“You’ll be having a relaxing break I hope?”
We hear this all the time. A break away is always assumed to be restful, relaxing and rejuvenating. It’s perfectly acceptable for you to spend your annual leave or study breaks lying on the beach, drinking mojitos and tanning yourself on the lilo. Or alternatively, drinking cider around the BBQ on a camping weekend, or getting a pedicure-massage-body-scrub-and-wrap-thing at a spa hotel. All travel is for a holiday, and all holidays are for rest and relaxation, right?
Sure, those holidays are beautiful.
“Actually, I’m going to Kolkata for a few weeks”.
^ That was my response to the above question, a couple of weeks before my final university term break. My tutor literally just stared at me as if I was going to the moon.
Personally, I find travel to new cultures and countries so much more worthwhile. I find it nourishing, educating and enlightening. I’d take culture shock over my comfort zone, any day. Yes it can be tiring, it can be disorientating, but it is 100000% worth it.
And sure, it’s easy enough returning from your beach holiday, city break or cruise ship and stepping right back into your routine of daily life. Everyone is happy to ask about the temperature, whether you went to the beach, how many nights out you went on…
But when you get back from somewhere further afield… somewhere more challenging to travel in, or perhaps somewhere where you volunteered, worked, backpacked etc…
Nobody knows what to say. They ask about your alcohol intake and why you aren’t as tanned as ‘their mate who went Ibiza’. You’ve seen amazing new places, experienced new lands, and time at home has probably, basically, just stood still.
For some of us (the lucky ones!), we can never return home from a foreign land feeling satisfied and settled. We come home new, awkward and adapted. I know that whenever I return from visiting a new country, my ideas and values are slightly different. I have seen more. I have learnt more. I love this feeling, but it makes coming home hard.
The way I explain it to my friends and family, is that returning home from travelling feels like stepping into a black and white film, when my life abroad is vivid and colourful. My brain always feels hazy, I find nothing exciting, and I just want to keep dreaming that I am in the heat of Kuala Lumpur, eating dosas and swimming in rooftop pools.
When I return, my home town feels dull and monotonous. I get frustrated that I have developed my ideas so much, yet everyone else seems to have just stood still. It is like that time has never happened. I miss the buzz and the adrenaline of new places, new adventures and new learning.
People around you will not understand. They say you should feel grateful that you’ve come home to people who have missed you. If your fog from returning lasts longer than a few days, you’re likely to hear those stinging words: ‘You’ve changed’. And the truth is, yes we have.
So how can we adjust back to ‘normality’, when we’d probably now always feel at home in other amazing, beautiful cities thousands of miles away?
1. Plan Another Trip
I have found this is the easiest, and sometimes only, way to keep my sanity.
It doesn’t mean you have to book flights immediately, but setting yourself a mini-goal of when you can next travel will help relax your anxieties about being home. Nothing is permanent, everything in this life is temporary.
And if you love a country or continent, it makes sense to go back in a year or so. Personally, I know that I need a trip away, even if it is a short Europe break, every 3/4 months or so. If I am planning a bigger bucket-list trip, I am happy to go every 6-9 months. To me, travel is barely a luxury. It’s essential for my mental health and wellbeing, as it’s such a large part of me and my identity.
Knowing I have plans or at least a designated end-goal that I can work towards, sometime in the future where I will again fulfil my travelling dreams, is enough to get me settled back into work and life routines.
I’m probably going to spend the entirety of my first week back home on Skyscanner anyway, so I might as well not fight the inevitable.
2. Complete Your Life Admin Abroad
Coming home to 4 piles of laundry, bills to pay, shopping to do and a 20-page university essay you need to write isn’t exactly going to make those holiday blues any easier.
Be kind to yourself, and get your life admin done before you land back home. Sound impossible? Hear me out.
All you need to do is set aside a few hours to catch up on work, to order a food shop and keep on top of life admin before you arrive home. The longer you’ve been away, the longer this will take. Think of all the things you’ll resist doing for as long as possible when you land. Think bills, sending emails, applying for accommodation or courses etc.
It’s even possible to spend your last day getting your travel laundry done, so when you return your whole suitcase is already washed and ready to be put away.
I also love working on the road and find airports are one of the places I am most productive; make use of that otherwise wasted time.
