Post Travelling Depression
Experience #176, 355, 528, 872 & 1643(This is something I wrote years ago following my return home after my first big overseas trip.)
So you’ve just got back from an overseas adventure? Riding the wind, following the sunset, discovering new cultures? You’ve finally returned home to the joy of friends and family – who make you feel like the star of the show, as popular as a Hollywood celebrity? I am here to warn you, every high comes with a price, and adventure travelling is no different.
Take heed…Your first weeks at home will be busy spent signing autographs and posing for photos with everyone from the neighbours to the postman, who faithfully delivered all your battered postcards into the grateful hands of a waiting family. Mates, eager to hear your tales, will shout you drinks at the local pub. (Others didn’t even know that you had left the country, but what the hell, they’re still glad to see you back again!)
You will become a storyteller. With an eager audience gullibly swallowing your increasingly embellished experiences who can blame you for stretching the truth a little bit?
It will be all too easy to bask in the attention bestowed upon you. Standing tall on a pedestal, you are the explorer returned home.
Wrapping yourself in the comforts of home, at first, you revel in the firm bed with fresh smelling sheets; an accessible refrigerator stocked with all your favourite snacks; a sparkling toilet boasting soft toilet paper with two ply, not to mention a proper seat to rest your bottom on (particularly appreciated if you’ve spent the past few months squatting!). Fast food as far away as your phone; uncrowded public transportation that moves faster than 30km/hr, and people-speaking people your language as far your ear can hear. Regardless of where you’re returning from, the biggest and best feeling of coming home is the security in familiarity!
But then what do you do when your pedestal starts to totter and your position in the elevated heights of glory and accomplishment is no longer? The bigger they are the harder they fall! And as you crash into reality the starkness of your situation sinks in: you’re home! The adventure is over! So now what do you do?
Just when you thought you’d escaped all exotic diseases unscathed, you’re struck by the one you forgot to immunise yourself against: “Post Travelling Depression”. An illness with a sense of irony, it crouches in the shadows, encouraging a false sense of confidence, before attacking the unsuspecting traveller. The symptoms are easily recognized: Restlessness, a Bloated Ego, and the Need to Travel Again.
Like an advanced child in a class for slow learners who can’t find anything to stimulate his interest, your days are spent feeling restless and unsettled. You busy yourself writing “Don’t Come Home!” letters warning friends to stay on the road; squinting at the logos of planes flying overhead; and searching for another attentive audience for whom you can recount your travels because your family has stopped listening after the tenth rendition.
The ‘familiar’ that was once so comforting is not anymore. The routine of friends and family, once secure becomes stifling and constrictive. Like a caterpillar that has sprouted wings and discovered flight you have seen the world from a new perspective. Travelling has led to a metamorphosis of your personality; taking it on a journey of self-discovery, acquiring new confidences and capabilities, while gracing you with a broader vision. (Pretty potent stuff this travelling!)
The Bloated Ego
A less socially acceptable symptom “The Bloated Ego” is another way to recognise the attack of PTD. Like the winning athlete of a marathon, or the flawless landing of an amateur skydiver, your ego is on an ‘accomplishment high’. Bloated by constant praise and jealous slaps on the back, it’s only natural you’d begin to feel superior to what you see as deep-rooted, shallow minded peers. Crystal clear confidence and a loose lip land you in hot water when preaching to friends and family on how they should run their lives and how you plan to change the world. Quick to judge, you’re unable to comprehend your friends’ narrow vision and liberal pettiness. An insular vision extending no further than their own backyard it neglects to encompass the bigger picture of poverty, starvation, and world peace.
Naturally, you begin to question the ties that bind your friendships together; wondering whether you haven’t outgrown them; and whether you shouldn’t start seeking new relationships? (What do you really have in common anymore?)
Disillusioned you begin to yearn for the company of fellow travellers. People with whom you can commiserate. Yet even here there are stumbling blocks, as meeting people at home isn’t as easy as it was on the road, now you’ll do well to steal a smile from a stranger on a city street.
