Returning home after a year or more travelling the world is really really hard, and no-one ever talks about it.
Packing your bags and leaving your ‘normal’ life behind takes guts, but having done just that, I’d say returning takes far more courage. You’ve spent the world seeing things you never dreamed of, meeting some incredible people (and learning to cope with the less so great ones) forming intense friendships, changing location when you got bored, partying all night and sleeping all day if you felt like it, no timetable, no responsibilities beyond making sure you had enough cash for a bunk bed and street food. And then you decide to head home, say goodbye to these freedoms and figure out “what now?”
Don’t get me wrong, coming home after a long time travelling is exciting; getting hugs from mum, catching up with old friends, doing familiar things and seeing familiar places you’ve missed. When I first returned in 2014 I couldn’t wait to get home: it had been 18 months and I was starting feel like I’d lost some sense of direction, I wanted to see my family, catch up on everyone’s news and refocus myself. And let’s not forget, moving from place to place every week or month can get pretty exhausting! But after I’d seen how much my younger relatives had grown up, met my friends’ babies for the first time (which really did make me think “what the hell was I doing with my life?”) and had a pint in my favourite Edinburgh pub, the sheen of coming home started to wear off. What was I meant to do now? Go back to the 9-5, back to going to the same pubs, the same friends, paying 1000% times more for coffee that just doesn’t taste the same?
“But I’ve changed, I’ve grown as a person, I’ve explored the world and returned with a new perspective on my life and the things I value. I can’t possible go back to the same old same old!”
You might have found enlightenment on your travels, or you might, like I did, feel like the same you but with a wider appreciation for the world’s diversity and the enduring good in human nature. Either way, adjusting to ‘real life’ after travelling the world is tough. Whether you experience post-trip depression or just an unease at having to return to old routines, here are 7 tips to help you re-adjust that I wish I’d had first time round:
1. Be compassionate with yourself
Don’t be hard on yourself, it’s perfectly ok to feel out of place, to want to turnaround and walk right out that door again, you’re not being ungrateful or selfish. Some people might say you’ve been bitten buy the ‘travel bug’ but I think it’s more of a natural urge to stay on the move – you’ve been roaming the world on often little more than a whim for the past however long, it’s natural to be in this routine and to feel restless once you return. Understand this and try not to feel guilty if you are experiencing a post-travel comedown.
2. Give yourself time to adjust
Part of being kind to yourself is giving yourself time to adjust. Unpack your bags, wash all your clothes, organise your souvenirs into ‘stuff worth keeping’ and ‘tut’ (beer mats, cocktail stirrers, business cards that are never going to make it into that scrapbook). This can be a bit of cleansing process and should help you look forward to the next chapter in your life. If you just want to hang out with friends or sit in front the TV all day catching up on favourite TV shows you missed, go ahead! Of course, there might be things you’ll have to do, like find a job and get some cash coming in, but if you can, try living off your savings for a little bit longer, just while you get back into the swing of things – you can always start paying money back into your account once you’re earning again.
3. Give yourself a goal
When you feel like you’re ready, chose something to aim towards. Before I went travelling my aim was to save like a demon, while I was away I was focused on making sure I didn’t miss a thing, then I came back and it was like I had nothing to reach for except making back all of my savings that I’d been eating into, back to square one. Having a new goal, even if it was just finding a job so that I could begin another journey, was really motivational – and you never know where your newly found path might take you! I was also keen to get fit, to loose weight (too many Chang not enough cardio!) and this new goal helped me avoid looking back on all the cool stuff I’d done and longing to be back there. Take up a new sport, get back into cooking, learn a new language that you might one day use on your travels – it all helps refocus your mind and will stop you dwelling on past achievements.
4. Don’t live at home
If you can afford to, get your own place or find flatmates pronto! You parents and family probably missed you and will mean well. But after months living by your own rules, eating when and what you want, doing your own washing, having only yourself to rely on when it comes to daily life stuff, you might end up feeling slightly suffocated by it all. I found moving back home lovely at first, but it made it harder to adjust after living so independently for almost a year and a half. It’s even harder to move back home if you had your own place before you went travelling. It’s no-ones fault, everyone means well, and it’s wonderful to be around those you’ve missed the most, but it’s tricky, not anything personal.
5. Don’t talk about your travels all the time
I found that friends usually perceive only a slight change in you, so don’t waste your time trying to show them how much you’ve changed or ‘grown’. You know you had the time of your life, move on. While tubing in Vang Vieng was hilarious, or seeing orangutans in Borneo was just “the most emosh thing ever” the travel tales you’ll cherish forever won’t mean the same to people who weren’t there – they can’t share in that moment, it’s gone and you’re the lucky one to have it as yours, remember that! Anyway, you’re more than just your past experiences; focus on the present and what you’re doing now and you’ll have plenty of new and interesting stories to tell.
6. Accept that you’re not the only person who’s different
While travel is the world’s greatest gift, it’s still a luxury that a lot of people never get to experience. Everyone’s different and just because you might feel like you’ve been transformed, that doesn’t mean that everyone at home has stayed the same, waiting for you to return. Life moves on and those you left behind will have moved on too, some more than others; some of my friends had got married, had children, bought homes, all in the space of just less than two years! This means that some of the friends you had before you left will be just as close, just as eager to stay up ’til 4am hearing all about you’re adventures, while others will have new priorities. This doesn’t mean they don’t love you as much, it just means that you have to adjust to this different dynamic.
7. It gets easier
The first time I came back after being in Southeast Asia and the South Pacific was the hardest; I found it tough to come back and accept that everything was back to business as usual, that was until I actually looked around and realised that it wasn’t. Within a few months of returning I’d found a new job, met someone new, made a few new friends in Edinburgh and even managed to get my own one bedroom flat. You soon realise that while travelling is amazing, there are as many new adventures to be had at home and your next chapter can be just as exciting as the one you’ve just finished. Plus, the next trip need never be too far away!
I love travelling and I’ve got no regrets – the threat of post-trip blues haven’t stopped me from seeing the world. I’ve tried to be honest and I hope sharing my experiences helps show you that if you’re finding returning home after long-term travel difficult then you’re not alone. Share you’re stories in the comment section if you like and let’s help grow this discussion!