3. Blog About Your Experiences
Unfortunately, some people don’t understand travel and you’ll find it frustrating when you’ve had a life-changing experience, cheated death twice on motorbikes in Asia, touched a crocodile, done a bungee jump, volunteered abroad, visited Wonders of the World and learnt how to speak Khmer, that some of your friends will only want to find out about the weather or ask about the food.
Don’t let this dishearten you. Ultimately, some people prefer to live their life in a smaller comfort zone. By only choosing what they want to hear, they narrow their understanding of the world. Gently offer them some new stories, but don’t take their disinterest too personally. They genuinely just have never even considered what it’s like to eat a tarantula or swim in a lagoon.
Share your experiences with like-minded people and those who are looking for travel inspiration. You’ve seen the world and have stories to tell. Trust me, it can be therapeutic to tell them.
Reflection is one of the most powerful tools of any teacher; it’s how the best teachers learn continually, and how we ask children to review and consolidate their learning.
It can work for travellers too! You’ve learned a lot through your travels. Maybe you’ve learned to relax more and not ‘sweat-the-small stuff’, maybe you’ve learned how to talk to a wider range of people, or you’re more confident just doing things on your own.
Think about all of the valuable stuff you’ve learned, and apply it to you life at home. You might be surprised at how you can see situations in a new light at home, at work and in your relationships.
5. Focus On Your Career
Some people are lucky enough to travel with their work (only a tiny bit jealous I promise!) and others may use their holidays for their adventures. For many, travelling means putting your career on hold.
Use the time you now have at home to re-focus on your personal and professional development. Two years at home to develop your skills and to learn more about your industry is invaluable. When work is tough and it feels like you’re walking through quicksand, you’re actually learning so much more than if you enjoyed your nice, easy and comfortable job in every aspect. Focus on your personal and professional growth and it will pay off in the future. Read books and articles to get ahead, sign up for email insights, and take CPD courses.
If you’re working in a role you find unfulfilling, it can be helpful to set yourself a target budget or earnings, that will enable you to travel next. I always find working out my daily pay/budget therapeutic for this – e.g. ‘In 60 work days I’ll have earned enough for me to go to Japan and not dip into my savings’.
Ultimately, we spend a significant amount of time in our workplaces. It makes sense to find a job you love. I’m lucky to have found mine; teaching is my passion and I wake up almost every day (we’re all human… we all get ill and teaching is tiring!) completely fired up and ready to do something I see as worthwhile and rewarding. If I wake up before my alarm, I am grateful for the extra hours to do what I love and make a difference. Spend some time understanding what drives you.
6. Personal Development: Set Yourself a Challenge
It’s well-known that travel, particularly solo-travel, is a challenge. The thrill you feel from survival in a foreign, unknown land is like having adrenaline permeate every aspect of your life, from choosing a clean restaurant to eat dinner, to bungee jumping over that river.
If returning home feels mundane and dull, try and get that adrenaline back. Put yourself out of your comfort zone. Shock yourself and commit to something difficult, like a half-marathon or organising a charity event for a worthwhile cause. Start a new job in a new career direction, or learn a new skill or language. These things all sound so scary, but everything seems impossible until it’s done. It’ll work out 100 times better than the worse-case scenarios you imagine. You’ve travelled the world, so you have nothing that should fear you. Push yourself and set real, tough goals.
7. Focus on Your Health
Strangely, I feel healthiest when I am travelling. I drink more water, I eat better through tasting local foods and fruits. I eat less as I don’t have time to watch films and eat popcorn during a duvet day. I exercise more, even if I am just walking the entire length of Barcelona or climbing the stairs to a beautiful viewpoint. If I am in Asia, I always treat myself to a Thai Massage almost weekly. I’ll spend hours swimming in the rooftop pool or I’ll end up in a yoga class in Kathmandu or Luang Prabang. Next thing you know you’re having a hamman in Marrakesh, every toxin being scrubbed (rather painfully) out of your skin, or your toes nibbled on by fish spas in Penang!
It’s easy to return home and go back to your old ways. Try to keep up with the health you’ve gifted your body during your trip. Setting a health goal will benefit you graciously on the future.
You deserve to live the life that makes you feel most alive. If you regularly feel a ‘pull’ to cities abroad and struggle to enjoy being home, then it might be time to consider whether relocating is an option for you. There are many expat opportunities in a range of industries that might allow you to fulfil your travel dreams, longer-term.
Some of us are not made for the life everyone else is content with. And that is absolutely ok. Because we’ll be the ones in the rooftop pools, earning our air miles and feeling liberated by our freedom to roam.