I have said on many an occasion that the hardest part of long-term travel is making the decision to go.
I guess I lied.
It turns out that the hardest part of long-term travel is coming home.
Three months ago, my best friend waited outside a tube station in London to welcome me back to the familiar world I had left behind six months previously. I was excited to see her. I was excited to sleep in a comfortable bed for more than a few nights in a row. The thought of having my own wardrobe to hang my clothes in made me spontaneously erupt into a happy-dance. No more insect repellent, factor 50, padlocks or money belts. I was coming home. Safe, predictable home.
I was upset that my adventure had come to an end. I loved being on the road, bad moments included. I loved exploring somewhere new every few days. I loved that even the most mundane things became exciting. I loved the people I met, who went from strangers to friends in the space of twenty minutes and a bottle of beer. I loved who I was to other people – another traveller, a clean slate with her own interesting stories to tell.
But I was tired. Not to mention broke. It was time to go home for a while, recharge my batteries and top up my bank account.
I knew coming home would be tough. I didn’t realise how tough.
I thought I would spend many a night with my old friends, flipping through photos and telling them the stories behind the faces. I wanted to tell them about the cockroaches, spiders, snakes and rats that had crossed my path and shared my bed; the mountains, craters, lakes and all the amazing vistas I had seen.
But that’s not how it works. I invariably got out my skydive DVD and showed them a few photos before we moved on to different conversations. My friends’ lives had carried on while I was away and they had their own stories they wanted to tell. And that makes perfect sense – in what world would you want to listen to someone talk about themselves for hours?
For every story someone told, I found myself saying, “When I was in…”. I soon caught myself out in this and stopped. Ok, I still do it a little but that’s because I experienced more in those six months travelling than I have in my whole life so far.
And so over the past three months since I’ve been back, the traveller in me has become quieter and quieter. Most days I drift into a daydream, imagining I am off and away on some other continent. I find myself looking up the next place I want to visit, even going so far as looking at flight prices and thinking maybe… just maybe… I fantasise about being the traveller I was again. Sometimes I am wistful. Mostly, when I remember those six months, I am sad.
When I came back people asked, ”How was it?” How can you possibly summarise ‘it’ in an answer short enough to finish before their eyes glaze over? So now I say, “It was amazing!” I smile and leave it at that. That’s good enough for everyone.
How was it? I could tell you all about the places, animals and people but that’s not the first thing that comes to mind. Rather, my travels ended up becoming about how I changed and grew as a result of all the amazing characters I met and situations I found myself in.
I started out a timid mouse, dizzy after my first ever long-haul flight and almost regretting what I had got myself into. Within days I was on my way to becoming the person I have always wanted to be. I was alive. So alive. I was Present in every conversation. I challenged myself on a daily basis and truly gave 100% in everything that I did. I pushed myself beyond what I thought I was even capable of. I lay down on rock hard ground every night and slept like a baby. The longer I was away, the less I was afraid to show how passionate I was about… well, about everything and anything I wanted. I became more assertive. I learnt to look people in the eyes and understand that they can tell you more about them than any words in any language can.
I learnt to be proud of myself and unapologetic of the fact.
I am still proud but now it feels like I am proud of someone else. Not me. Not the girl who sits in an office all day and replies with “not bad” when asked how she is.
It is hard to describe the yearning I feel when I think back to those six months. I feel a deep, leaden emptiness sitting in my chest. It makes me not want to even talk about my travels (a problem when you run a travel blog and the reason it’s been quiet here lately).
And yes I know I can focus on the next trip and plan short getaways to lessen the mundanities of everyday life. But that’s like telling a newly-single friend that there are plenty more fish in the sea.
Allow me to be a ‘little’ self-indulgent here. Perhaps in another month’s time I can counteract this with a ‘how I beat the back-home blues’ post.
Kristen at HopscotchtheGlobe does a much better job of tackling this subject than I can right now – So You’ve Returned Home After Traveling the World, Now What?