Updated: 07/17/18 | July 17th, 2018
Before my first trip around the world, I was driving through Boston (my hometown) with my friend Mike. I was talking about how excited I was about my trip and how I was looking forward to seeing all the changes that happened while I was away. Where would my friends be in life? How would they have changed? What jobs would they have? New hobbies? New relationships? What would the city be like? I imagined a world of possibility.
“Everything will be exactly how you left it,” he said when I finished. “Look. 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.
“No way! A lot can happen in a year.”
“I’m telling you, Matt,” he continued, “life will be just the way you left it.”
When I came back, I realized he was right. While I had changed, home hadn’t. My friends, now heading into their late twenties, still had the same jobs, were going to the same bars, and mostly doing the same things. Nothing had really changed. They were the still the same people I had left eighteen months home. Moreover, Boston itself just felt the same. It had the same pulse as it had had before. There was still construction everywhere, the vibe was the same, the restaurants were still the same.
It was as if home had remained frozen during my time away.
I still loved my friends, family, and city, but I realized 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. I was depressed after my vacation. That fire was a feeling only those who had traveled seemed to understand — a simple nod to convey an understanding of this shared bond.
When I talked to my friends, they brushed it off.
To my parents, it was like I was equivocating on my place of birth.
As the excitement of home wore off, I wondered what was next. I was restless. I had travel depression. I felt stale being at home. Did I take this long trip only to end up right back where I started? No, of course not. I took it to grow as a person.
And I had done that.
I had grown.
I had changed.
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.”
Coming home is easier now than it was that first time in 2008, but the road still beckons me after just a few days. While I still get the post-travel blues, I know it’s there that I will find kindred spirits who understand me and the adventure I sick. It’s where I find like-minded people who broke out The Matrix.
Every time a friend comes home from traveling, their first question to me is always, “How do you cope with post-vacation depression?”
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,” they’ll say.
You feel as if you came back to exactly the spot you left. From backpacking the world and trekking in jungles to sitting back in a cubicle. It’s depressing.
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.
You went from 100 to 0 in the blink of an eye.
No one home will understand you. No one will get you. You just have to fight through the depression, look for like minded people, come up with ways to have adventures back home, and make the most of your time at home.
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 doing what we do best: wishing – and plotting – for another opportunity to get away again.
Further reading on travel depression:
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