Returning Home from Long Term Travel: The Adjustment Challenge

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The adjustment phase is something every returning long-term traveller can relate to. 

It’s unsettling, it’s challenging and it features a rollercoaster of emotions. 

It’s the inevitable epilogue to all great travel adventures.

One of the things I love most about travel is the people you meet along the way.  Especially when you have the opportunity to catch up a year and a half later, pick up where you left off, reminisce about past travels and plot future ones.

I enjoyed this “reunion” a couple of weeks ago when Merv and Sarah (from Moglander Travels) passed through London on their way back to Ireland.  Our paths had crossed for the first time in December 2012 aboard our Antarctica-bound vessel, the Ocean Diamond, and I had been following their overland travels through South America with great interest ever since.

The shared anticipation and excitement of an expedition through the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and Antarctica is enough to bond travellers from all walks of life.  But it was during one of our sea days that I realised I had more in common with Merv and Sarah than just the dream of stepping onto the great white continent.

Zodiac Cruising - Danco Island, Antarctica

I shared my passion for photography with Merv and my love of writing with Sarah.  We had all experienced the highs and lows of corporate life and had chosen to escape it with a career break and/or long-term travel.  I wrote about my experiences on this blog, whilst they shared their adventure on Moglander Travels.  We all felt energised from exploring the world beyond our own back yard and had learned that a restless soul could find solace in long-term travel.

We all agreed life was for living and there is no time like the present.

So to see them again in London, along with two other friends we’d shared our Antarctica experience with, reminded me that travel introduces you to people whose paths you may not have otherwise crossed – and that is a great perk of exploring the world.

Merv, myself and Sarah outside my home in London - a long way from Antarctica, where our paths first crossed.

Merv, myself and Sarah outside my home in London – a long way from Antarctica, where our paths first crossed.

But as the realisation began to sink in that this was the last leg of their journey – a journey that has lasted two and half years, crossed four continents and passed through seventeen countries – the realisation also began to sink in that the next adventure could be one of their greatest challenges yet.

The Adjustment Phase

Whether you’ve been travelling for six months or six years, making the decision to return home is not the end of the journey. 

The trip home may feel like the last chapter of your adventure, but there is still an epilogue waiting to be written. 

Its length and intensity may vary, but one thing is certain – there will be one more chapter. 

It’s unsettling, it’s challenging and it features a rollercoaster of emotions.  

 

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 reverse culture shock issues, start looking ahead to the next chapter in their lives.

But for the rest of us, it can take a little longer to adjust.

I returned home from my first career break four years ago after fifteen months of travel, volunteering and adventure through Bolivia, Africa, Australia and South East Asia.  From the outside looking in, my journey ended with a new perspective on life, leading to a seamless transition to the balanced lifestyle I find myself enjoying today, where I work for six to nine months of the year and travel for the rest.

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But those close to me know the reality was a little different and it was far from seamless: it took three years and a second career break!

I had naively started my first career break thinking it would be just that: a break.  I wasn’t running away from anything, I wasn’t trying to find myself and I wasn’t searching for a new lifestyle.  I had simply found myself in a relatively commitment-free phase of my life with an established career that was unlikely to be destroyed by an extended break.  I realised my dream of exploring more of the world would only become reality if I made the time – and the decision – to do it.  So I did.

And by the end of it I’d become a stereotype:  I’d taken a career break and had a “life changing experience”.

I learned answers to questions I hadn’t thought to ask. 

I found myself on a new path without realising I’d been lost. 

And I discovered things about myself I didn’t know existed.

My perspective on life dramatically changed.  I returned home a different person, with new goals, changed priorities and the dream of living life differently.  Unfortunately I also returned home with an empty bank account, knowing I wanted to change my lifestyle without having any real idea about what to do or how to do it

I found the adjustment phase tough – really tough.  I felt disconnected, I felt lonely, I felt directionless and I felt lost.

But with the luxury of hindsight, I now realise the adjustment phase wasn’t just the epilogue of what others perceived as a once in a lifetime adventure.  It was also the prologue of the collection of chapters.

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So if you are returning home from long term travel, don’t fear the adjustment phase.  Instead, embrace it as a bridge that takes you to a new path, on a new journey, towards the next chapter of your life.

And try these survival tips:

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

 

Are you facing or have you survived the adjustment phase?  How did you cope with the challenges returning from long term travel presents?

 

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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. Yes. A million times yes. My husband and I traveled for 4.5 years all over the globe, and coming back was like hitting a wall. We got jobs, were around for family, and tried to fit back in, but we were forever changed. In the best way, I might add. Loved this post, as it resonated in a way that only those who have been there and back again can understand. Thank you. Perhaps we’ll meet you somewhere in the world – the beauty of travel is that you just never know! 🙂

    • I know how I felt after 15 months, so I can’t even imagine how tough it was after 4.5 years! You are right, it’s a challenge that is hard to explain or relate to unless you’ve been through it and it’s almost a ‘guilty’ challenge because it follows such an amazing period of your life. Happy travels – and yes, you never know where paths may cross 🙂

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