fluid to have any idea what will be happening more than a year or two from now – but I truly, truly hope so.

With or without the assistance of the travel genie.

[Photo courtesy of Rueben Poon]

So where is the one place that you would return to above any other, and why?  Join the discussion below!

24 Responses to “The one place

  • Dean Marshall
    9 years ago

    New York. Spent only a little time there, and really feel that you need to spend a lot of time in NY, exploring and learning about it’s history. For a country with a short time in history, the USA has given us a lot things, some good, some bad. And the Eastern seaboard, including NY, is one of the starting points of that history. Some amazing architecture, odd ball places and people, and incredible culture, NY tops the list of one of the places to revisit!

  • Totally agree – in fact the only reason that it didn’t make my list for this post is that I actually did make it back to NYC after saying that I would! I still want to go back again … and again … and again though. It’s just one of those incredible places…

  • Bec Mitchell
    9 years ago

    I would spend a long time in France, for the whimsical romance of being fully absorbed into the culture. Both more time in Paris ( and get to that pesky Musee D’Orsay other than a Monday! ) and plenty of time in the countryside. I can definately recommend cycling and canal boating and a perfect little Chocolaterie in Charite Sur Loire!! At Easter!! The bridge there is one defended against the English by Joan of Arc and spans one of the last “wild” part of the Loire which is now being preserved as a wetlands sanctuary for birds and wildlife.

  • Yeah great, thanks Bec … I really needed another place to add to The List! 😀

    Canal boating through the French countryside, in particular, sounds just terrible….

  • Dean Marshall
    9 years ago

    We could go on and on about these places, eh? Italy comes to mind, want to explore the history of Rome, the canals of Venice, Sicily, the supercar factories of Modena….Greece, want to spend more time there. Want to explore more of Washington State. Want to take Susie and Jake to British Columbia (I’ve been there quite a few times, but it never gets tiring!)…so many places in Canada. And these are just lists of places I’ve been! What about where I want to go…that list is huge!

  • Christine
    9 years ago

    For me iy would have to be Bulgaria, in particualr the Rila Monastery, the home of the Eastern Orthodox version of Christianity. It is a truly special place, high in the Rila mountains. it is everything good about a place with a spiritual connection and is in stark contrast to the overt commercialism of its counterpart in Rome. It has an authenticity, peacefulness and stunning beauty that left its mark on me.

    But if I cannot travel thereagain in my lifetime, then I guess my overall most special place is home – where the people I care about most are or where they return to.

  • Nigel Dean
    9 years ago

    There is always a place that stands out in one’s mind as a stunning moment. It may not even necessarily be one of those famous tourist “must go” places. One that stands out in my mind is the town of Westport on the west coast of Ireland. We walked down to the waterfront as the sun was setting and saw the most fantastic views of Croagh Patrick partially shrouded in cloud with the sun shining across the water. To say it was magical would be understatement.

  • Michelle
    9 years ago

    South Africa…. For too many reasons to list.

  • Mei-Ling
    9 years ago

    This is such a good question.. It’s near impossible choosing just the one place, but if I had to, it would be Rome. We went there as a birthday treat for one long weekend. It felt so idyllic.. the food, the atmosphere, the amazing sights steeped in so much history. Unfortunately, one long weekend was never going to be long enough to really explore Rome.. or Italy for that matter. The city and the country warrants so much more time to explore and really appreciate. Maybe we’ll be able to do a month long visit one day..

  • Valerie Looi
    9 years ago

    So this is a tough one. I must say, the ET part of me says “there’s no place like home”…so Brisbane it is! 🙂
    But Brisvegas aside, as the appeal there is not related to travel…hmm…Alaska, the inside passage cruise is a MUST as is Denali & Whitehorse in the Yukon. Macchu Picchu & the Amazon…yep, but from the Brazil side of the Amazon rather than the Peruvian side next time.
    The Calleabut chocolate factory in Switzerland is a definite MUST return…plural that. Makes the cadbury chocolate factory seem like ‘homebrand’
    But I think Norway it is above those…I did the Norway in a Nutshell tour in winter, and swore then & there that I would return to do the same trip in summer. Unbelievable…Nærøyfjord is like Milford or Doubtful Sound, on steroids. The Flam railway down the mountain with the frozen waterfalls & sun gleaming of them, the sheer cliffs of the boat trip, the countryside between Bergen, Flam & Myrdal is unbelievable.
    But then there’s all the places as yet untravelled…Hmm.

  • Valerie Looi
    9 years ago

    BTW, as an aside…if travel was a pop song…then maybe we wouldn’t like it!

  • @Valerie – if travel was a pop song, we’d probably get sick of it a lot sooner! All of your places sound awesome (you know I’ve got a soft spot for South America as it is) – I went to a chocolate factory near Zurich but I can’t remember the name of it now for the life of me, but Norway does sound like something particularly special…

    @Mei-Ling – Rome is something really quite special eh? I know my few days there was nowhere near enough – and I also know I’ll be back again without a doubt! Must go and check out those Italian classes again, come to think of it…

    @Michelle – it’s not often words escape you 😉

    @Mum & Dad – thanks for stopping by to comment! Your two places sound wonderful, and as I’ve never been to either, I’ll happily take your word on both of them. And add them to the list. Like everywhere else……

  • Leon Nicaragua to visit the family I stayed with to learn Spanish.

  • Dang, tough question! Mine would be Cape Breton.

  • Definitely Iceland 🙂

  • Three places I’ve never been … and three places I suspect I’m going to have to get to!

  • Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica! Great surf and good vibes. 🙂

  • Berlin! I have fallen in love with this city, the atmosphere, the people, the parks, the history, …
    I will be back 🙂

    By the way, I’ve spent hours reading your blog and I like the way you are able to depict your travel’s feelings and doubts.

    I will be back!


    • Thanks so much!

      And I’ve never been to Berlin but everyone tells me I need to get there yesterday…

  • Dave- I missed this post when it went up, but I also share your love of Malawi. Such wonderful people and a beautiful little country 🙂 There are plenty of places I’d love to go back to but some include Bali, Kenya, and Spain. I’d also love to explore Thailand and Laos further. (I know you said one but I’m not good at following the rules)

  • I’ve been wanting to go to Libya for the last year and a half, it looks amazing, might be a while now though…

    I wrote about it and posted some photos last year on one of my blogs:

  • Cape Foulwind, South Island, New Zealand
    Katahdin, Maine, USA

  • Agreed. Malawi is the one. It will be my third time this April and will be my second home forever. Still have to travel to many places in the world but I doubt you can find people like the one living in the Warm Heart of Africa!


  • Switzerland. Of course there’s a lot of places that I’d like to go back, but Switzerland has to be my first «second time.» I come from Canada, but Switzerland is my second home, and it will always be.

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