When asked ‘How has 10 months of travel affected my life?’. I usually ended up saying something short ….“It was an amazing trip!”, and maybe add a few extra words….fun, interesting…. the let my voice trail away as their eyes glaze over. A more meaningful answer takes extra time to describe, as without a doubt, the 10 months of travel had a tremendous impact on my life. It’s hard to know where to begin….
But I think the best ones to answer this question are my two young daughters (then age 9 and 11). For them, among other things, it was a year out of the usual day-to-day school routine although we did follow their school curriculum. They also had hands-on lessons in geography, history, social studies, math (currency conversion), add in impromptu lessons in geology (my background is in geology), biology (field trips with local guides learning about local flora and fauna), meeting and visiting with people and learning about their culture. Most importantly, and not part of any formal or informal lesson, the kids had an opportunity to meet and live with people and learn about their stories, their culture – daily rituals, customs around meals, families, music, spiritual beliefs. The kids have developed a social conscious – becoming aware that each country in the world and its people are diverse, each having its own history and cultural values – some of which may appear wrong though inexperienced eyes.
For me – I had not traveled very much around the world prior to this trip, but in a nutshell, travel has had an enormous impact on me. I’ve gained so much appreciation for the world; seeing, touching, hearing about ancient and more recent history in other countries, distant landscapes, interacting with people from other cultures and making connections with them. Having been there, lived there, seeing, eating, smelling, hearing with my own senses – is far richer in terms of gaining social and cultural wealth than reading or watching a documentary on TV about other cultures. Traveling to distant countries and experiencing different cultures has also taught me about my life. It is as though my eyes are now looking inward – instead of outward. I see and think differently now. Travel has taught me to be more open-minded and ‘see’ new with opportunities instead of simply following the same ruts.
Travel has also instilled a feeling of being grateful – grateful that I am healthy enough to travel, and also grateful that I live in a part of the world where we have the opportunity to go to school, to get an education, to get a well paying job and have the opportunity to travel. In many of the countries that we visited – those opportunities simply do not exist !. Extended travel has also helped me overcome the stresses of daily life. I remember how relaxed other cultures are, whereas back in the home environment, I notice the fast paced and stressful life experienced by my neighbors. There seems to be an endless list of things-to-do, driving kids to and from after school activities, and a fair amount of ’keeping up with the Jones’. I have simply stopped stressing about many things. I no longer feel the urge to be always on the go, to rush out to participate in every activity that comes along, or sign my kids up for every activity. Nor do I feel the urge to make a large addition to my house, or even buy a new car, or even buy more stuff. I have learned to be Content. I have lived with people that had a much smaller house than mine, did not even have a car, had much fewer personal possessions and did not rush around trying to do everything. They were Content. During the 10 months of travel, there were many situations that did not go as well as planned. We had our share of mistakes and misadventures, and my hard learned travel lesson was that patience, acceptance and the ability to go with the flow are the among the greatest of life lessons.
There is a downside however. I didn’t really travel until the age of 46 – much older than most. At my age, it is hard to go back to life as if nothing happened. That trip as caused a mixture of restlessness and contentment. Why didn’t I travel at a younger age, instead of pursuing a couple of academic degrees ?. If – only I had…. . That said, I am still young and healthy enough to travel. This first extended travel has teased me into new opportunities. It is now up to me to find a way to escape the need to sit in an office working for somebody else and staring at a computer screen while life passes by. There is now the temptation to quit my “safe and secure” job, forgo the perks of a comfortable chair in a warm office, pension and a medical benefits plan. Big decisions, and there is still the need to pay the bills and make money. Without a doubt, it is hard to slide back into a regular life after a life-changing extended travel experience. For now, I will use my new-found life skills; Contentment, Patience, Acceptance and the ability to go with the flow – and start planning the next trip.
How about you—how has extended travel affected your life?
For the past couple of months, I have been getting rid of a lot of things around my house. Having all these extra things is a burden. I used to have to move five things to get to the one thing I wanted. My closets and shelves were full of things I haven’t used for years. Having a cluttered house makes for a cluttered life.
Ten months of traveling with 2x pairs of pants, and 4x shirts, pair of running shoes, camera, and a laptop, and a lot more other stuff in my over-size and over-weight backpack that I lugged through 10 countries. Did i really need all that stuff ?. Now – back home, my closet is stuffed with 8x pairs of pants, 27 dress shirts and 5 pairs of shoes, not counting the underwear, single socks, and t-shirts.
While traveling it was easy to decide what to wear – the choices were limited. Now, as I stand in front of my closet, I find myself picking a combination, then another combination, switching pants, then switching different shirts, and then, usually wind up wearing one of the same four pairs, and only 10 of the dress shirts – the others simply collect dust in my closet. !
The purge continues for all the clothes that I don’t wear. Anything that hasn’t been worn in the past year gets donated. The purge also includes books, magazines, tools, even computer and camera equipment. I could invest in new (and more efficient) organizing and storage products. But – Why ?. Why hang-on to stuff that you don’t use ?.
