Homecoming and the Adventure Detox
After your big adventure, you’re looking forward to the homecoming. The adventure was fun and challenging, but toward the end you’re ready for something familiar.
You find yourself daydreaming of friends, family, and the comforts of home. Then the big day finally arrives, when you say farewell to _____, your base of foreign surroundings for some time.
When you return, people are happy to see you, and you’re happy to see them. You swing by your old haunts, read the mail that’s arrived in your long absence, and try to settle back in. At first, it’s all fun and nice. My favorite foods! The old coffee shop. Things are easier here, and everyone speaks a language I understand.
But then, just as you missed home while you were away, you start missing away while you’re home. You remember the other coffee shop, the one you discovered on your adventure. The unfamiliar foods, so strange at first, that you learned to enjoy. Your small-but-important victories in learning to communicate in another language.
Many of your friends and family, who are otherwise intelligent and compassionate people, don’t understand what’s happened to you because they have no context for it. To them, your experiences far away are an “other,” in a place they’ve vaguely heard of but whose connection exists entirely with you. They listen politely to your stories, but they’re ready to move on long before you are.
“You’ll never guess what I saw!” you tell everyone you meet for weeks on end. “I’ve learned so much about the world.”
“That’s great,” they say. “Have you seen what’s happening with American Idol?”
When you went away weeks, months, or years ago, you were prepared for culture shock in your new surroundings. Coming home, the reverse culture shock hits you out of nowhere, which is all the more difficult because you didn’t expect it to be so strong.
It helps to talk with other people who’ve seen what you’ve seen, or who have been away on a big excursion of their own. They may not understand the specific experience you had, but they know exactly what you are dealing with in your reentry. As you go through adventure detox, it may also help to have an upcoming adventure in mind—something to look forward to as you blend your old life with the new.
But these things won’t completely solve the problem. There’s only one option: you must learn to keep some of the memories in your own heart. This is hard to do, because you want to share everything with the people you love… but even as you tell the stories, you realize there’s an unresolvable gap between an experience and its retelling.
It’s easy to begin doubting yourself, wondering if life on the other side was really that interesting, or if things really happened the way you imagine them now. Doubt your doubts! What happened was real; it just can’t always be passed on to people who weren’t there.
It doesn’t make the memories any less special; in some ways they are more special as you realize they can’t be easily reproduced for the world. Some things are yours alone to cherish.
It always strikes me as funny that there’s such a chasm between the folks who have no desire to see the rest of the world, and those of us that do. My wife and I have close friends who cringe at the thought of even driving 45 minutes from their suburban homes into the nearest major city. They think we’re nuts for putting so much money and energy into international travel. And it’s definitely helpful to think about the next adventure: on our last trip across the Atlantic, my wife was already laying out future travel plans!
This is exactly why I love to travel with my wife. Having someone there that experienced the same things, helps me get through the “detox”.
Strange actually, that I read this post now. Just a few hours ago, I was reminiscing about a trip to Australia from a few years ago. What I like to do then is go into Google Maps and look up some of the places we went to and retrace our steps. To relive the experience for a few moments and think “yeah, I really went there and had such a good time doing X and seeing Y”. Give it a try!
This is so true. I joined AONC one night, fresh from an epic trip to Brazil, I was craving feijoada and, immediately I was hit with a longing to be hot and sweaty, trekking thru mud and deep vegetation again.
I tried to explain my anxiety but no one would understand…. that’s why I joined AONC, hoping someone understood what I felt…. I love this site, but the longing is still just as intense.
I know that feeling of coming back well. It is exciting at first – sharing stories, going places you missed, seeing people you thought of – but then the let down. And it wasn’t that I didn’t love my life here, but it seemed more exciting THERE.
I managed to get through the detox by creating a digital scrapbook recounting my stories, talking with my sister (who was my travel buddy) and keeping in touch with people I met. I also created a plan to return! Now I still talk wistfully of my adventure, but since I have a plan to go back and ways to recreate that magic, I’m content with life here.
You’re so right. You can’t pass it all on to others who weren’t there, and it isn’t especially satisfying (to either party) to try. I think this is true for most experiences, actually.
The word we use when we come back from travel is “re-entry”. Like astronauts. Getting re-acclimated to a different gravity. And yes, having another adventure on the horizon — not too soon, but soon enough to matter — always helps.