The Need to Travel Again
As the days at home become empty, stale, and without purpose (or worse yet filled with the hypnotic glare of daytime TV, which can successfully reel you in for several unaccomplishing hours on end!), you begin to crave your freedom and dream of travelling again. Life was so much easier then! Somehow the days spent travelling seem fuller and more significant. Why wouldn’t they? Each day overseas you’re faced with new challenges, as well as unfamiliar and exciting experiences. Days are easily distinguished from the next: Monday might have been spent climbing to the base camp of Mt. Everest, Tuesday attending a snake charming exhibition at the Taj Mahal, Wednesday hunting for a Bengali Tiger along the Ganges, and Thursday you just happen to be flying to Thailand to go elephant trekking! A far fetched example that serves to illustrate the boredom most travellers encounter upon arriving home, where in the blinking of an eye a week can pass unnoticed and with nothing to show for it.
Your misery is compounded by the fact that your wanderings have left you with a wealth of experience but a shattered piggy bank. You are trapped in a mundane existence forced to search for a job and relinquish your crown of “Traveller Extradonaire”. The shackles are on and society’s ball and chain descend upon you: “When are you going to do something substantial with your life?”. The explorer once praised and admired for having the courage to sail off into the unknown, is now expected to suit up, shut up, and conform.
Will you ever be able to settle down again? Has the travelling bug bitten for life? More than likely it has, but fear not, you can control the spread of infection.
Most people beat this dreaded depression by resuming travel as soon as financially possible. Obviously, this is not a cure as much as prolonging the inevitable. With a planet supporting roughly 194 different countries to discover, at 3 countries a year that’s 64 years to see the world with an average of 4 months in each country! Certainly enough to keep you going, but what about finances, friends and family? Homesickness? Someday you’ll want to settle down.
It is possible to immunise yourself against PTD by pre-planning your homecoming BEFORE you return. The key is to return home to a CHALLENGE! On the road your senses are constantly assaulted with new experiences and different challenges each day. Why should your life at home be any different? It’s no use retreating to the same job you left if the opportunities to challenge yourself are no longer there. Like trying to put a square peg into a round hole, frustration sets in quickly. The trick is to have something planned upon your return that will stimulate your interest. Equally important, it should be something attainable. There’s no point in setting your sights on scaling the corporate ladder if you don’t even know how to climb! Where is the “Welcome Home” in rejection and failure? Work towards something. Give your projects and ideas a fair chance. Although it’s possible to see Rome in a day, everyone knows it wasn’t built in one! Nothing is as rewarding as accomplishment and achievement!
If you’ve already returned home and are caught in the grip of PTD, it’s not too late to break it’s hold. Start treatment by challenging yourself immediately: learn another language; follow up an interest tickled while travelling; try a new sport; a new hobby; seek out higher education; or open a business. For those with a strong dose of PTD, get involved in something travel related in order to minimize the shock of transition and keep you in the game.
Consider all factors of your life: career, relationships, lifestyle, and environment. Think about moving to another city. Or keep active with day trips within your hometown. Why not try weekends away in the country. Short trips to satiate that insatiatable travel bug.
More importantly, don’t let go of your new-found sense of adventure and the open mind that allowed you to try new things when travelling. Amazingly, travellers manage to toss away their inhibitions when on the road, yet when the plane touches down on familiar soil almost all don their old inhibitions like a suit of armour. Remember what you learned about yourself when travelling, and put it to use.
Sad to say, but you will never be never completely cured. Every time you go near an airport you’ll feel a strong urge to drop everything and jump on a plane to destinations unknown. Upon seeing foreign tourists wandering the streets, you’ll feel an uncontrollable need to talk to them, take them home, feed them, while re-living your adventures through theirs. While you may never fully accept the conservitisms of the society you’ve returned to, don’t lose heart there are ways to subtly change the boundaries of the cocoon surrounding you.
For those travellers about to tackle the great wide beyond: Let me sound a warning! Beware of the dreaded Post Travelling Depression and be sure to immunise yourself against it upon your return.