Before my first trip around the world, I was driving through Boston with my friend Mike. One of the things I was talking about was how different life would be when I returned home. Where would my friends be in life? How would they have changed? What jobs would they have? New hobbies? New relationships? I imagined a world of possibility.
“Everything will be exactly how you left it,” he said. “When I studied abroad, I thought the same thing. But in truth, nothing will be different when you come home. Everything and everyone will be the same.”
I didn’t believe him. After all, a lot can happen in a year.
But when I came back, I realized he was right. I had changed but home hadn’t. My friends, now heading into their late twenties, had the same jobs, were going to the same bars, and were mostly doing the same things. Moreover, Boston itself just felt the same. It had the same pulse as it had had before.
It was as if home had remained frozen during my time away. I still loved my friends, family, and city, but I didn’t fit in anymore. I had outgrown living there. Home felt small and unrelatable — I had this fire in me that I couldn’t express to anyone, and it frustrated me. It yearned to try new things, go new places, and meet new people, but whenever I tried to express that, words fell flat. That fire was a feeling only those who had traveled seemed to understand — a simple nod to convey understanding of this shared bond.
As the excitement of home wore off, I wondered what was next. I was restless. I felt stale. Did I take this long trip only to end up right back where I started? No, of course not. I took it to grow.
Coming home is easier now than it was that first time in 2008, but the road still beckons me after just a few days. I know it’s there that I will find kindred spirits who understand me.
Every time a friend comes home from a trip, their first question to me is always, “How do you cope?” Returning home is hard, and few people address the reality that coming home is often an anticlimactic end to a life-changing experience.
After a year of mind-blowing adventures, you‘re back where you started — sitting on a couch, back in your apartment, or in your old bedroom, bored, anxious, and jittery. You find your friends don’t understand the new you, don’t want to hear about your time sailing the Pacific while they sat in rush hour, or don’t get why you feel so uncomfortable being back. “What? You don’t like it here anymore?”
You feel as if you came back to exactly the spot you left.
I know. I’ve been there. And so have many others.
Post-travel depression is real. Anyone who has returned from a trip knows what I’m talking about. We talk about how amazing and life-changing long-term travel is but seldom address the idea that coming home is harder than leaving. Online communities allow you to commiserate with like-minded people, but they only help a little.
When the initial hugs are hugged out, the stories told, and the reunions over, many of us find that coming back home isn’t really coming home at all. Our true home is being surrounded by the unknown.
The road is where we belong.
And because of that, our gaze will always be on the horizon, looking, dreaming, and wishing for another opportunity to get away again.