The flip flopping of wishing for “home” and “away” is very familiar to me. I spent twelve years working at a YMCA camp as an Australian. The feeling of mild depression and longing for home would sneak up on me and all of a sudden I’d need to escape. Camp became boring – a place I didn’t want to be.
Then I went home and within three or four days I was longing for camp. I’d eaten fish and chips, Cadbury chocolate, and visited all of my family, but now it was time to go back. My friends had the same reactions you’re talking about. “Oh that’s nice, are you coming to cricket training on Wednesday?”
And each time I went back, I worked out how to change the mundane elements of camp. The break allowed me to consider my life.
Great post. Sometimes it can make you feel guilty for wanting to talk about your experiences. When you’re chatting away about the things you’ve done, what you’ve seen, or where you’ve been, out of nowhere you’re sucker-punched by a generic discussion of the weather or the person’s pets.
Though, I once realized that sometimes I waited simply to get in my two cents on something before allowing people to fully tell me their stories. It goes both ways. Now, I try to make sure to ask plenty of questions and allow the conversation to move naturally rather than trying to wrangle it where I want it to go. If someone doesn’t find my story particularly engaging, that’s fine. It doesn’t diminish the experience itself.
I’m preparing to go home after being gone for almost a year. This is exactly what I needed to hear. I’ll try to remember the feelings I’ve had, because those feelings are easily forgotten.
Hi Chris! I could so relate to this post because I experienced much of what you described after returning from spending my junior year of college abroad. For me, it was absolutely life changing, but the people at home simply couldn’t relate to my experience. I went through definite culture shock as I readjusted to life back in the good old USA. Many years later, that one experience continues to provide me with gifts of cherished insight.
Chris – Reading this from Pakistan and couldn’t agree more. Even after 4 days here in a refugee camp I’m already looking forward to returning. But 4 days after I get back I’ll start daydreaming about my next international video shoot.
Ah, reverse culture shock! Thank you for writing about it, Chris. It makes me feel so normal! I remember the first time it happened and I didn’t understand what it was. I had returned from a summer in Bogota, Colombia, a naive 19-year-old who had just witnessed true poverty for the first time. Returning to my comfortable middle-class life in small-town Ontario, I was angry all the time with the wastefulness, the apparent ignorance, and what I saw as appalling lack of concern for what was happening elsewhere in the world. My father finally took me aside and gently commented, “You need to remember that most of the people in this town have never been to a city, let alone outside the country. You just had a privileged opportunity. You know things that they don’t know. You saw things they may never see. Being angry at them for what they don’t know is not the answer.”
Now I write, I speak, I share in positive ways, remembering to “be” the change I want to see in the world.
Six months in India, Vietnam, and Nepal left me feeling the exact same way upon returning to the United States. I felt homesick in a strange and privileged land, unable to fully digest the incredible shift.
The roads were so straight, the walls so flat, the windows and doors so square… everything felt so manufactured, so new and shiny.
I tried explaining what I was experiencing to friends and family, but nobody could understand, nobody could relate. Slowly, I started turning inward, keeping my stories to myself and only sharing them when asked (and even then, I would stop talking the moment I noticed a loss of interest).
But communities like the AONC, where we can meet other travelers who have experienced the same shift and struggled with the same reverse culture shock, are what makes those stories so valuable.
Thanks for this post. I’ve been able to share my stories through speaking and creating videos and I’m grateful for that. But others often do not get the changes that can happen. Like after the first time I went to an African country, I came home and pitched half of my stuff. Or why I advocate travel to anyone I meet – especially Americans. And I mean travel not tourism.
But as Craig S commented, it goes both ways. Just because I’ve had these great experiences and stories does not negate another’s story. Everyone’s story is important and deserves and our open ears and hearts.
Now I’m getting back to figuring out an inexpensive way to get my partner and our 6 year old son to Kenya and Tanzania this summer. Happy trails to all.
What a beautiful post! I remember when I got back from backpacking in Europe in my early 20s. Once I got home, I was so excited to take a shower without flip flops on, however, I was even more excited to tell my family and friends about my amazing 3-month journey. No one was interested. It broke my heart. This was my first real excursion outside of the US and no one was interested. I began to realize they just weren’t interested in travel, because if they really were, they would be out there traveling, too. I found many people put down my trip as silly because it reminded them of what they were too afraid to do themselves. For me, though, it sparked what has been a lifelong love of travel. I know not to talk about my trips with certain people.
