Coming home after an around-the-world trip, or any extended travel for that matter, can be daunting. Is it as daunting as selling everything you own, saving like crazy, and then throwing caution to the wind and stepping on a plane with one-way tickets? Probably not. But your entry back home should require some thought before you leave on your grand adventure.
I'll admit that other than thinking about the "nest egg" amount we wanted to come home to, who we'd be crashing with initially, and where we wanted to move to eventually, we didn't give much thought to the coming home part of a round-the-world trip. And while we might have tackled some of the more practical issues, we didn't even know to consider the emotional side of returning from a trip around the world.
It wouldn't be until about five months into our trip that we'd even stop to consider the sadness we might feel after our trip was over. We were on a boat in the Galapagos Islands and our new friends Becky and Andy, who were on their honeymoon, were telling us how hard it is to return home after extended travel. They had been on an around-the-world trip earlier in the year and re-entry back into life in the UK was more than difficult. Andy, in particular, told us how boring he found everyday life to be again when only weeks before he had been on a local bus in Laos. Every aspect of the everyday was mundane. Every part of him desperately wanted to be on the road again. And they both told us to give ourselves time to be sad when we got home again.
We listened to their warnings, but I'll admit, I didn't think that would happen to us. When we returned home from our trip we'd be moving to a new city – Washington, DC – a city full of life and culture and people from around the world. We thought it'd be a new page in our adventure together, and we were sure that life wouldn't be so bad after our trip.
But something about Andy's story must have stuck with us because several months later we found ourselves asking Paul and Caroline, other backpacker friends of ours, about their experience. They had just returned to Leeds after a year of exploring South America and the US, and we were their first visitors to their home since they'd been back. We asked if it was as bad as Andy described, would we find ourselves sad at the end of our trip? And although they disagreed on the degree of the sadness, they both agreed that yes, we'd most likely feel pretty sad.
And so it is in that spirit that I share with you these words: If you're planning a trip around-the-world then you're about to embark on a truly wonderful adventure in life. Like any great adventure, there will come a time when it's over. And when it is over you will most likely feel a sense of loss. Some travelers handle this better than others. (Tim, for example, handled it much better than I did...probably, in part, because he was taking care of me!) Some might be able to lose themselves in work. Some might fit back into the swing of things without missing a beat.
But my guess, both from our travels and from all the friends we've met along the way, is that you'll probably be sad after your trip is done. And if you're like me and a few of our traveler friends, that sadness might last upward of a year. And you know what? That's okay. And when it happens, I hope you'll remember reading this entry and I hope you'll remember that what you're feeling is normal. You'll know you've just been infected quite seriously with the travel bug.
You'll be hit two ways when you come home from traveling: emotionally and practically. Luckily you can plan ahead for the practical side (and we'll get to that part later). Unfortunately you can't do much to prepare for the emotional side, but knowing what you might expect does help a bit. So like Andy and Paul did for us, let's talk about some of the things you might face when you return home again.
When we returned home, any mention of traveling put me into a tailspin. The excitement of living on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC didn't hold a candle to the sadness I felt. Our traveler friends had been right to warn us. I couldn't watch travel shows on television and I loathed any travel blog I came across online. Even reading through our own stories made me sad. "That used to be us," I'd think, forgetting that it was still us and always will be. During this time, Tim was able to look forward, while I was only only looking back. I thought the best part of our life was over, and I needed to avoid any reminders of it.
If that's the case for you too, then follow your instincts and stay away from any travel-related things for a bit. Other folks, though, might want to seek out fellow travelers so they can still feel connected to traveling. Search out gatherings of fellow backpackers. Become active in an online travel forum like Thorntree. Start following the travels of those who are still out on the road. Keep in touch with all the friends you made while traveling. If it works for you, then do whatever you can to feel like you're traveling even when you're not.
If you'll be crashing with family or friends when you first get home, remember that going from being on your own traveling around the world to living with others is a bit of an adjustment. Some cases will be rockier than others, so make sure to get out of the house and give yourself (and them) space whenever you can. Just as you had to adjust to new countries all around the world, you'll have to adjust to being home again. And after a trip around the world, you've probably grown pretty accustomed to only focusing on your schedule and your needs each day. Now that you're home and crashing with someone, try to remember you're not just in another hostel or hotel where you can be inward-focused and anonymous whenever you want to.
It might feel like nothing much changed while you were away. Given all that you've seen, and most likely how much you've changed, this can feel pretty surreal. Your family and friends might seemed bored that all you want to do is talk about your trip. (Thankfully that wasn't the case for us...or at least, they never let us know if it was the case!) You might feel out of place because no one can relate to your stories. Acquaintances might expect you to sum up your year around the globe in a few quick sentences, while they spend the next two hours telling you all about their annual three-day vacation to Wichita, Kansas.
