Survival Tips: The Challenge of Returning Home From Long Term Travel

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The adjustment phase is the inevitable epilogue to all great travel adventures and something every returning long-term traveller can relate to. 

It’s a challenging period – but these survival tips may just help you get through it. 

 

I recently reunited with some traveller friends of mine, who were heading home after two and a half years on the road.  I confess to being a little envious of their overland travels through four continents and seventeen countries.  But I wasn’t jealous of what they were facing next: returning home from long term travel and facing the adjustment challenges that came with it.  I could relate to what was ahead of them.  I’d endured my own adjustment phase four years ago and it wasn’t fun.

But with the benefit of hindsight, I now realise the adjustment phase wasn’t just inevitable, it was essential:  it was the bridge that took me from one chapter to the next.

This doesn’t mean it was easy.

The intensity and length of the adjustment phase varies per traveller.  Some people return home refreshed and rejuvenated after long-term travel, ready to pick up life where they left off but with renewed energy.  Others come back with a clear idea about what they want to do next, and after dealing with a few reverse culture shock issues, start looking ahead to the next chapter in their lives.

But for those of us who take a little longer to adapt or return from a long-term travel adventure with no clear plan, it can be a challenging period of adjustment.

 

Challenges and Survival Tips: 

Monacobreen in Liefdefjord

 

Challenge #1: Returning to Work

The main reason most long term travellers return home is a financial one.  Unless you’ve come back ready to embrace a new project or lifestyle, chances are you will need to return to the type of work you left behind.  And when that involves commuting and sitting in an office all day, surrounded by deadlines, spreadsheets and office politics, it can feel a little suffocating and depressing.  It’s also surprisingly exhausting.

My Experience:

I struggled.  I also had a panic attack when I was invited to interview for a permanent role – true story!  So I cancelled the interview, changed focus and looked for a short term contract.  This helped me replenish the bank account without tying me into a direction I wasn’t sure I wanted to follow.

DO keep reminding yourself it’s simply a means to an end.  It’s an opportunity to replenish your bank account and take financial pressure off yourself whilst you work out what your next move is.

DON’T make too many plans outside work on your first week back.  After spending a year or more outside of the office, the return is exhausting.  I walked home like a zombie in my first week, crashing on the couch as soon as I opened the door.

DO remember it’s a step towards the next chapter.  It doesn’t have to become the next chapter.

Most likely your time away has given you greater perspective on what is important in life.  If you find yourself working with people who think leaving on time is a career-limiting move and the best place to eat lunch is at your desk, DON’T lose perspective and DON’T fall back into bad habits.

DO remain professional.  You may have decided during your time away that you don’t want to spend the rest of your life in the office or following a particular line of work.  But your employers don’t care about that – they just want you to do the job they are paying you for.  So do it – and do it well.  Keep your professional reputation intact: you never know what the future holds and when you’ll need to fall back on it.

 

Challenge #2: Finding Support

You’ve been to places some people only dream of, you haven’t worked for more than a year and you have had both amazing adventures and inspiring moments.  And now you are finding it tough being back in the reality your friends have been living whilst you were away?  You may find sympathy short lived and empathy missing.

My Experience:

I started this blog and discovered a world of online support, advice and empathy.

DO reach out to other people who are experiencing the same feelings as you or better still, have survived the experience.

DO get online.  There are a ton of travel blogs, forums and social media groups you can join for a bit of empathy and support.

DON’T shut your friends out.  They may not relate to what how you are feeling but if they are real friends, they’ll want to try.

 

Challenge #3: Re-adjusting to Your Own Country

Depending where you’ve been travelling, you may find the return to your own culture unsettling and even thought provoking.  Reverse culture shock manifests itself in different ways from readjusting to local food, feeling overwhelmed by consumerism and technology to questioning values and lifestyle choices.

My Experience:

It started with adjusting to the positive differences: being able to drink tap water again, flushing toilet paper, being able to use my ATM card everywhere, a comfortable bed, a range of options at the supermarket.  But then it turned less tangible as I found myself irritated by the ‘first world problems’ people were complaining about, our materialistic lifestyles and lack of appreciation of how lucky we are to have been born where we were.

London

DON’T complain about your own country.  It’s healthy to question your values and lifestyle choices, but constantly moaning about your home to those who enjoy living there is a guaranteed way to piss people off!

DO view things as different instead of better or worse.  Find a balance by maximising the differences you enjoy and mitigating or avoiding those  you find challenging.

DO take what you’ve learned from other countries and apply it to your own lifestyle back home.

 

Challenge #4: Reconnecting with Friends:

After the initial excitement of reuniting with friends and family, returning travellers find reconnecting with some friends a challenge.  As people and circumstances change, so do the dynamics of relationships.  One of the toughest challenges is that most people expect you to return as the same person who left, but chances are you’ve changed.  At the same time, your friend’s lives at home didn’t necessarily stop whilst you were away.

My Experience:

Some relationships picked up where they left off, others strengthened and some inevitably faded away.  Being away for fifteen months meant I missed some key events in the lives of my friends.  Some announced they were pregnant and gave birth before I’d been back to give them a congratulatory hug, one spent a year meeting and breaking up with an important person in her life who I’ve never met and some even left London altogether.  I was constantly reminded of the old saying “friends are for a reason, season or a lifetime”.

DO learn to recognise the “glazed look” and appreciate that not everyone wants to constantly hear about your travels.  DON’T become that person who begins every sentence with “when I was travelling”.

But DON’T stop talking about it altogether.  It was a big part of your life for the past year (s), what else are you going to talk about?  Just learn to adapt to your audience!

DO remember that whilst home may feel familiar and unchanged, people’s lives kept moving whilst you were away.  Don’t make it all about what you’ve been through.