Now, on the fourth round of de-cluttering in the past six months. As I pack things into bags to donate I discover long lost treasures. This is an enlightening and liberating organization strategy; De-cluttering my space to de-clutter my mind.
Have you ever felt the need to de-clutter your space to de-clutter your mind ?. Let us know.
Apparently, is is quite common for folks returning after a long journey to experience some “Post-Vacation Blues”, “Post-Travel Blues”, “reverse culture shock”, “re-entry”, even “travel detox”. They all mean the same thing, a type of blue mood or depression. Depending on how hard it hits you – there are a number of things you can do to get back into the swing of things.
Re-live the sights, the smells, the sounds, of your trip by including some culturally-specific motivators into your day-to-day life.
- Keep the memories of the experience alive. Reminisce and and be nostalgic. Review the photos and videos that you took during of your trip.
- Make a conscious connection to bring the culture of the countries that you visited back into your life. Watch movies or documentaries that show the culture. Eat at restaurants that remind you of your vacation, take a cooking course or cook traditional meals. Join a art class, dance class, or learn the language.
- Meet people that are from the countries that you visited. Open up your home to by offering to host travelers, join travel organizations such as www.couchsurfing.com or similar sites. Being around other travelers will help learn about the inside-scoop about those countries and cultures, and can help you get ideas for your next trip.
- Volunteer for an organization that works with people from the country where you had a vacation. Whether it is helping a village support a school, protecting wildlife from poachers, or even eventually joining an organization that sends aid workers to developing countries, you will be less of a tourist and more of an overseas friend.
- Plan your next trip. Pick the next place you would like to travel to and start dreaming about it. Having a plan for your next vacation will certainly help to overcome the post-vacation blues.
- Consider a local adventure. Start in your own hometown and discover places you haven’t see before. Go for a walk on a new route, try a new restaurant, take a bus to a random stop. Open your eyes, and actually ‘see’ the things that you haven’t noticed before. Make it a challenge to observe things that have always been there – but you haven’t noticed. With practice – this will make you more observant, a skill that will help you on your next foreign trip.
Personal: To help get back into the routine and back into the swing-of-things there are a number of important You things (physical and mental health) to take care of. These include:
- Go Slow. Slowly ease back into your pre-trip daily routine. Just because there are 100’s of new emails in your inbox – doesn’t mean they all have to answered one your first day back to work.
- Take a Break. It is tempting to race to catch-up on the backlog of all the things to do. They don’t have to be done right away. Take some time for yourself. Read a book, take a walk, be sure to resume your usual exercise routines as soon as possible.
- Sleep. Get plenty of sleep, you probably skipped a few times zones coming back home. Your body needs sleep.
- Eat well. This goes without saying.
- Reach out to friends and family. Being away means your contact info (phone number, email) has been removed from all the usual lists, so you might have to ask around to be added back into the lists. Be warned – they will roll their eyes when every sentence that comes out of your mouth starts with, “On my trip I…” or “When I was in…”. Also don’t expect any sympathy for post-vacation blues – since you were the one traveling and they were stuck in the daily routine. Your excitement of traveling may be met with comments such as …’did you watch the Hockey game last week ? ’. They may simply not be able to make the connection to your experience in a far away place.
- Reach out to meet new people. Remember the excitement of meeting new people during your trip. Keep doing it.
- Share your experiences. Do a presentation (slide show) at the local library, or community centre. Keep it short, and not too many details. Your photos might be exciting to you, but no one wants to sit through all 1600 of your photos. Post your travel experiences and photos on a blog, or on social networking sites such as Facebook or Twitter.
How to Overcome the Post Vacation Blues
For some people getting back into the pre-trip routine isn’t as easy as sliding back into the old routines, back into the swing of things, or back into the old life. Some of us seem to be more affected or influenced by the travel experience or the thought of resuming the same life as we had prior to the trip and feel the need to reevaluate the status quo. The actual cause of the need for change might differ based on the actual experiences during the trip, or the realization that you simply do not want to go back the the same old routines. No matter the cause or reason, somewhere deep inside there is a realization that you need to make a change to your life. For these people, the “Post Vacation Blues” may be more than a passing difficulty of just managing a little low spirits after getting back to their pre-trip life, rather it might be a life-changing opportunity for a change.
There may be a one – or several changes. On-line travelers that have experienced the Post Vacation Blues describe this need to change the way they live, how they act, what they consume, who they notice and interact with, re-evaluating commitments, deciding on what is important to their life, eliminating the things that get them down – and adding ‘uplifting’ experiences do their daily, or weekly schedule. Some describe it as a need to give-back (ie. to your community), and a need to make decisions on what to do with this next chapter in your life. Some changes can happen almost immediately, whereas others may require time to soak them in, ponder, and require a long-range plan spanning a year, or even a couple years.
