Post Travel Depression: How to Deal With it
Post travel depression is real, but if you succumb to it don’t make the mistake of expecting any precious pity. It’s of little surprise that the phenomenon of being exceptionally glum when returning from the trip of a lifetime is met with absolutely zero sympathy from the friends and family you left behind. It probably sits at about the same point on the surprising scale as the relationship status of somebody who wears socks under their sandals (umm, married obviously, due to their practical, down to Earth natures). Expelling valuable sympathy for somebody who’s just travelled the world is simply out of the question for most rational (cough, jealous) people. It’s really up to you to deal with it. Ouch.
I first realised I was in the firm, ugly grip of post travel depression when, after deliberating for an hour on which set of drawers in IKEA to buy and being told they were sold out, I was legitimately on the verge of tears. It was not really about the drawers; they would be back in stock in the next few weeks. It was about what the drawers really symbolised. The end of my trip.
It’s really over…
The absolute worst part about coming home though, was that despite my inner fears that everybody would have moved on without me and carefully photoshopped my face out of all their pictures, nothing had actually changed. Literally nothing. OK, so the self-checkout counters at the supermarket have slightly changed position, the garden in my house is more chicken poo than grass and my brother’s puppy has grown up, but nothing of any importance is really any different. My housemates are still watching Game of Thrones together on the couch in the dark, eating dinner without me on day TWO of my return. After the quick reunion phase it’s like my trip didn’t even happen. People are busy living their own lives and nobody really wants to endure my amazingly hilarious travel anecdotes. Which is fine. I’m not some sort of god who deserves the unwavering attention of my friends, but if you’re out there and feeling the same way as me right now, then just know you’re not alone.
So what now? The world may be the same, but you know deep down inside that you’re different. And also you sort of hate everything because ‘normal’ life seems meaningless. You’re an outsider in your own world and you’ve just experienced one of the biggest anti-climaxes in your whole life. My advice is to take that and roll with it. Grow as a person. Below is some advice based on my own, very current, struggle with post-travel depression.
Realise it’s not the real end.
Sure, this trip is over, but your future is stretched out ahead of you and its up to you what you do with it. The real reason you feel sad after travelling is not because you really loved the croissants in Belgium (although holy moly they are so heavenly that I’m drooling on my keyboard and the letters are getting sticky), but because you know deep down that all you want in the world is to avoid a life spent on autopilot. You could be the next great artist, musician, scientist, nurse, hot-dog-eating champion or even pet food taster if that’s what you truly want in your heart: somebody needs to ensure the slop we gives to our pooches is vaguely delicious. Like they say, the world is your oyster. As for me, I’m already browsing airfares for my next adventure. I’m a more confident traveller now, ready to take on more challenging destinations and there is a lot to look forward to!
Be realistic about home and your friends.
When you’re away from home and feeling homesick your brain has a nasty habit of concocting an idealistic ‘virtual home’ that is far more enthralling than home really is. In ‘virtual home’ you’re laughing passionately with your friends, eating decadent choc-chip muffins, frequenting fun parties, and frolicking through fields of delicate white daisies with a childish grin on your face (AND you don’t even get crippling hay fever in this world, because…magic). In the real world you see your friends much less frequently because, believe it or not, they’re busy sometimes, you can’t have choc-chips because they make you fat (GASP!), and you find yourself feeling both emotionally empty and sneezy, because unfortunately pollen is necessary for the stupid eco-system. Carefully controlling your own expectations, or ‘virtual home’, is the key to sanity when you finally come back to the real one.
Travel in your hometown.
In a new city you’re excited to do absolutely everything, yet somehow you’ve missed much of what your home city has to offer. Go to all the bars you’ve never been to, visit that restaurant you’ve never tried, or see what local bands are playing this weekend. Try to treat your own home with the same enthusiasm you showed the cities abroad…Just not the kind of enthusiasm you showed Amsterdam. That’s still very much illegal in most places.
De-clutter your house.
I just spent ten months living out of a backpack. Anybody who has travelled long term will attest that it’s a humbling way to realise how little you really need to live. You slowly disconnect with the modern materialistic world, whose aim it is to make you think you need kitchen appliances worth thousands of dollars to be ‘happy’ (cough, thermomix, cough). Moving back into a house is the perfect opportunity to de-clutter your life. Take each item out of its box, and decide honestly if you need it. It’s liberating. Do I really need to keep the dirty glass bottle I found on the ground when I was ten? Probably not. Although… it does have quite a pretty pattern on it and could even be collectable, and I’ve kept it for over ten years so why throw it away now? Besides, it looks quite good with that fake two-dollar blue daisy in it, and makes a nice sound when you blow over the bottle opening. STOP IT! Suppressing your inner hoarder can be hard, but the rewards are worth it.