DO spend time reconnecting by doing or talking about the things that you have in common.  If all else fails, go drinking!

 

Challenge #5: Overcoming Boredom:

After a year or more of meeting new people, experiencing different cultures and seeing new things on a daily basis, overcoming boredom can be one of the biggest challenges of returning home.

My Experience:

I kept myself busy with a new photography hobby that evolved from my career break and began when I bought my first DSLR camera – a week after I returned home.  Yes, the irony of learning about photography after my round-the-world trip has not escaped me, but it certainly filled that boredom void and is now a big part of my life.

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DO avoid drowning in self-pity and driving your friends mad by taking up a new hobby.  Find something you can share with like-minded people or try developing skills you learned during your break.

DO explore more of your home town.  As Marcel Proust wrote “the real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes”.

DO plan your next adventure.  You may not be in a position to make it reality, but spending time brainstorming, researching and planning doesn’t just combat boredom, it inspires you to stay motivated on your dreams.

 

Challenge #6:  Dealing With ‘Homesickness’ for Travel

For most travellers, a round-the-world trip or long-term travel experience is one of the highlights of their lives, an experience they aren’t ready to let go off when they get home.  They pine for the freedom, they miss the excitement and they feel homesick for the nomadic lifestyle they’ve just left behind.

My Experience:

I lost count of the number of times I heard “it was a once in a lifetime experience” from well-meaning friends.  And it irritated me every time.  I couldn’t understand why everyone viewed it as an amazing experience that now had to be locked away in the “great memories” section of my mind whilst I moved on with my life.  What couldn’t I experience it all again, why couldn’t I reflect on it, why couldn’t I keep talking about it?

But as I was resenting a comment I interpreted as “get over it, move on” I was being equally irritating by not embracing being home.  It’s a fine line between reflecting on the past and still living in it.

DO avoid the fine line between reflecting on the past and being stuck in it.

But DON’T feel guilty for how you feel.  If you are feeling homesick for your travels, make some photo books, write about it or reflect on your experiences to inspire your next adventure.

DO take off your rose-coloured glasses from time to time.  What are some of the things about long-term travel that you don’t miss?

DON’T keep saying: “I hate being back”, even if this is how you feel.  No one wants to hear it!

 

Challenge #7: Deciding What to Do Next:

This is the biggest challenge for many returning long-term travellers.  I’m yet to meet anyone who took a year or more out and returned exactly the same person, with exactly the same dreams, wanting to live life in exactly the same way they did before they left.  Most of us return with a fresh perspective on life, determined to maintain a healthier work-life balance and make the most of each day.  We just don’t always know how to do it.

My Experience:

I returned with new perspective, goals and priorities – but no real plan and an empty bank account.  I knew I wanted to do something different but I had no idea what.  I brainstormed, I researched, I made changes that worked and I made changes that didn’t.  But I was determined to find a way to live through life instead of just existing.  I searched for inspiration everywhere – and I still do.

DON’T make impulsive decisions.  The most natural feeling when you have a question without an answer is panic.  And the most common reaction to panic is impulsiveness.  I was convinced that the solution to overcoming my adjustment phase challenge was to taken another fifteen month career break. The only thing that stopped me was lack of finances and this was a good thing, as it would not have been the right decision. Saving up to take a shorter career break on the other hand taught me it was possible to live a life of balance instead of extremes.

But DO something.  There is nothing more irritating than someone who is unhappy but does nothing about it.  We’ve all met that person who moans about their jobs, their partners, their lives, but doesn’t even contemplate making changes.  I have empathy for these people, but I don’t have sympathy.  Brainstorm ideas, research options, plan some future travels, create photo books from your trip – do something.

 

Have you returned from long term travel?  What was the biggest challenge?  Do you have any survival tips to share?

 

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Kellie is a traveller and photographer who is most at home when exploring the world beyond it. Through the intersection of her travel, writing and photography passions, she shares her experiences to inspire others to create there own. The desire to live life instead of existing through it has introduced Kellie to inspirational locations throughout seven continents and from this a passion for landscape and wildlife photography has evolved. She feels a particular connection to the polar regions and Africa. You can see more of her photography at www.kellienetherwoodphotography.com

Comments

  1. Really great article, and very timely for me as I will be returning to Melbourne in a couple of months after 2 years of traveling through Latin America.

    I won’t lie, Challenge #1 is what makes me most nervous about heading home. How on earth am I going to muster up the strength to work 8 hours in a row without a hike up a mountain, a 3pm beer, or a dip in the ocean lol! Seriously though, like travel, work is what you make of it. I will definitely be keeping in mind that whatever job I land is a means to an end and will be working my hardest toward creating a life where I can travel indefinitely…why not dream big! 🙂

    • Absolutely, dream big!! Best of luck with your return home and the challenges it brings. I found #1 SO tough, I was sleep walking home for the first week and struggling through the day without the daily siesta I’d got used to.

      Good luck and try not to think too much about yet, enjoy your last couple of months of travel 🙂

  2. This is a great post, thanks for sharing! Readjusting after long-term travel can be tough, but putting these tips into practice would definitely make it easier.

  3. Thiis is a topic that is close to myy heart…
    Many thanks! Exactly whyere aree your contact details though?

  4. I travelled for 2.5 years and have now been back home for 1.5 years. It wasnt so hard coming back, i was definetly burnt out from travel and glad to be back… but 1.5 years later it is very hard to accept returning to the regular joe-blow life. Its almost like ignorance is bliss, and now that you have truly experienced ‘pure life’ you cannot accept what most others do back in the real world…. You are ruined, and what can satisfy you from there? You have just raised the bar of expectation of life, and no regular role within a society can satisfy what you seek.

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