I handed over my stamp-laden passport, the immigration officer stamped it without much more than a precursory glance, looked up at me and said, “Welcome home.”
That’s it?? I’d been out of the U.S. for 15 months, been to about 35 countries and that’s all I got? No red, flashing lights went off on his computer. No hour-long interrogations?
I made my way to the train and into the heart of Manhattan. I was in a bit of a daze and overwhelmed. Lights flashed, diverse masses scurried about in a semi-orderly fashion on the sidewalk, and noise was all around me, noise I couldn’t drown out, because I understood it all – the noise of English being spoken. I was home.
We often hear about the post partum depression for women who’ve just given birth, well what if you’ve given birth to this huge trip and turned your world upside down by seeing the world?
You go off seeking adventure and that’s just what you get. Your daily life involves hiking mountains, trying new foods, being challenged to be understood in a world of foreign languages and turning strangers into friends. It can be tiring, but consistently rewarding. It’s a natural high thanks to the constant newness that completely contrasts the routine drudgery of what constitutes a ‘normal life’ in today’s society.
Life is also totally under your control. You want to hang out in Berlin for a few more weeks, you certainly can. There is no idiotic co-worker driving you crazy. There are no annoying bills in your mailbox. Everyday you wake up to a new adventure and can do whatever you want.
So what happens when you return? How do you downshift back to reality? Or do you downshift at all?
Reverse Culture Shock
They say the hardest part is returning – it’s the biggest culture shock of all – coming back home to this other reality, to boredom, to being on auto-pilot just coasting through life, to constant marketing and materialism. Don’t get me wrong, I have things and like some things, but even before traveling I never got caught up in this blitz. And, now more than ever, I see how much we are bombarded with advertising and how wasteful we are as a society in general. We buy and throw away without a second thought. From paper towels to computers… we consume and throw away, fill up our landfills, rinse and repeat.
I have felt all these aspects of the reverse culture shock – perhaps not all at once because I tried to ‘stay away’ or kept ‘going away’ even when I returned. In fact I am still living out of a bag, what’s left of my belongings are still in storage, and I have not completely settled down yet. Perhaps this is my way of slowly coming back to reality or never really coming back to the same reality ever again. And I am just fine with that. Life is too short to do the same thing and then die. No thanks.
How to Help Post Travel Depression
Things to avoid:
- Getting sucked in to watching too much TV. For about 3 years I barely watched TV at all let alone even had it in the room or hotel I was staying in. It can be enjoyable at times and a distraction from other life issues, but there are so many better things we can be doing.
- Feeling the ‘need’ to follow too much media about senseless issues (ie Jon & Kate? Who are these people and why do I care?). Being aware of world events and news is good; surmising if Jennifer and Brad will ever get back together is ridiculous.
- Eating too much – We eat so much more in this country than we need to AND so much of that is barely real food. Strive to continue to eat as fresh as you were when traveling.
- I went for years without a cell phone. I still sometimes forget mine at home now and ONLY have a prepaid phone – no bill, no contracts, just pay-as-you-go and I like it. I don’t NEED to chat endlessly on the phone just because everyone around me is. I still prefer face to face meetings something that was impressed upon me from my time in Istanbul.
- Try to not jump right back in the rat race. If you can, spend time with family and friends, travel around your home state and country and see it all in a whole new light.
Things to do:
- Stay in touch with new friends from travels. With email and Facebook this is so easy and fun.
- Keep the learning going… if you loved salsa dancing in Latin America – find a salsa class at home. Miss the tasty spring rolls in Vietnam? Seek out a cooking class. If you miss the challenge of chatting with locals in another language… take a language class. I just received Rosetta Stone’s French Lessons in the mail. Go to museums, check local magazines and newspapers for other cultural meetings and groups.
- Meet new friends back home. In larger cities there are expat groups or other travel groups (meetup.com and Couchsurfing.com) that give you the opportunity to get together for a drink or coffee with like-minded people.
