Whether you’ve taken a two-week vacation, a two-month trip or an epic two years off to travel around the world, you’ve probably experienced to some degree something known as the post-travel depression upon coming home.
It’s that feeling where home just doesn’t feel the same anymore. It looks, smells and sounds the same, but something is off. It feels dull, unexciting and painfully familiar. Upon deeper reflection, you realized that the place hasn’t changed much; it’s you who has changed.
How does one shake off that nagging feeling to find joy and purpose again after returning home from the road?
Step 1: Take a Few Days Off to Rest and Recharge
The transition home can be emotionally jarring enough as it is. Add jet lag, travel fatigue and practical concerns (on longer trips abroad) such as finding a new job and the travel blues can sneak up on your quickly.
Although it is tempting to jump straight back to your work or studies, recognize that you’ve just logged a lot of mileage both mentally and physically. By giving yourself a few days to unwind, you can deal with the practical aspects of coming home such as doing laundry, restocking your fridge with food and getting your body readjusted to the new time zone.
More importantly, it gives you time and space to process the new experiences that you’ve had. Events become clearer in hindsight and by giving yourself the necessary space to reflect on them, you give yourself an opportunity to internalize new epiphanies and valuable lessons gained as a result of your travels.
Step 2: Dive Back into Your Work with Renewed Passion
After this period is over, it can also be tempting to drift aimlessly for weeks on end. I’ve personally reconnected with fellow travellers I’ve met abroad a few weeks after their extended trip was over, only for them to tell me that they’re still unsure of what to do next and are just kind of “bumming around” their parents’ house.
While rest is good, recognize that meaningful work is just as important in providing us with a sense of fulfillment. If you should be so lucky to have a job, career or business you can dive right back into, then I strongly suggest you throw yourself back into it with 100% commitment.
Take the extended time abroad as a perspective-widening opportunity, as well as a much-needed time off opportunity to recharge your batteries. Use those experiences as fuel to motivate you to work to get to the next level and save up money for that next trip.
Double down on what works and eliminate the things that you don’t care for. The time off should have given you some opportunities to reflect on job experiences and career lessons learn. There is no better time to set new goals and apply those lessons learned.
Step 3: Try to See Home with Traveller’s Eyes
In Zen Buddhism there is an idea called “Beginner’s Mind,” which is defined as “an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level, just as a beginner would.”
From a traveller’s perspective, this means seeing home as a first-time visitor would – without preconceived notions, baggage or judgement. This means taking in familiar surroundings and treating it as if it’s the first time you’ve seen it. Whether it’s your daily walk to work or a bike ride around the neighbourhood, the point is to notice things that you normally wouldn’t when you’re using it only to get from Point A to Point B.
Step 4: Find Joy in an Everyday Routine
While travelling from place to place, soaking in new sights and experiencing new things almost every day can be ridiculously fun, there is something unsettling about constantly moving around. Aside from packing and unpacking, long bus rides and flights, there is nothing to anchor your day-to-day schedule as every day can be very different with so much to do.
If you work remotely or digitally, this can adversely impact your productivity. From a health point of view, the lack of time to hit up the gym and too much indulging in a city’s night life can also take your fitness down a few notches.
This is why coming home and settling into a routine again can be a rewarding experience. You can rebuild a routine that is simply impossible to keep up with on the road while being constantly on the go.
Whether it’s waking up at 6AM every day to go to the gym, re-attending your local yoga class / comedy club / Toastmasters meeting every Wednesday or working from favourite café every day, there can be tremendous joy in getting back in rediscovering a healthy routine.
Step 5: Keep a Travel Journal to Revisit
Hopefully, you’ve kept up with journaling along the way. If you took the time to write down any observations, thoughts and experiences while on the road, now is when it will pay dividends. It will allow you the opportunity to walk down memory lane and relive from of those amazing memories you’ve had.
From snorkelling with turtles in Mexico, to a Full Moon Party in Thailand and a passionate travel romance in Europe, you can now get inside your headspace at the time as it was happening and relieve the memories and emotions.
Reflecting on your journey and trying to find lessons along the way will also be tremendously rewarding. From spontaneous epiphanies to deep insights, they can be anything from travel hacks to perspectives about your own life at home. It will allow you to figure things you don’t enjoy about your current lifestyle and how to change that.
Reading back on your journal from time-to-time will also hopefully put a smile on your face. Aside from owning a time-machine (please email me if you have one), it’s one of the best ways to time-travel back to another place to experience something new all over again.
Step 6: Plan Your Next Trip
Let’s face it, the travel bug never really goes away once you’ve caught it. The symptoms of craving a new adventure, tasting exotic foods and connecting with new people can be temporarily alleviated but you have to make peace with the fact that there is no permanent cure.
However, one of the best ways of satiating your wanderlust is to start planning your next sojourn abroad. Whether it’s a quick weekend getaway to a nearby town, a beach vacation to Mexico or another ambitious jaunt around a foreign continent, planning another trip provides you something to look forward to while you are busy achieving your goals in the moment.
This also gives you time to save funds and reaccumulate your credit card points (you have been following my advice on travel hacking, right?) for free flights and hotels. After all, who doesn’t like free stuff? Meanwhile, you may want to use the newfound stability at home to learn a new language so that you’re that much more proficient the next time you hit the road.
Step 7: Build a Lifestyle that Allows You to Travel More
In today’s Internet age and the sharing economy, a location independent lifestyle has never been easier or more achievable. From finding an apartment on Airbnb to getting a ride on Uber, all your travel logistical needs can be easily planned and fulfilled.
Add to that a growing gig economy powered by freelance platforms such as Upwork and Fiverr, remote work is fast becoming a popular option for those who doesn’t want to work a traditional 9-to-5 job that ties them down to one geographical location. This rise in remote work has inspired a new generation of digital nomads who work from their laptops and live / travel abroad at the same time.
If you’re currently stuck at a gig that requires you to physically be in one city and wish for more freedom and opportunities to travel, realize that there are options out there that will allow you to do so. I personally know many people who teach English abroad or work as tour guides get paid to travel – talk about an awesome gig!
From graphic design to copy writing and coding, online freelancing allows you to set your own hours and work anywhere; from a beachfront café in Bali to a swanky studio in Budapest. Those who are more entrepreneurial minded with more appetite for risk can also start an online business such as affiliate marketing or E-commerce to take advantage of the opportunities that exist with the Internet. Although achieving this lifestyle is not easy and is not for everyone, it brings with it a tremendous set of rewards.
If you don’t want to go full-on digital nomad mode, there are also many options in between such as negotiating for more time off at work or finding a job that allows you more time off to travel (teachers and summers off anyone?). The options are only limited by your imagination, desire to learn new skills and motivation to work hard to achieve them!
While there are more upsides than downside to travel, post-travel depression is a very real phenomenon. From the sadness of leaving a new place behind to having to return to the routine of an everyday life, it can be a shock to come home. This can also result in a loss of enjoyment in things you used to enjoy doing at home along with reverse culture shock.
Even if you feel like you’re stuck and a nostalgia for good times past, recognize that it is perfectly normal and don’t beat yourself up for it. By accepting and embracing the ups and downs of travel, you will be better equipped to handle the emotional swings on the next go-around.
In the meantime, by following the 7 steps outlined above, you will be able to transition more smoothly from your trip abroad and reintegrate back into your home country with less friction.
After all, we are still very lucky and privileged to be able to travel abroad in the first place!
Until next time,