People who have never been bitten by the travel bug might say things like, "It's good that you traveled while you're young" or "I'm glad you've gotten that out of your system" or "How wonderful that you had such a once in a lifetime opportunity." Ignore them as best you can and try not to take their (most likely) well-meaning but (usually) ill-placed sentiments to heart. People who have never been bitten by the travel bug don't understand the heartache that comes from being home again. And they never understand that travel is not just a one-time thing.
Aside from knowing ahead of time about the emotional side of returning home again, there are some practical things to consider too. But unlike the emotional aspects, many of these matters are things you can tackle before before hitting the road.
Where will you be staying when you get home? Will you be staying with friends or family? Make sure you communicate clearly when you'll be coming home and how long you'll need to crash with them. If your return date changes while you're traveling, double-check that you'll still be able to stay with them. Understand their expectations from the start: everything from if you need to pay them rent to sharing housework duties. The last thing you want to do after coming home is get into squabbles with loved ones about the dishes. If you're one of the lucky ones who will be returning to your own house that you might have rented out, make sure your tenants know when they need to be gone by.
Will you be returning to your same job or will you be hunting for new work? Either way, make sure to keep contact with your co-workers and other professional acquaintances even when you're on the road. Websites like Facebook or LinkedIn are great ways to stay in touch without feeling like you're back in the office again. If you'll be applying for university or graduate school when you return home after your travels, make sure to stay in contact with professors who might be writing your letters of recommendation.
Think about how you'll get around to find a place to live or to land a new job when you're home again. Are there public transportation options where you'll be crashing when you get home? Is the area bike-friendly? Or, if you have one, do you need to get your car out of storage or borrow a car from someone else? Look into these options and their associated costs before your trip around-the-world so that you can reduce the amount of surprises you'll face once you get home.
Amongst all your brainstorming, make sure to allocate some of the money you're saving for your trip as a nest egg to come home to. We socked away $5,000 and didn't touch a cent of it (though we were tempted) while we traveled. That amount, for us, was enough for a few month's worth of living expenses as well as the first month, last month, and security deposit we'd have to pay for an apartment in Washington, DC. Depending on where you'll be living, you might not need quite so much.
Think realistically about all the "start up" costs you'll have for the first few months when you come home again. Add up what might be the cost of things like signing for a new apartment, car insurance and/or car registration, groceries, gas/bus money, cell phone coverage, and any other costs you know you'll have. And then set aside whatever amount you add up and don't touch it when you travel – yes, even if that means shortening your trip a bit. Trust me, your "re-entry" will be a whole lot easier (on you and your friends or family you're crashing with) if you don't have to get a 9-5 job to pay for everything the day after you get back into the country again.
Keep in mind that – like planning for your trip – planning for your return home won't guarantee everything goes smoothly. There will be bumps and surprises along the way. Through it all, though, just remember that by going on your round-the-world trip you've already pushed yourself more than most people do in a lifetime. If you got through three straight days of riding chicken buses, squished in with three adults and a baby in a two-person seat, all while having traveler's diarrhea then you can get through this too. I promise.
There's one more thing I want to leave you with today. It's the simplest solution to the post-travel blues that I wish I had known about ahead of time, and I'm hopeful it'll help you too.
The trick that finally helped me snap out of my funk was planning our next trip. Nearly a year after we returned home from our round-the-world travels, we received an email from our friend Klaus inviting us to Peru on a secret mission. We gladly accepted and spent the next few weeks planning. Buying our plane tickets, checking out hostels online, reading a guidebook about Lima, and just knowing we'd be stepping on a plane in a few months for another adventure began to lift my spirits.
Once we landed in Peru it was like getting a fix. I felt alive. I felt like myself. I felt like all my pieces were back together. And it was then that not only did I finally realize, but I truly believed, I will always be a traveler no matter where in the world I might be.
So when you get back home again, after the initial excitement of seeing friends and family wears off and once the shock of being home sets in, start planning your next international trip. It doesn't have to be a long one. (I promise, it doesn't.) Maybe just spend a week somewhere new, just something to keep you focused on moving forward. And something, above all else, that lets you see travel is never just a once in a lifetime thing.
If you enjoyed this story, you might also like these ones:
- Experiencing Life in Another Country
- TTT#2: Concerning Small Backpacks
- TTT#4: The Golden Hedgehog Awards for Lodging, Part 1
- In Defense of Traveling Your Way
- TTT #3: Top 13 Tips for a Long Bus Ride