One thing travel enthusiasts don’t talk about much is travel burn out. We’ll quickly board the express train to excitement-ville and joyously recount tales of our deep sea diving, feeding kangaroos, or seeing Komodo dragons in the wild. But it’s rare that we’ll tell you about the times we came home frazzled and worn out, staring at unpacked bags for weeks because we were too exhausted to even fathom unraveling the mess that’s been our lives for the past 6+ months.
I recently returned from ten months of travel with a mini pit stop home for summer. As fulfilling and joyful as the year has been, I returned to feel lost, confused and as though I lacked purpose. One would think I’d be enjoying the high of my experiences for months. But it wasn’t the case. After talking to lots of travel buddies it’s clear that everyone experiences this and these are some of the reasons why.
Reverse culture shock. All the sudden, you’re not special and everything around you isn’t new and shiny. You’re not the one white girl, the “American” or the one all of the locals are curious about. You’re back home where no one bats an eyelash or gives a shit who you are. You’re no longer a novelty….and if you’re an attention loving extrovert like myself, it sucks!
Your travel freight train (or bus) has come to a screeching halt. You’ve been barreling through cities, villages, new friends, accommodations and modes of transport and you’ve reached the end of the line. Every day you had a new purpose, city to get to, language to decode, food to taste and waterfall to bask in. Now you’re home….what do you do?!
You’ve changed, but nothing else has. This may not actually be true, but it can certainly feel this way. You had an eye opening journey. Saw animals and ate fruits you didn’t know existed, accomplished physical goals you always dreamed of and experienced local cultures radically different from your own! It can be really confusing when you return to familiar people and places when you are still digesting all the changes you just went through.
You’re just plain tired! Travel is fun as all hell but there’s a reason why people stay at home. Bus schedules swirling around your head, converting currencies and trying to recall the word for bathroom! New foods, weather, noises, smells and a myriad of sleeping arrangements (or lack thereof). And as awesome as it is to find a new travel buddy every third day let’s be honest socializing takes a lot of effort and you need a break. My good friend and travel blogger points out “Any transition in life is hard even if it’s positive. It’s stressful and the body can’t tell the difference between positive and negative stress.” She recently wrote an article on Culture Shock, check it out!
Reality calls. Traveling is like pressing the pause button on life. Returning to a familiar place brings up a lot of questions and demands. My bestie said when she returned she “came back to lawyers calling me about the divorce, no place to really live, and parents harassing me to get a job. I was back in New York for 2 weeks before I was back in school and had a job. Reality punched me in the face coming back here and it has been a roller coaster ever since.” Another friend said after coming home she felt judged by a people who just think she was just partying. Perhaps it’s jealousy but many people don’t understand our fervent wanderlust, especially if you’re past your 20’s.
So what now? A friend I met in Bali hasn’t stopped traveling in 2 years. “I have no plans of taking my old life back when I get home. Why travel for so long and go back to the same old thing? I’ve found things l love doing and I’ll do all of them full time when I get home…I will only go home when I’m ready to take up the idea or dream of how I want to live.” (He’s currently on a motorcycle rally to Mongolia to raise money for cancer, www.ironbadgers.com)
He’s right. I’ve come back a changed person, I can’t just pick up where I left off. When I left NY I was pursuing life as a makeup artist, before that I was a photography assistant for a luxury retailer and previously was fresh out of college and struggling as a freelance photographer. While each of these careers has added to my character and skills, none of them gave me the long lasting satisfaction I crave. I know I’m not meant for a traditional lifestyle and I’m not meant to live in New York full time. So what’s my picture ultimately look like?
We all travel in search of something. To find a home, to learn, to smile to experience all the world has to offer. Every time I take off I feel one step closer to grasping the ungraspable. I can almost taste it, touch it, but “it” always eludes me. Like a dream that was so vivid while asleep but vanishes soft and swift like smoke soon as you wake. I may not have the answers but through this I learn more about what I do and don’t want my life to be.
The greatest challenge remains. To trust and move forward even if you aren’t entirely sure what “it” is you are moving towards. To be ok with not knowing and to embrace that we’re always changing, growing and becoming.