I first started writing this post around a year ago, when I moved back to Australia after living in South Africa for one year. Everything was ticking along quite fine in my new life abroad, until of course, the pandemic happened.
Suddenly, my new life as an expat was thrown into question. How would I stay in the country quickly became when can I leave. Worry for my lease expiring while I was stuck abroad later became the arduous task of breaking my lease. There was absolutely nothing certain and nothing normal about it.
But finally, after spending most of the year trying to get a flight home, I landed back in Australia.
And just as the weight of the pandemic was lifted from my shoulders, my doubts and worries soon became about how to adjust to life at home after being away.
Adjusting and then readjusting
I grew up in a fairly small city. There are a little more than 100,000 people in the city I grew up in, so it is the kind of place where everyone knows each other. It has taken me most of my life to figure out that isn’t such a bad thing, but in my teenage years and throughout my twenties, I couldn’t wait to get away.
So I did.
I traveled all over the world, to 80-something countries across 6 continents. I road a mountain bike down Death Road in Bolivia. I hiked to Fairy Meadows base camp along Pakistan’s border to Afghanistan. I sipped gin and tonics as the sun set over the Kruger National Park and I almost always woke up for sunrise (wherever I was).
It was a life of excitement, adrenaline, and joy in its purest form. I belonged to nowhere and no one.
I was free.
But the truth no one ever writes about when romanticizing travel, is what happens when it ends.
When the stamps of your passport stop in their tracks, when you finally get a hold on your jet lag because you’ve stopped switching time zones.
The hardest part of living a life of travel is the moment it ends.
How to Adjust to Life at Home After Travel
It pains me to write the words “after travel” as if travel and I will never meet again, or it will be a lifetime before we do. That mostly isn’t true. If I know anything about myself, I will travel again. I will probably travel for every year of my life (save for another worldwide pandemic).
But for the last year I’ve been adjusting to life at home. A life after travel (or at least after so much of it).
The way I see it, you’ve got three choices. You could either choose to focus on your career while you’re young and travel as you retire, or you could reverse engineer it. I chose the latter. And the third choice, I hear you ask? Would be to never travel at all.
But if you do travel while you’re young and arguably in the best position of your life to make the most of it, you will need to return to some kind of normal eventually. Whether that be after a gap year abroad, after living in London for two years, or after a decade on a Green Card in the USA.
No matter the amount of time you spent abroad and where you spent it, the harsh reality is that for many of us, the journey will one day end. That could be due to a visa expiring, your taxes catching up with you, or a longing for returning to your home country.
So the question still remains: how do you adjust to life at home after travel?
I’ve been spending the last year figuring this out. What is normal anymore? Is my accent really that weird? Why is it so hard to stay stimulated when I’ve reached the point of overstimulation? Will I feel this way forever?
The best way to adjust to life at home, I have found, is to take the time to do the work reflecting on your time away. Start a journal and retrace every step – what did you learn or figure out? What are you still unsure about in your life?
The next best way to readjust is to be open to change. Now that you’re back at home – be that in the house your grew up in or your best friend’s spare bedroom – stop comparing everything now to everything back then.
And finally, remember that the world isn’t going anywhere. You were ready to go home for a reason. Tune into that. And when you’re longing for adventure or discovery or excitement, book yourself a flight and enjoy the art of travel for the rest of your life.