The hardest part about travel isn’t leaving, it’s coming home.
I firmly believe that travel is good for both the body and soul. Whether it’s a long weekend in a nearby city or an eight month circuit around Southeast Asia (as in the case of my latest adventure), being in a new part of the world often changes people – and for the better. Whether you call yourself a backpacker, flashpacker, nomad or tourist, most people would agree that exploring new places, cultures, food and drink is a great thing.
Before a big trip you’re likely to be peppered with tons of questions about your upcoming plans from excited family, friends and even envious colleagues. Then during your trip you connect with several likeminded travelers, happily touring together or swapping tips on the next locale. What many don’t talk about nearly as much is the “post-travel blues” or the difficult adjustment period that some go through upon returning home.
Whether you’re returning from an epic week long beach vacation or entire year abroad, you’re likely to come back home on cloud nine. Then suddenly the adventure stops. Ocean sunsets are gone, replaced by traffic jams, credit card bills, exams or urgent reports. WTF?! We know how you feel. And you’re not alone. Post-travel blues, or the more technical term PTD (Post-Travel Depression), is real.
My Honest Experience:
In my case, the end of nearly eight months in ten countries across Southeast Asia also meant returning to Toronto without a regular day job and bunking with my Mom north of the city, as tenants continued to cover the payments on my condo. After finally acclimatizing to 30+ degree weather (often feeling over 40 with the humidex) during my travels, I was smacked with a markedly cold and rainy Canadian spring as a welcome home present. Insert repeated expletives here.
Beyond the literal weather shift, for weeks I struggled most with the tension between changes, or lack there of. Like many who travel for extended periods, I felt I had changed. And I’m not just talking about a darker tan and lighter bank account. I had made some great friends along the way, honed my diving skills, and discovered a serious love of photography. My experiences scuba diving some of the greatest reefs in the world, hiking the largest caves on earth, and ballooning over ancient ruins also brought me to hold even stronger beliefs about the importance of environmental protection and sustainable economic development. Though Toronto had a few new condo buildings added to its skyline and some friends had their first child, much of my old world hadn’t changed since I left. Same traffic jams. Same politics. Same sports team woes. Same topics of gossip. And same annoying person in front of me at Starbucks.
Naturally, I couldn’t help but draw comparisons between the food, culture and people from my travels to what now surrounded me at home. Doing so began to infuriate and ultimately sadden me. Seeing Toronto as overly expensive, the neighbourhood streets as eerily quiet or lacking community, and the people as wasteful and entitled (okay, perhaps I’m being overly harsh) doesn’t really help one to feel pumped about their surroundings. This was supposed to feel like home, but it didn’t.
It turns out, this feeling is common after extended travel, and one that I’ve seen and heard firsthand from others. In 2012, a close friend of mine backpacked Asia along with her boyfriend for over four months before relocating to Vancouver. Upon coming “home”, her displeasure with some of those around her was so strong that the couple effectively relocated to their family’s cabin north of the city for a month as they transitioned back into life in North America.
In my most recent travels I befriended Kate, a fellow Canadian who works as a professional lounge singer at luxury hotels around the world. Over the last seven years she’s done several three- to nine-month engagements across Asia and India. Each time she returns to Canada it feels more like a vacation than a homecoming. Maybe because she’s gotten better at making anywhere her home, or perhaps because what she considers home has changed. Her circle of Canadian (or local) friends and family can be counted on one hand; while the number of people she deeply connects with, residing all around the globe continues to grow. She engages less with old friends, instead making plans with new ones in far off lands because, like me, she has changed and those at home have not.
Leading travel blogger and general globetrotter Nomadic Matt has written extensively on the topic. He summarizes the frustration experienced by himself and other travelers, in that “You feel as if you came back to exactly the spot you left”. His site also has a strong community forum that he recommends as a helpful tool for those looking to connect to likeminded travelers to discuss the issue.
