No matter how often you travel — and I travel extremely often — coming home is always a bittersweet experience. As you may know if you’ve been reading the past several weeks, I’ve just finished up a six-week trip to Australia.
I returned to Austin the day before yesterday to find my city literally infested with music lovers and industry professionals, who were in town for the annual SXSW Music and Arts Festival. I headed out that night and met literally dozens of amazing, talented, interesting people. Yesterday evening, I listened to Santigold’s showcase from my front porch.
It’s a great time to be in the capital of Texas right now, but I’m still bummed — wasn’t I just on the other side of the planet? It can be difficult to beat feelings of sadness and even depression in the wake of a great trip, even if you love the place you live, but there are steps you can take to make the process more painless.
Travel and Homesickness: The Build-Up
From personal experience, I can tell you that it is literally impossible not to develop some sort of homesickness during travel, no matter how comfortable you are on the road or how much you love the place where you’re traveling.
Although homesickness can sometimes take the form of legitimate and profound sadness, it’s more often the fleeting memories of great times with friends or sights and sounds that remind you of being at home that get you. In other instances, loneliness, discomfort or sickness can make you long for the comforts of home. Remember my sick Christmas in China?
Regardless of which sort of homesickness overtakes you or its intensity and frequency, you will slowly but surely begin to get excited for “going home,” just as you probably did for your trip before you boarded the plane. And unfortunately, the “home” for which you get excited is probably a romanticized, vastly superior version of the “home” that actually exists.
Setting Realistic Expectations
One way to avoid getting the blues after you return home is not to have overinflated expectations of what you’re going to do — and more importantly, who you’re going to do it with — after you get back.
Since my friend Grace happened to be out at a bar when my plane landed in Austin Tuesday night, I was lucky enough to be able to see her literally an hour after I touched down. On the flip side, literally none of my friends were available to accompany to Takoba, my favorite local Mexican restaurant, for happy hour yesterday. I’d been dreaming about returning there since the last time I ate there, in January!
If you pump yourself up about seeing specific people and doing specific things in advance of arriving home, you’re bound to be disappointed. Are you friends excited about you coming home? Without a doubt, except for the ones that are generally shitty people. Still, the fact is that they didn’t go anywhere (and probably didn’t do much) while you were gone, so they’ve probably developed slightly different habits than they had before you left. Give them time to work you back into their lives.
For me, the best policy is trying only to anticipate the givens: Your own bed; your own car, bike or other form of transport; familiar surroundings; and the language you’re used to speaking. Focus your energy on being thankful for the most fundamentally satisfying aspects of being at home — let the rest happen as organically as possible.
Staying Busy After Travel
Unless you literally spend your entire vacation lying on a beach somewhere, your pace of living while traveling is probably at least a bit faster than it is in normal life, whether you’re rushing to catch planes, trains and automobiles, waking up at the crack of dawn to embark on tours of awesome local attractions or simply trying to squeeze an entire huge city into just one day of sightseeing.
When you exercise, it’s recommended that you spend at least a few minutes following the vigorous portion of exercising doing slightly less vigorous exercise, rather than just stopping altogether. Likewise, after a fast-paced trip, it’s a good idea to keep yourself at least a bit busy once you get back to avoid having too much emotional and mental downtime, voids of thought and feeling that are a breeding ground for post-travel depression.
If you work a full-time job, this mostly takes care of itself. If you freelance like me or are simply between jobs, however, it can be a little difficult, particularly if you’ve rested your post-travel hopes on being able to hang out with a certain person or particular people after you get back. Likewise, you can usually occupy at least a day of your time catching up on bills, errands and other matters to which you were unable to attend while you were away.
Getting back to exercise for a moment, staying active is a great way to beat depression in and of itself. Whether you walk, jog, bike, go to yoga or hit the gym, staying active keeps you endorphins flowing, which all but guarantees a positive state of mind.
Setting New Travel Goals
My favorite method for getting over the blues that tend to set in after I get back from a trip is brainstorming about my next one. At the moment, I’m considering a two-month trip to Japan, Korea, China and Taiwan sometime this summer.
Setting a new travel goal not only gives you something else to get excited about, but can help you get focused quickly after travel. Sure, I’d love to have thrown back a few margaritas last night, but now the $20 I would have spent can be used somewhere else — maybe to buy my first real sushi in Japan?
Goals don’t just help you to save money either. Depending on your line of work, they can also motivate you to work harder and make more, such as if you work a tipped position or if you earn pay-per-piece income doing freelance work like me.
No matter the circumstances of your return, coming home to a happy life after you return from having the time of your life depends far more on your than it does any external factors. Whether you keep extremely busy, set immediately to plotting your next trip or simply remind yourself to be thankful for simple pleasures you often take for granted, you alone have the power to turn your frown upside down after a trip.