In my case, the immediate change included a de-cluttering of my house and living with less. During the 10 month travel, I discovered that a backpack full of clothes lasted through many adventures. Do I really need a closet full of clothes, or shelves loaded down with books that I haven’t read, or kitchen appliances I no longer use?. My financial priorities have also changed. Instead of a new car, new computer or new camera, I’ve put my hard earned cash to buying a new bike and a pair of skis. Exercise has suddenly become a priority, which may be a result of returning to a desk-job. Quality time with my children is also more of a priority, with emphasis on short weekly adventures and most of all, having fun – no matter the situation. I have also been re-thinking my passion for photography – not dropping, but changing direction. Another change is wanting to give back, give back to society, and finding ways to give to those that do not have the the opportunity to travel as I did. At some in the future, there are plans for a career change, but that takes a bit of planning…
Do you have any experiences with Post Vacation Blues ?
Tags: family, homecoming, reflection, Travel, Life, Post Vacation Blues, Post Travel Blues, reverse culture shock, re-entry
In September 2014, my partner and I put our jobs on hold, pulled the kids out of school, rented out the house, packed our bags, said goodbye to our friends and family and traveled for 10 months. At least, that’s what I thought. Little did I know, returning home would be one of the most difficult experiences of my life. I hesitated if I should write about this. I simply wanted it to go away, or be able to ignore it.
At first it was the thrill of departure. Packing up the house, loading up the car and heading out of town. At the time, I often thought about how life would be different when I returned home. During the 10 month trip we visited 10 countries, very rich and very poor countries, visited very clean and very polluted lands, visited roman ruins and the beaches of D-day, had a water fight with elephants, saw the effects of landmines on young children, visited countless religious sites and monuments, drank delicious french wine, toured UNESCO historical sites in Nepal (many of which are now destroyed). We taught English in rural Cambodia, skipped the western hotels and stayed with the local people, couch surfed in France, and visited with relatives that I hadn’t seen before.
The hardest part of a journey is returning home…
By the end of the ten months, I felt that I was more than ready to return home. I felt exhausted and excited to start a new direction in my life back in Canada. The last couple of weeks of the traveling went by fast. Before I knew it, I was on the plane headed back to my home town. The first few weeks back were a whirl-wind of unpacking the boxes and re-organizing the house. There was a sense of relief and pure joy of being back in the same bed, and the familiarity with same oddly sloping floors in my old house. Although I was busy, there was a sense that Everything seemed the same – but everything is different. I couldn’t put my finger on it. It was the odd things at first. Of all the clothes to choose from in my closet – I was drawn back to the ones that I wore everyday for the past 10 months, even though that I swore I’d burn them when I got home !.
Everything is the same – but isn’t…
It was as if many things in my surroundings had remained unchanged during my time away. Within a few weeks after arriving back home my daily routine had picked up from where it left in September 2014. I sort of felt as if I was back to the same old reality that was there before I left. However, more and more over time it began to be very clear, there were more signs that something had changed – I had changed !.
I felt as if I’ve become a stranger, I felt that I don’t fit in anymore, I was bored, I was restless – not able sit to read a book, not interested in my hobbies and things that I enjoyed before the trip. I had also become withdrawn from my friends, although I was reaching out to make new friends. I was also drinking far too much alcohol and, also experienced a general feeling of being down. There was one more significant change to my life since returning from the trip – but due to privacy, that will not be mentioned.
Now, more than six months after my return – I have figured out that traveling, especially for an extended period of time, changes your thoughts and emotions. I now see everything through new eyes, and a new perspective based on experiencing different cultures, visited the very rich and very poor, learned about the wonders of mankind – and the absolute horrors of mankind, saw incredible scenery, ate stunningly delicious food, and more. Without a doubt, those months of traveling opened up my eyes, mind, heart, and soul. I am changed, and ‘home’ will never be the same again.
The changes that I am experiencing are the Post-travel blues. It sounds like a song but it is a type of depression. It is apparently quite common among long-time travelers. It is that dreaded feeling of returning to your normal, and now boring and unsatisfactory lifestyle and routine after a life-changing experience. Add to that, the ongoing struggle of trying to figure out where I fit into the life I had before the trip. Some days, there is definitely a feeling of emptiness and longing to be somewhere else, or doing something different. It’s feeling that I can’t relate to friends or family because they have not have experienced things and changed in ways that I can’t explain.
Yes, the past several months have been challenging, and I did not anticipate that returning home would be one of the most difficult experiences of my life. Despite those challenges, the previous ten months were an incredible journey – it changed everything !. If you are hesitating about taking a long trip – Do It !. If you feel a bit overwhelmed when you return home, just remember there are travelers out there who understand that you have just been through the biggest transformation of your life. I don’t expect any sympathy for having Post-travel depression. It was a privilege to have traveled the way we did, and for as long as we did. But still, it sucks.