- Couchsurfing – Sign up to be a host. You can meet and show others from abroad around your town. Return the favor for the hospitality you received while traveling.
- Volunteer with travelers/tourists: Contact your local tourism department to see what’s going on. Free services like Chicago Greeter and Big Apple Greeter are always looking for volunteers to give visitors a taste of your city from a local’s perspective.
- Volunteer at your local Youth Hostel to meet travelers from all over the world and live vicariously through them.
- Let yourself feel sad or different. What you just did and saw was BIG… don’t try to ‘get over it.’
- Reminisce – look at your photos, think about your trip, share stories with those who really are interested.
- Share – You’ve learned so much while traveling. Hold on to this. Share it with others. Maybe your experiences will teach and/or inspire others, maybe not to travel, but just to be more aware of the world around them.
- FINAL POINT: start planning your next trip! Just because the BIG one is over (for now), that doesn’t mean the traveling is over. Keep traveling when and where you can! There’s a big world out there to see. Get going.
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No single country can hold you. You truly belong to the world. If we ever send a spaceship to Mars to meet the martians, I'm going to everthing I can to make sure we send you to meet them. You could tell them, I'm Lisa, I'm an Earthling. After a day or two, over Martian tea, you'd be speaking their language.
I've enjoyed reading about your adventures. I'm sure it is pretty weird to just change gears and go back to regular life. Though I've never traveled like you're describing, I know the bittersweet feeling of coming home. One good thing about it is that you see the place through new eyes. Welcome home.
Quotes of Melvin
Thank you so much for posting this article. I also enjoy traveling in my spare time, although I can say I haven't visited too many countries like you have.
Culture shock is one of the things that concerns me. The feeling of wanting to go back and experience the fun again can be a bit hard sometimes. Like you said the reality, the boredom is aggravating.
The way I cope with it is treating every day like a vacation. I do sometimes feel I am working, living and playing in a different country.
Also, communication medium is so near reaching nowadays. You can talk to friends abroad with internet connection, FB, Twitter, etc. Exchanging photos, videos are very simple too.
Thanks for the tips! When I first got back from living 3 months in Europe, it was almost painful for me to return to real life. I was really sad for a while and tried my hardest to clutch onto the euphoria I felt while living in Germany. But, alas, it kind of wained. To keep my feels alive, I look at my photos a lot, change my laptop background to european pictures and I generally day dream all the time. Oh, and I discuss with my friends all the time about my trip as they have all been to Europe and other parts of the world.
Your advise on plan a next trip is so right. I am currently trying to save for Macchu Picchu and then a caribbean Christmas trip for 2010. We will see.
P.S., when is your book coming out?
great post and great tips! I went through that a few years ago and felt I was so confused…
I never thought about the "reality set in" but one day I have to come back home and that day I will remember what you said.
Thanks for sharing
The best way I cope with it is treating every day like a vacation day. I did sometimes feel I am working, living and playing in a different country. And it was son nice and effective.
That's a very important point about face-to-face meeting, whether for work or pleasure – nothing beats human contact (despite the brilliance of the internet and social networking). The only reason I flew an horrific amount of miles is because I have to be there, particularly in the Arab world. Their hospitality is something that Europe, or at least London, lacks.
The real question is, Lisa, what reality is – is it one thing (the normal work routine) or are there lots of different ways to live our lives, resources permitting? That's not an easy one to answer.
This post really struck a chord with me. I've never reacted well to the coming home part and it doesn't feel overly dramatic to call it almost a grieving process.
I think your final point about beginning to plan your next trip is so important. It's so easy to get sucked into home life and idea that, you've had your fun, so now you have to settle down and be a sensible member of society!
But it's always nice to know others feel the same way. I think some of us are just not meant to join the rat race.
Thanks for this lil gem.
I just returned home to canada from having lived abroad for 3 years then spent a 4 th year traveling all around Asia.
Reading this was like articulating all my feelings & unarticulates thoughts in my mind.
Jenn- So glad it helped you. There are a lot of us out there who know exactly how you feel.