Post Travel Depression: How to Make Coming Home Bearable
One of the hardest parts of travel is actually getting home from them. Here, I cover the particular challenges of this process and go through some of the ways that helps me get through them. I hope they help you too!
Coming home from travel is a double-edged sword.
On one hand there’s the excitement at seeing friends and family, eagerness to tell everyone about the incredible things you’ve done and joy at the thought of sleeping in your own bed again.
Upon arrival there is a rush of emotion at the airport and reunions and celebrations when you get home, with your nearest and dearest welcoming you back from your adventure.
For a period of time you’re at the centre of attention and there’s little time to reflect on how odd it feels to be home and how much you miss being away.
Yet, all too suddenly the excitement of your return dies down and the people around you get on with their lives.
Then comes the hard part: trying to settle back into a home-life that now doesn’t feel like home, where everything is the same, the pace of life is so different and as hard as you try, no-one seems to understand the momentousness of what you’ve done.
That's just one of the issues with returning home. What are some of the other challenges and how can we get over them?
Challenge Number 1: Repetitious Questions and Answers
To begin, something I found especially hard was telling people over and over, again and again, what I’d done during my travels.
The questions became predictable and I developed a bit of a script- there are only so many times you can say how amazing your time was and actually feel it.
After a while the Q & A sessions became onerous and I felt very little of the true feelings attached to the memories in my head when I recounted them.
Interestingly, I read somewhere that a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder is to tell someone what happened over and over again. In doing so, something about the repetition detaches you from what happened and removes the emotional connection.
Travel is by no means a trauma, but I can relate to this process in my experience of coming home and the post travel depression that set in.
Answer truthfully but don’t put too much thought into it- such Q & A sessions are often arbitrary anyway (it is a social norm to ask about someone’s trip, so there is a felt expectation from others to do so.
In reality, people who have been stuck behind a desk for a year probably don’t want to hear an in-depth account of the gallivanting you’ve been doing in beautiful faraway places).
Save your true answers- your actual feelings and travel stories for situations where you’re speaking on your terms, where you can recount things in a natural fashion and revel appropriately in the memories.
Treat your travel memories like prize possessions. Don’t let them be sullied by invasive, repetitious questioning.
Another helpful tip in this process is to talk with other people you know have been travelling, who better understand what you’ve done; you can share stories, relive memories and swap ideas for your next adventure.
Challenge Number 2: Everything and Nothing is the Same
Q & A sessions aside, the hardest thing I always have to get my head around upon returning home is how everything feels exactly the same- like, exactly the same.
When I got back from a year in New-Zealand I remember a bizarre duality, where home felt unquestionably different (really, it no longer felt like home) and yet for all intents and purposes, everything was the same.
After everything I’d done in the last however many months and all the life-changing experiences I’d had, how could nothing have changed at home?
I mean, literally nothing. It was surreal.
Objectively, I know there was no reason why things should be different, but it still felt bizarre. It was literally like picking up where I’d left off, as if nothing had happened- it made me feel like I’d been dreaming, which was destabilising and demoralising.
The Link Between Dreams and Travel
As a quick aside, I've always felt parallels between travel and dreams.
Something about the contrast between the magnificence of travel and the unaltered normality of home creates (for me, at least) a disturbing feeling, as if it was all a dream; given the nature of what happens when you travel I think this makes sense.
The process and transition of travel to home is comparable to the journey from dreamy sleep to wakefulness.
After all, you lie in bed at night in ‘the real world’, fall asleep and suddenly get transported to a place of magic, mystery, adventure and discovery; then, suddenly, the alarm goes off and you’re brought abruptly back to reality, leaving only a vague memory of the wondrous world you’d just been exploring and a sense of disappointment at having left it behind.
It is hard to reconcile the dream world with the waking one; it is harder to reconcile travel with home-life.
Something about recognising this was helpful.
I suppose it provides me with an explanation for why things feel so surreal when I get home. Hopefully it's helpful for you too!
Challenge Number 3: Maintaining Those Positive Personal Changes
Upon coming home it's also tough to maintain the personal changes you underwent while travelling.
You learn a lot about yourself while you’re away and with time it is easy to fall back into the old roles, routines and habits that existed prior to departure.
In the interest of protecting your new-found self, try living in a way that shows those around you how you’ve changed, create a conversation about it and stick to your guns.
Remember, they don’t know what you’ve done or how you’ve changed unless you show or tell them. If you don’t, you risk being unwittingly manoeuvred back into old roles and ways of life- people will treat you in the same way as before.
I came back from travelling disillusioned with material stuff and eager to focus on simple, healthy living.
So, I set about modifying how I did things and how I approached life- drinking less alcohol and cutting out sugary foods as two examples.
Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t an exercise in doing things for the sake of showing people how you’ve changed.
For the sake of preserving the positive outcomes of travel and relieving some of the melancholy at being home, bring what you learned during your travels home.
Final Suggestions for Overcoming Post Travel Depression
Inactivity is the enemy when it comes to getting home. It helps to get stuck into something.
After a period of adventure, there’s nothing worse than having little to do when you get back. So, I always try to keep busy when I get home.
It stops me wallowing in melancholy upon my return.
Knowing that I’d probably be at home for a while after New Zealand, I set about creating a space for myself that was mine and that I’d enjoy living in.
It was about taking control, physically altering what represented the 'old me' and fitting my environment around how I now felt.
It was only little things, but I moved furniture, cleaned, tidied, decorated, hung pictures, cleared away old stuff and put up reminders of my travels onto walls.
In this way I got busy. And, as a bonus, my living space became a very tangible reminder of the changes that had taken place.
Where everything felt the same otherwise, I had created at least some evidence of the contrast between past and present.
I also applied for jobs, went to interviews, got jobs, sorted out finances, re-engaged with old friends and rejoined the gym.
Without a doubt, coming home can be tough.
There is a tangible sense of loss, nostalgia, a mounting disconnect to the experience that grows through recounting it innumerable times, consternation at how changed you feel but how everything else is the same, plus the potential to fall (and be forced) back into old habits; let alone practical issues such as being penniless and having to live back with parents.
Each component of coming home is a challenge that requires careful navigation.
However, time is a great healer and as it passes things become easier; home moves from unbearable to bearable and eventually to back to enjoyable.
It becomes home again.
What's more, let’s reframe the 'issue'.
Aside from all the tips above that might be helpful in appeasing any self-pity upon your return, it is unlikely that there will ever be a time you want to go travelling more than when you first get home.
The disappointment at being back makes you realise how awesome your time away was. What greater inspiration to go again?
Travel is never more of a priority than when you first get home. Like I said, over time home will feel like home again and the urge to travel may begin to dwindle. Life carries on.
Thus, try flipping the self-pity upside down. And, instead of wallowing, use it as fuel to plan your next trip.