People always give you advice on what to do when you travel abroad. How to stay safe and adjust to the different moral and cultural norms. Which things to avoid, which things to try… But no one gives you tips on what you should do when you return home. How to deal with this emotional rollercoaster? How does it feel like to live in one place after years of traveling?
After spending two years of unforgettable adventures on the road, I was back where I started. Sitting on the couch in my old bedroom; bored, anxious, and nostalgic. The people I knew are all the same. They are still working the same job. Some of them got married. Some of them have kids. Other than that, there isn’t anything much different. The place feels the same like before I left. Why doesn’t it feel right anymore? It’s because I changed. And they don’t understand the new me. They don’t get it why do I feel so uncomfortable being back. Some of them might even think that I don’t like it here anymore.
Why is this happening?
Traveling is, indeed, the greatest teacher of them all. It starts by giving you this little thing called freedom. You’re far away from home and people here don’t know you. You don’t care about what they might say. You start doing things you couldn’t or were too afraid to do back home. Explore the world, meet new amazing people, fall in and out of love, see amazing places, live new cultures, go bungee jumping, swimming with sharks, riding elephants, hiking mountaintops, experiencing danger on the road… And suddenly, it’s all over when you go back.
It’s this freedom that traveling gives you that enables you to do all these things. You feel freer because traveling shows you that you’re just one little piece of a big jigsaw puzzle. Traveling enlightens you by showing you what a tiny place you occupy in the world. But very few people realize this. At least where I come from but I believe it’s more or less the same everywhere. If you’re one small piece, your country is a part of the puzzle that is the world. However, most people you know see the country as the puzzle itself. They don’t look beyond it. That’s why you feel that no one understands you anymore. That you have less in common with the people that used to be your best friends. And that’s sad. It only makes you want to leave again.
What happens when you go back home?
In the beginning, everything is nice and smooth. Everyone wants to meet you and talk to you. Ask about your adventures. You feel like a rock star. Then everyone starts asking the same questions. And you’re giving the same answers. Over and over again.
For some reason, everyone must ask what was your favorite place/country? I literally started hating this question. Every country it’s gorgeous in its own way. Of course, all countries and the people living in them are different. Hence, it’s logical to expect that they will be beautiful in different ways as well. But to notice it, you have to be open-minded. When traveling, you need to carry the beautiful inside you or find it you will not.
The question that normally follows is: “Yes, yes, that’s great. Now, when are you going to settle down? It feels like they didn’t even try to put any effort into listening what I was trying to say before. It was really frustrating in the beginning but then I realized that most people just don’t understand this because they didn’t travel as much as I did. And that’s one of the reasons why I feel like I don’t belong here anymore.
Like I said, chances are everything will be more or less the same when you come back home. But it will still feel difficult. There’s something inside of you that you can’t express to anyone because people don’t understand you anymore. Every time you try to do that, words fall flat. And that’s frustrating. In the late night hours, or early morning hours when you can’t sleep overthinking things and trying to understand what happened, this thing called wanderlust strikes again. This desire to see new places, meet new people, do new things…
The travel tax and why nothing feels right
Every time a friend comes back from a trip, they always ask me: “How do you go through this every time”? Going back home is difficult and a lot of people don’t understand this post-travel depression syndrome. It’s the end of your life-changing experience. And even though most of the things at home are the same, they just don’t feel the same. Because you’ve changed.
Time passes by. It’s been a few months and this is the longest time you’ve been settled for a while. The post-travel depression turns into an existentialist crisis. You still feel like a bird trapped in a cage but also you start wondering is it worth it to continue? Is it worth it trying to get out of the ‘cage’. You realize it will never be the same because the people you love and care about are scattered across the globe. Parts of you are scattered across the globe. That’s what you get for leaving a small piece of you behind. In all the places to go to. In all the people you meet along the way. That, my friend, is what I like to call the ‘Travel tax’.
Sure, you will have the time of your life. Sure, you will grow as a person, become wiser. You will be amazed by the beauty of the world. You’ll meet amazing people. But these things come at a price. After some time, you start asking yourself: “what’s the point”? What’s the point of going to new places, meeting next extraordinary people just to say goodbye and probably never see them again?
So how to deal with this?
Some people just keep on traveling. Others become expats in countries with a completely different culture than their native countries. Some decide to hang up their travel boots and settle. There’s not really a ‘one size fits them all’ solution. And when this time comes you need to follow your gut. All human beings possess a gut feeling. You just need to find yourself in the right situation to actually discover that you have it. And traveling gives you plenty of such situations.
Use the lessons learned to keep growing in the right direction. I know that chances are, you feel like you don’t fit anywhere. You bounced between cultures so effortlessly that you no longer know where you belong. Travel is a part of your life journey. But it’s only a part. A great teacher? Yes. A solution to all of your problems? No. Your personal growth takes place within. And a large part of that transformation is due to traveling.
But there’s another large part that involves finding out who you are and where you come from. A sense of direction. A sense of community. People that understand you. A place that you can call home, wherever that might be. Don’t travel just to run away. Don’t travel just to find yourself if you see that that’s not working. Travel to learn, and remember: new destinations are not a mere place, but rather a new way of seeing things.