Reader Stories: How Erin is Readjusting to Life Back Home

By Nomadic Matt | Published April 18th, 2013

erin from goeringo in ugandaReadjusting 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.

erin from goeringo in south africa

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.

erin from goeringo volunteering in sri lanka

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.

erin from goeringo trekking in nepal

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.

erin from goeringo in burma

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.

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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.

Become the Next Success Story

One of my favorite parts about this job is hearing people’s travel stories. They inspire me, but more importantly, they also inspire you. I travel a certain way but there are many ways to fund your trips and travel the world and I hope these stories show you that there is more than one way to travel and that is within your grasp to reach your travel goals. Here’s another example of someone who readjusted to life after his big international adventures:

We all come from different places, but we all have one thing in common:

We all want to travel more.

Make today the day you take one step closer to traveling – whether it is buying a guidebook, booking a hostel, creating an itinerary, or going all the way and buying a plane ticket.

Remember, tomorrow may never come so don’t wait.

comments 21 Comments

It took me a while to get back into American life when I moved back from Europe. Even though I lived in Spain and France which are totally modern places, life was completely different as were attitudes of the people and it was complete culture shock when I got back to Los Angeles. I felt ‘off’ for a very long time. I still think differently than most people (I now live in Charlotte) but that is normal when you travel so much and get to experience so many different things.

It’s been two years since I was abroad and I’m still not sure I’ve adjusted yet!!

But this was really refreshing to read, especially the part about being an American. I do take life here for granted sometimes so it’s nice to have the good parts pointed out!

Thank you for this wonderful post. I love it and can 100% relate to it!

Cheers :)

Tina

Hi Matt,
Do you happen to know the name of Erin’s consulting business and if she is hiring? I’d love to hear more about it.
Thank you!
Tina

I’m going back to The States in three weeks after teaching and traveling around Asia. I’m terrified it’s going to be a difficult transition, but excited as well. Thanks for the heads up and the advice!

Don’t be terrified Jessica, be excited – it’s just like going to a new country!

Bruce Webb

We took a year to travel around the world volunteering and visiting folks in different countries. Reentry took about 6 months and was not an easy process because things seemed so different. The biggest cultural shock was seeing how much we have in America and how big everything is – the people, the houses, the cars, the roads, the stores – everything! We have reintegrated but there is a part of me that longs for the simpler way of life we saw in other cultures.

Judi

I lived in Panama for 7 years, and most of my difficulty at first was because I was attempting to live as I did in the US. I came Stateside for a month each summer, and the question was always, “How many aisles of the supermarket can I go down before crying?” The amounts, the displays, and yes, the restaurants overwhelmed me in sheer quantities. I miss CNN International for more news of the world. I’m returning this summer for a visit; it should be interesting….

NomadicMatt

CNN International is leagues better than CNN in the US.

Gemma

I don’t know that you ever adjust. I’ve had two year long trips – and I don’t feel I have ever adjusted back after either of them. I still dream at night of lands far away and find myself with very few belongings (and not wanting more). I appreciated this quote when I returned home this time:
“You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart always will be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place.”

NomadicMatt

Beautiful quote.

It has been a while since I’ve lived overseas for stints of a year or two, but I clearly remember the first time I went grocery shopping at Safeway after two years in Egypt. It took two hours and I was baffled. When I shopped at The Blue Nile in Cairo, I said “tomato sauce” and the clerk got me tomato sauce. My only decision was one or two cans. What’s with having to decide between five different brands, salt, no salt, with peppers? The wonderful thing about having the opportunity to stay somewhere for a extended period is really being able to get into the culture and see that our American way isn’t the only way. Sometimes much better, sometimes not.

As one who has lived overseas and has traveled for many years, I know exactly what you mean about the supermarkets and the mental transition…but I also know it was all worth it.

Kathy Clarke

I was a Peace Corps volunteer and as we finished our obligation, the higher ups described reverse culture shock when we got home. We are more observant of our own culture and sometimes very critical of how we live in the states.

I’d echo what others have said. Once you have traveled and, especially if you’ve lived in other countries, it’s not the same you who comes home. Hence, the adjustment. I don’t think it’s good or bad. It just is.

NomadicMatt

As Benjamin Button said “It’s a funny thing about comin’ home. Looks the same, smells the same, feels the same. You’ll realize what’s changed is you.”

I leave Uruguay on May 4, 2013, for an (approximate) 8000 mile trip to the states. I told my children two years ago that I wasn’t going to come back. They had to come here to visit. Well, change is the only thing in life that is “for sure”. Oh, taxes and death, too-smile. I have my legal residency here and the 1950s pace and lifestyle in my little city suit me very well. My youngest grandchild, age 7, has developed a health problem and I am off to the USA via buses. I came on buses and I return on buses. Three years ago I thought I would be gone 6 months. But Uruguay felt like my sought after home away from home. Now the transition back to the land of great beauty and grand excess. This article was a wake up call for me. I didn’t even consider that I’d have a readjustment period. I left home a week before my 70th birthday and now I plan to return just after my 73rd. I have learned more about myself and more about life in these 3 years and plan to keep on traveling till my last breath.

Judi Kaye

Your story is such an inspiration! I have been kicking myself for waiting until my impending “Big 3-0″ to finally take the RTW trip I’ve dreamed of since I was a a little girl

Kiwi Kaye

Hey I’ve enjoying reading these stories and particularly loved Judith’s, it proves age is so not a barrier to travel. I’m setting out on my midlife O.E, after 30 years of raising kids, mortgage, bills etc and happy to do this for a long time yet, it makes more sense to me than staying in a rut and just getting by in NZ. I travelled for 4 years as a teenager, and now seeing places I haven’t been to yet. I find it stimulating meeting other people, new sunrises, sunsets and all the other great experiences that go with it. I really get the culture shock, whenever I’ve returned home over the last 30 years from short trips, it takes me ages to adapt again…oh and yes I so get the supermarket thing, really do we need 100 different brands of pet food or toilet paper. Travelling rocks, opportunities abound, and already I have picked up a bit of work to keep my money intact for further adventures. And it’s in a place I’m loving! Sth Western Australia, what’s a gorgeous piece of the globe. Go well other travellers, we’re doing it right. Kaye

Erin, I love your story! You don’t often hear about any one traveling to Antarctica. But I definitely feel a culture shock even if I leave home in the States for a week or two. It IS hard having your friends and family understand this, but at least it’s something you can inspire others to do, traveling is beautiful !

I first met Erin in Buenos Aires, and then in Ushuaia just right after her epic Antarctica adventure, and then in NYC a few weeks back. Amazing woman with loads and loads of stories from around the world! Erin hang in there! It gets easier with time, as they all say :)

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