The Art of Returning

I’ve been thinking a lot about travel lately. As travelers we spend lots of time preparing for our journeys. We research and plan and organize, often months in advance. Sometimes we learn a language. But frankly, how many of us spend any time thinking about our return home?

Travel is an art. But so is returning. Of the two, coming home is often way more difficult than departing. I see two main reasons:

1. Reverse Culture Shock
If you’ve spent a month or more in another country and then return to America you are not-so-subtly reminded of our crazy pace of life and heavy consumerism as soon as you hit JFK. If you land in Seattle, the blow is a bit softer. I spent 2.5 months in Ireland back in 2009. There were barely any Starbucks. If you wanted coffee you made it at home. Stores didn’t open till 10:00am and often closed in the early evening. The roads were frequently small and windy and people still stopped to chat you up pretty much everywhere. You hung your laundry out to dry on a clothesline like the rest of Europe. It was nice.

When I returned to the US I was greeted by the loud and rude employees of our illustrious JFK airport, miracle miles of stores open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and roads filled with cars big enough to transport a 12-member Irish Catholic family. I’m exaggerating a little here, but it’s true too. Everything is bigger in America. Literally and figuratively. We have more space. More people. Just, well, more of everything.

As travelers we immerse ourselves in a different life, sometimes markedly different. Not US to Ireland different, but US to Cambodia different. Returning home we see our place with new eyes. Sometimes those eyes are appreciative and sometimes they begin to look more critically at our system of living. And this leads me to point #2…

2. You are returning as a different person than when you left.
This is an internal world shift. You’ve left home, gone out into the physical world, and experienced new places, people, and ideas. What a gift. When you return you may begin to see and sense that the way your life was set up pre-travel no longer fits who you’ve become. Sometimes making the necessary changes to transform your life can be scary, overwhelming, and confusing. Why don’t they talk about this in the travel guides?!

The Art of Returning is a skill. Learn it’s ways and make them your own.

Way #1: A day or two before you return home, imagine yourself there.
Picture yourself in your home, apartment, wherever it is that you’ll be staying upon your return. Visit places in your mind’s eye that are familiar. No need to make yourself who you used to be in those places, just bring your current self there. Some people call this sending your spirit ahead.

Way #2: Say Goodbye
On the last evening of your trip spend some time letting go. Make a conscious transition by marking this time. Spend the evening telling stories, being with friends, going to your favorite places. Choose something that is meaningful to you and do it.

Way #3: When you return, give yourself time.
Let’s face it, most people don’t like feeling uncomfortable physically or emotionally. Part of the Art of Returning is allowing yourself to feel what you feel. I’m not talking ’bout self-indulgent bullshit, I’m talking about being real with where you’re at. Know that it may take some time to reintegrate and that is normal and part of the gift of travel. We are forever changed. Let yourself be changed. And allow yourself the room to continue that process at home.

Way #4: Tell your story.
Get your closest friends together for an evening of fun. Make food from the places you spent time in. Share pictures or video. Tell stories. Ask your friends for stories from their travels.  Make bringing your experience home a joy that infuses into the lives of those around you. You will be like a fresh breeze to the lives of those around you, believe me.

Do you have experience with Reverse (external & internal) Culture Shock? What kinds of things do you do to soften your return? Share your thoughts and feelings with me below. And share this post away. There are a lot of soggy travelers out there who have just returned and may need a boost!

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2 Responses to The Art of Returning

  1. Jill says:

    So true Kat! Great summary of the step by step processes that we all go through whether we know it or not. It’s nice to have instruction to be able to do it more gracefully 🙂

    My additions:

    I like to keep a journal of all my adventures while traveling, both as a way to reflect and process, and as a record of what my time in that place was like. It helps me to remember my stories, take time for me, and I can look back at it when those memories start to get fuzzy. It’s a way of taking the experience with me, because often I feel like I am “losing” something when I depart. I also like to take photographs of the people I meet, and keep in touch with the ones I felt a connection with, even if it’s only one email a year, or a “friend” on facebook. And when planning a return to somewhere, I like to give myself a block of time where I have no expected activities and can just rest and sink back in. I also like to plan something fun, so that I have something to look forward to at home, like a get together with loved ones.

    I haven’t had a solid home in a year and a half or so (which I guess could be a whole different page), and I’ve found that it doesn’t take a permanent space, or much material stuff to feel grounded. A favorite coffee cup that goes with me everywhere, my journal, photos, and little rituals like my morning routine keep me sane. My sentimentals and things worth keeping stored neatly away in plastic tubs, labeled and ready for future use. I used to say that how my room was organized felt like a reflection of my inner mental state. Now that I am nomadic, I’ve found it’s helpful to have all my belongings in one spot and organized, so that I don’t have a chaotic list of what things I own and where they are stored which I have to keep track of. And as people who have lived on boats, or done much backpacking will tell you, there is a level of satisfaction that comes with the “efficiency” factor of stuff organization. Even so, leading a nomadic lifestyle can be difficult.

    my 2 cents

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