For many travelers, returning to the routine of work can weigh on them. No longer is your schedule free to explore new places on a whim, or simply sleep in. With a career in flux and no full-time day job, my return home was slightly different. It seemed I had all the time in the world (admittedly sleeping in too much became a bit of a problem). However, I also felt as if I had all the pressure in the world sitting squarely on my shoulders. After all, my goal wasn’t to be “fun-employed” forever. Should I return to my old company and job? Follow a new passion? Would I ever be able to take the time to travel like that again? Could I ever afford to travel like that again? What was my true career purpose? Not the lightest of subject matter.
I’m not saying it’s the solution, but thanks in part to a fortuitous tax return and knack for travel planning, I was able to overcome some of my post-travel blues by actually travelling again. Exactly four weeks after coming home, I flew to Aruba for a week of diving, beach and escape. Whether it was just avoiding the inevitable for a week, or an opportunity to get closure on my year of great adventure, the Aruba trip both calmed and excited me. It was just what I needed. However, I realize that “fleeing” to a Caribbean island is not a feasible solution to the post-travel blues for many fellow travellers. There are, shall we say, less dramatic solutions to post-travel blues.
Tips For Overcoming Post-Travel Blues:
What do they say about the first step being the hardest? It may be a bit awkward at first, but be honest with yourself about how you’re feeling and tell those around you. First recognizing how you feel and next processing your emotions is absolutely necessary in moving past the post-travel blues. It’s amazing how supportive friends and family can be if you open up to them. After sharing the basic pleasantries while reuniting with close friends, I would quite plainly begin to share my frustrations and fears. Trust me, your friends are far more interested in this type of conversation than hearing about your top five favourite sunsets abroad (for the third time).
Talk it out.
While the very problem of post-travel blues may stem from the feeling of not having anyone to genuinely talk to about your travels, talking still helps. Look to connect with like minded travelers or friends you met while abroad. Instead of being that annoying girl at work who starts every sentence with “One time in Europe…”. you’ll be reminiscing about Europe with the people who were actually there with you. If you’re willing to take it one step further, don’t just talk, but write about your travels. Departful is always looking for contributors from around the world with great stories to tell. Drop us a line!
Be a tourist at home.
While your official “trip” may be over, there is nothing stopping you from applying the same sense of adventure and exploration in your own home town. Particularly if you’ve been away for an extended period, there are bound to be some new things to discover – you just have to look for them. Trying new restaurants or visiting galleries, weekend markets, going on a brewery tour, or checking out a sporting event (basically anything you would have happily done while on the road) will help to feel the warm fuzzies of travel all over again. It may also disprove the notion that “nothing has changed” at home, or at least open your eyes to some of the greatness that has always been there.
Recreate a taste of your travels.
I’m a huge foodie, and like many others the food and drink I experience abroad are among some of my most cherished travel memories. What’s the point of taking a cooking class in a foreign country if you’re not willing to put it to use once you’re home? Recreate your favourite masamun curry, vegetarian stir-fry or even cherry pie recipe from your travels. Doing so literally connects you to those great memories in a new way, and is likely going to be one of your healthier and cheaper hobbies. At the very least, cooking a special meal is a nice way to thank the friend who drove you to the airport at 4:30am.
Plan the next adventure.
This is an easy one. Without risking bankrupting yourself, it’s totally fine to turn those day dreams into solid travel plans for the future. Plus, now that you’ve made new travel contacts, earned loyalty points and learned lessons along the way (overpack much?), you’re bound to be a savvier traveler for your next trip. Those new friendships abroad may also mean new travel companions or folks willing to offer their spare room to you for free.
Travel more often.
You may think this is counter intuitive – if a trip is what caused the post-travel blues in the first place, why go through it all over again? However, as I said at the beginning of this article, travel has a positive impact on the mind and body. The more you do it, the stronger both become. Try to view your time “home” and time “traveling” as both equally important and necessary parts of your life instead of opposing forces. In most cases, we need to be home to develop at work, nourish relationships and quite literally finance travel. We need time to travel to take stock of our lives, perhaps reset our work habits and teach us new things about both ourselves and the world around us. The two can work together to make us more balanced and happy travellers.