After the Landing: 5 Tips for Readjusting to Life Back Home
| Teaching House Nomads Blog
Whitney Currier talks about what “re-entry” can be like, and has some tips to help you avoid the travel equivalent of the bends.
For those of us who suffer from a particularly serious case of wanderlust, who find daily life in our countries to be rather monotonous and uninspiring, returning home after a long, impactful trip or repatriating after living abroad can be tough.
When you’ve spent weeks or months or even years being immersed in unfamiliar places—surrounded by new sights, sounds, and smells—coming home can be disorienting and depleting. The people and the places back home remain largely the same, but you are not.
Yes, this is cliché but it’s cliché for a reason—because it’s true. You are seeing things with fresh eyes. The way people stand in lines, how cashiers interact with customers, the timeliness (or lack thereof) of public transportation: you can suddenly see these things as if for the first time, and while this newfound vision is enlightening at times, it can also be frustrating.
You find yourself thinking things like They do this so much better in (x country), or Why are people here so (x)? Even the ability to understand what people around you are saying feels novel or like some kind of superpower you suddenly developed. It can also feel like sensory overload; you’re bombarded by these familiar-turned-unfamiliar experiences and you’re not sure how to process them.
This is not to say that coming home is always a negative experience; home is where you can find your loved ones, comfort foods, and, if you’re from the U.S., Target. These are all things to cherish.
However, if you’re coming back to your country after some time abroad, it’s definitely worth preparing yourself for it, both mentally and practically. After all, returning home is a journey in itself. In the words of Lindsay Eagar from the novel Hour of the Bees, “It is a big world, full of things that steal your breath and fill your belly with fire…But where you go when you leave isn’t as important as where you go when you come home.”
Here are five tips for adapting to life back home.
1. Expect an adjustment period
Even though home is very familiar to you, it might feel odd for the first few days or weeks. You’re likely not used to being surrounded by people who speak your language, or the feeling of always knowing exactly where you are, or your friends or family being mere minutes away from you.
When you’re abroad, you’re accustomed to operating from a place of constant discovery and adaptation, and suddenly knowing how everything works around you feels…well…foreign. And for those of us who crave the unfamiliar, the effortlessness of home can feel almost irritating.
So, what to do?
Give yourself time to grieve. No, no one died, but your way of life for a period of time—and a period that was possibly quite transformative—has ended (for now). This can be confusing and disorienting. It’s normal to feel sad or just “off,” and you’re likely to feel this way for some time. Accept this and practice some good old self-care to get through this period.
2. Take off those rose-colored glasses
When you get home, you will probably feel the urge to compare your home country to where you lived before. This is normal; it’s what people do.
However, it’s easy to go down a rabbit hole and start looking for everything that your foreign host(s) did better than they do in your home country. In turn, you can start feeling resentful and the negativity can drag you down.
Try to avoid this.
It goes without saying that each country and culture has strengths and “weaknesses”—things that can be viewed as inefficient, non-sensical, or even harmful. No country is perfect, and that includes the foreign places you just returned from. Without fixating on the negatives, acknowledge the faults of your foreign home, and at the same time note all the things that your home country does well. Aim for a balanced perspective.
3. Surround yourself with memories
It can be painful to look at pictures or items that remind you of your travels, at least when you first get back. But memorializing your trip—hanging pictures on your walls, making scrapbooks, displaying trinkets—can be both fun and healing.
Not only do you get to revisit pleasant memories when you’re making/placing these items, but keeping them on display ensures that you’re never far from a quick injection of happiness—and inspiration to plan your next trip.
4. Connect with others who have recently returned home
Despite the fact that you’re coming home to friends and family, adjusting to life in your home country can actually feel quite lonely. Most people you know back home will be fully immersed in their daily routines—going to work or school, paying bills, taking care of kids. Their lives may look very different than yours, and this can feel alienating, especially if you want a different kind of life or you feel like your life is currently in flux.
It’s also possible that your family and friends won’t understand the struggles of readjusting to life back home, and they may even view you as spoiled or ungrateful for not being content to be back home.
It is for these reasons that you should seek out others who have gone through or are going through a similar experience. Maybe you made new friends abroad who are also returning back home. Talk to them about their experiences. There are also Facebook groups such as Women Who Travel, where (if you’re a woman) you can swap stories and seek advice from other travelers.
Last but certainly not least, try to find joy in simply staying in one place, or as famed travel writer Pico Iyer refers to it, “the art of stillness.” As Iyer points out, “sitting still,” or remaining in one country/place, enables us to process and appreciate the experiences we’ve had.
Indeed, hopping from one adventure to another is thrilling and bestows us with lots of memories, but sometimes this constant bombardment of stimuli can dull the impact of these special moments.
Remaining in one place allows us the time and space to reflect upon our travels and understand where we are on the map of our lives, so to speak. Iyer says that sitting still was “the only way I could find to sift through the slideshow of my experience and make sense of the future and the past.”
So, as difficult as it may be right now, try to embrace this time back home. Use it to recall and celebrate all the beautiful experiences you’ve had, evaluate what you’ve learned, and figure out what all of this means for your life now and in the future.
And, of course, start planning your next adventure. 🙂