Last Updated: 04/15/2018 | April 15, 2018
When I first came home after 18 months away, I found America to be a very strange place. It was a foreign land all over again. I had forgotten so much about it, but more than that, I found the concept of “being back home” far stranger.
But to quote Benjamin Button, “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 came to realize that indeed, the change was in me. I didn’t fit in here anymore. I had this fire in me. It yearned to try new things, see new places, and meet new people.
It was also hard to adjust to the country’s constant driving culture, fast pace of life, small sodas the size of my hand, appetizers big enough to feed a family of four, cars the size of tanks, and “big-box” Wal-Mart stores that housed ten of thousands of things to buy.
“Holy shit! Supermarkets here are huge,” I exclaimed wide-eyed as I walked down the aisle.
“They are your supermarkets. This is your home,” my mother replied curtly. “Don’t say ‘here’ like this is a foreign place.”
At first, being home was fun, though. There was an excitement about being back. I went to my old haunts and favorite restaurants, and caught up with my friends.
But as that excitement wore off, I realized something: home had remained frozen during my time away. My friends had the same jobs, were going to the same bars, and were mostly doing the same things. In Boston, there were the same stores, the construction was still going, and the bars were filled with the same types of people.
After a year of mind-blowing adventures, I was back to where I started. My friends didn’t understand the new me, didn’t want to hear about having sailed the Pacific while they sat in rush hour traffic, and didn’t get why I felt so uncomfortable being back.
But the second time around, the biggest shock of coming home isn’t cultural — it’s simply the shock of being home.
That is the hardest thing to deal with. When travelers talk about adjusting to coming home, we almost always are talking about this: the transition from traveler and life on the road to being back into your old life.
It’s a lot harder than transitioning into travel. When I came home last year, I didn’t really want to see anyone. I was finding it difficult to adjust from such an “on the move” lifestyle to such a sedentary one. Yes, I wanted to see my friends and family, but I had just gotten used to the travel lifestyle, and even though it wasn’t always perfect, it was amazing.
And then all of sudden, with one plane ride, it suddenly stopped. The brakes slammed. And it wasn’t easy to deal with. How do you go from new people and places every day to the complete opposite and not have a hard time?
While in DC, I visited the James family from The Wide Wide World and we got on this subject. In the movie A Map for Saturday, they discuss this in detail. And when other long-term travelers talk to each other, they talk about this. And everyone’s conclusion is eerily the same:
Home is wonderful — but it feels very different, and in some ways, it’s longer home. You’ve changed. You are different, but life back home isn’t.
Often it feels like it was frozen while you were away, only to defrost right when you return. When you try to express that to your friends, they simply can’t relate and don’t understand.
When you tell your friends about your trip, they’re interested at first, but the more details you give, the more their eyes glaze over. They just want an easy answer. Because the more you go on, the more you just make them (a) a bit jealous, (b) think they haven’t done as much, and (c) bored. Any long-term traveler who has come home and talked about his/her trip can testify to eyes glazing over after five minutes. And so when you have this angst about being home, it’s hard for anyone but other travelers to understand.
Because it’s a feeling without precise words.
“Weird” or “surreal” or “unstimulating” are usually the best that we can use to describe it, but they never fully convey our thoughts. When you meet other travelers, though, you don’t need words. They just understand. They’ve been through it too.
To your friends, it can come off as if you don’t like being home and you think it’s boring. Maybe they think you just like running away.
But it’s not that.
You’ve just changed in a way that’s hard to describe. It would be like a woman describing being pregnant. You know what they are talking about, but unless you’ve ever been pregnant, you’re never going to fully understand or relate.
The real shock of coming home is just simply being able to cope with being home. Adjusting back to your culture doesn’t take long. Within a short time, you’ll get back into your groove and remember the little things you loved. But dealing with leaving the constant movement of the travel lifestyle can take much, much longer and be much, much harder of a shock to deal with.
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