Readjusting to life back home can be a challenge. I remember my first time coming home – I had major culture shock. I remember the supermarkets just feeling so big. And the stores. And the meal portions. (We have such big meals here in the States!) Plus, most of my friends couldn’t relate to my feeling of unease. It was a challenge going from always being on the move to suddenly doing the opposite. (Clearly, I didn’t cope. My solution was to keep traveling!)
But it’s a feeling that happens to many travelers. When I was speaking to Dani and Craig of the Wide Wide World in D.C. after their trip around the world, we were taking comfort in each other because we were the only ones who could relate to how each other was feeling.
In previous reader stories, we’ve talked a lot about people leaving, but today we are going to talk about coming home and readjusting to life off the road.
Nomadic Matt: Tell everyone about yourself.
Erin: I’m 45 and I grew up throughout the Pacific Rim: California, Washington, Hawaii and New Zealand. I’m a former banking executive that decided I’d prefer to spend my time working with nonprofit organizations and traveling the world. I transitioned out of banking, taking an entry-level job at a nonprofit organization. I gradually built a specialty in philanthropic financial products and about 6 years ago, I started a consulting firm. As a consultant, I set up my contracts so I could take 3 months off each year to travel overseas and volunteer. After several years of this arrangement, I decided I wanted to take a longer 2-year sabbatical to travel the world volunteering. At the time, I was saving to buy a home, so I had a tidy sum put away. I tapped this savings to finance my trip.
Where did you go on your trip?
During my two years, I visited all 7 continents and 62 countries. I started in Fiji on New Year’s Eve and ended in Antarctica, working my way up through Patagonia as I returned home to the States. Although I had 3-4 highlights I wanted to hit (hiking in the Himalayas, visiting Angkor Wat, exploring India), I had no set itinerary. I purposely wanted the flexibility to wander the world as I made new friends and learned of exciting places. As a result I didn’t travel in a straight line or even one region at a time, but hopscotched across the globe. While my travel trajectory was fluid, I had 3 clear objectives for my trip: to give myself the time to read and write and volunteer. [You can read about Erin's trip and volunteering on her website.]
Well, since we’re probably all wondering, how was your trip?
I had quite a few scary moments on my trip, especially because I prefer to travel overland and take local transportation whenever possible. There are certainly some memories — a bus crash in Ethiopia, jumping out of a moving car in Zambia, political unrest in the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa– that still give me pause. I also had some dare-devil adventures white-water rafting that I could have done without.
Did you have a plan for when you come back?
I did have a plan – I was trying to orchestrate a move to London in October. Unfortunately, these plans fell through. Instead of taking temporary consulting assignments before moving across the pond, I now need to ponder a more permanent life. I’ve been back two months and am still considering which city I should live in, what type of work I want to do, and how I want to rebuild my life. Even simple things like renting an apartment and buying a car and furniture are on hold. For the time being, I am splitting my time between San Francisco, NYC, and my family in Florida. I’m subletting furnished apartments several weeks at a time and renting a car when I need it. And I’m still living out of a suitcase. So I guess my nomadic life hasn’t ended just because I came home.
Have you adjusted to life after being away for so long?
I’m a bit blown away by the efficiency of modern American life. I’m also surprised that sometimes I walk down the street and there are no other people around. It’s eerie, like being on a deserted movie set. And I’m dumbfounded by the bounty in our supermarkets – aisles and aisles of food. Of course, I’ve noticed these differences when I’ve returned from previous travels, but now I can imagine how a visitor might look at the sheer enormity of American life.
To me, this lushness translates from the physical to the psychological. I am very proud of what we have here in America with the choices we have and our rights as individuals. While we never think they are enough, I’ve witnessed other parts of the world where they don’t have any of these freedoms at all. It makes me very appreciative to be American.
What was the hardest part of coming home?
I think the mental transition is the hardest part of returning. As I mentioned, I’m still living life as a nomad, with no great desire to put down roots. Last week I was in line at a store when suddenly I stepped out of line and put down the item I was going to purchase. The reason? It wouldn’t fit in my suitcase.
I’m also struggling a little with being back home. I’ve found that my life is once again a blank canvas and I have the chance to create the life I want. I think this is a great opportunity, but the possibilities are literally endless, so I want to take time and make thoughtful decisions.
My friends and family are supportive in that they are simply glad to have me back home. They’ve welcomed me into their homes and I’ve been able to instantly reestablish our friendships. I’ve been very lucky to have such a strong support network while traveling and upon my return.
I find myself sitting quietly a lot, just thinking. For me, this is the way through the transition: allowing myself the time and space to begin processing all I’ve experienced. I’m confident out of this reflection a new path will emerge for me to follow.
Did you find employers looked at your trip as a negative or did it help in securing a job?
My travels haven’t negatively impacted my career in any way. As I re-launch my consulting business, my international experience has enhanced my perspective and what I can offer clients. And my blog, www.GoErinGo.com, which chronicled my adventure in real time, continues to be focused on social issues, travel and volunteering, and participatory philanthropy. These are all areas that are an extension of my philanthropic consulting work.
My travels have also led to additional opportunities. I’m now speaking regularly at schools, corporations, and civic organizations about my journey and volunteering abroad. And, of course, I’m writing my book “Adventure Philanthropist” about my experience.
What advice would you have for people coming home after a long trip?
I would advise to re-enter slowly, to allow yourself the time to acclimatize to familiar surroundings. You’re not the same person as when you left on your travels, so don’t expect to jump back into your old life. You’ve grown in your thinking, so give yourself the time to explore — just as you did on the road.
Readjusting simply takes time. You have to get used to what used to be so familiar. My one piece of advice is to continue to talk to the people you met traveling, especially those already home. They know what you are going through. They can relate and by talking with them about how you’re feeling, it makes the transition less difficult.
P.S. – Since everyone likes these success stories as much as I do, I’ll be doing one of these a month from now on.