Keep a few memories close to you.
This may be a very slight contradiction to what I just wrote, but keeping a small amount of travel memorabilia close-by gives you a nice opportunity to reflect and feel happy. Photos are the most obvious way to do this, but I also I have a small collection of beer coasters from around the world that I intend to keep under a glass panel on my new drawers (if IKEA ever re-stocks them). Viewing my coasters and reflecting on the un-beer-lievable beer drinking times is kind of like my adult equivalent of sucking my thumb for comfort. Actually, I think alcohol is my adult equivalent of a thumb. I still HAVE thumbs as an adult obviously; I just don’t suck on them. Much. Either way, my point is that small items of memorabilia help you to remember your trip for the fun it was, instead of mourning its passing.
Change your life.
It’s cliché and I’ll almost dry retching just writing it, but travel changes people. I’m the same weight as I left (damn it!), my second last toe still looks like an aliens attached itself to my innocent, unsuspecting foot, and my eyes are the same magical, dreamy colour. My priorities and values in life however, are a world away from those held by the old, inferior me. It’s helping my post-travel depression along just trying to stay true to my new values now that I’m back in my old life. This will mean very different things for every individual, but I’ll share one of my small changes.
For nearly six months of my trip I carried around a little bottle of liquid foundation, and despite the pizza induced pimples I never bothered using it once and eventually threw it away. Even though it weighed very little, it felt like a massive weight was lifted. Travel gave me the confidence to be me, without resorting to make-up and a new outfit whenever I felt low, and my goal is to keep it that way. I don’t really mean a strict make-up ban, more a ban on using make-up and clothes to veil my inner inadequacies. Deep, huh? That’s what travel does.
Get a new hobby.
You’ve been constantly exposed to new amazing things during your trip so take that inspiration home with you and create an interesting and fulfilling life. Did you try kayaking in Thailand and love it? Kayak along your local river. Did you hear somebody playing amazing jazz clarinet on the streets of Ljubljana? Then learn the clarinet, or at least spend lots of money on one and play it once. That spicy Thai peanut sauce that you fell in love with and ate for every meal for a week, including breakfast… It’s probably not that hard to make. Why don’t you give it a Thai? Did the poverty you witnessed during your travels affect you? Contact your local charity or volunteer agency and see what you can do for the world.
Hobbies make you more interesting and keep your mind active.
Unless your hobby is staring competitions… then people might just be afraid of you (that is a real hobby by the way, because Google told me so). Anybody who takes up cheese making on the other hand is definitely my best friend…provided its not blue cheese they’re making. Gross.
Continue making new friends.
The travel lifestyle of hopping from hostel to hostel is full of exciting new people (and admittedly a lot of weirdos, people who smell like farm animals, people whose snoring penetrates earplugs and idiots who take hard drugs next to your bed when you’ve got a cold and make you wish you were drugged yourself). It can feel a bit lonely returning home, but why should meeting new people have to stop simply because you’re sleeping in your own bed? Join local clubs and classes and participate on Internet forums with likeminded people. While the lifestyle of a reclusive hermit may sound appealing (there’s no need to wash your hair or trim your toenails), it’s really not the right lifestyle choice for most people, so get social! Besides, you really should wash your hair; it makes it smell fruity and boys like that.
Also, don’t forget all your old friends. Some of them are probably worth keeping, particularly if they bother to read your blog…the really great ones will even comment on it. Won’t they guys? Guys? Oh… ok then. I see.
Write a blog post about post travel depression.
Write a blog post about your struggles with post travel depression, and then, perhaps more importantly, actually follow your own advice instead of drowning in one hundred litres of toxic and pathetic self-pity, because, frankly, there are worse things in life than coming home from a great trip. For instance, when your laptop is going flat and the charger is all the way in the other room. Just horrible… But truly, writing this blog post has really helped me out. If you’re reading this then you’ve played a small part in my own personal post travel depression therapy session. Congratulations.
Much like when you’re upset because you’ve hopped in the shower but forgotten a towel, or when an unacceptably large amount of kernels have been left un-popped in your pop corn, feeling down after travel is a first world problem. Not everybody has the opportunity to travel and acknowledging how lucky I am has helped me a lot. That doesn’t mean post travel depression is not real and meaningful though. If you’re experiencing it now then life’s big questions are probably swirling around your brain with about the same amount of order as my unpacked bedroom. A lot of change and adjustment lies ahead, but for now I’ve decided to take a break from the big things and instead just smile and eat cheese.
It’s not the answer to the meaning of life, but it sure is delicious.