I think you can apply this post to anything you do that is outside the norm, especially working for yourself. I was surprised when I started my own company how unsupportive people were. I’ve learned to keep my best biz ideas to myself.
Even on small trips–vacations, etc., I always get hit with a bit of depression upon my return and I have difficulty talking about my time away to people. One of the things I most hate about coming back to work after vacation is having to repeat the stories over and over again as they can never really capture what I experienced. I tend to prefer staying quiet and keeping it to myself. Often for other people, a simple “oh it was amazing!” will suffice and then the details can just become mine to cherish and express in other ways that people seem to appreciate more–an essay on my blog accompanied by photos, for example, or by recreating a dish I ate while away. I think it’s about conveying the trip in a way that people themselves can ALSO experience it.
20 years ago, I returned from being a Peace Corps Volunteer in Africa. It was a life changing experience. I felt as if I were a new person. Except my family and friends remembered me as the person who left. I knew that I was different, but also recognized the person that they saw. The hardest part was that I wanted to be seen as the new, wiser person. My family and friends just wanted the old me back.
I am forever spoiled being connected to Chris’s writings becuase I now expect everyone I encounter to operate from the same independent, examine-your-life state!
Not only is it hard to tell people about an exciting trip and get them to join in the experience with you, it’s also hard to tell them about a TV program and why you found it useful/exciting.
If folks could really listen with their hearts, they might hear something exciting from your travels/thoughts that could enhance their own lives. Perhaps live vicariously, if need be, but gain some of that excitement people seek just by listening.
In the words of one wise old woman (that’s me, okay?), BEFORE TRAVEL, BLOGGING. AFTER TRAVEL, BLOGGING.
That very reverse culture shock thing happened to me. I went for two weeks on a houseboat in Canada. I had to get used to being on choppy waters, and living with 3 other people (friends). We experienced so much, including a terrible lightening storm and rough waters where we were close to being in major trouble or worse. When I got home, I felt completely alien to my surroundings, that I didn’t fit in anymore. I wanted to quit my job and leave the area. It wore off after a few dull weeks of work.
There’s definitely just too much of a chasm sometimes to share everything with non-travelling friends or acquaintances. I was relaxing by a hotel pool yesterday. I happen to be in the US but it’s not my home country and I haven’t spent much of my 40 plus years here (I’ve spent them living in 6 different countries and travelling to many more). I clearly heard the women next to me telling her companion that ‘You just can’t travel outside of the US anymore. It’s too dangerous.’ While part of me wanted to strike up a conversation another part held back. There was just no point in trying to reconcile her point of view with my experiences. Sometimes you have to accept the chasm and seek out people on your side of it.
Sometimes just sometimes years later someone asks a question and the memories come alive and the fire and the passion in your retelling ignites the flame in another’s adventurous spirit ~ this is what makes it all worthwhile ~ and perhaps little by little our adventures do affect those around us who appear stuck in their parochial ways if not now but in time to come
Ouch, this one hit home pretty hard. After a year-long, life-altering adventure through Africa and Asia, finding the love of my life (my now wife), having done all of the hyena-baboon-monitor-lizard-in-the-shower zaniness that no one will really ever believe, and we come home, sit in the living room with coffee and cookies and the topic of conversation starts with, “Did you see the new construction at the train station! The traffic has been terrible for months!”
Realizing no one but us was going to understand the depths of our journey, we decided to keep it mostly to ourselves. “How was your trip around the world?” “Great.” “Oh, good. Could you pass the sour cream?” We relive small moments of our past together and in private as only we can smell a small road in southern Laos through a dirt road at home, only we recognize the tiny trinkets that can turn a nothing moment into a something sly smile, only we have the keys to the secret paradise of our memories.
On my first trip to India, 1982, I was so completely culturally-bombarded, when I got home I hit the grocery store and bought PILES of familiar foods (that I did not even usually eat) and thought I had won the lottery or something just FINDING these foods! But I also observed one person in each car, 2 people in gigantic homes (and they were never there, just trying to pay for the place), and I just thought ‘there is something so messed-up in this society!’ I could barely function, until one person, who had been to the same ashram I had been to and traveled the same route, had us over for lunch–and just kept asking questions:
“What happened next?” ” What did they say next?” “How did you get from here to there?” This was hours of telling the story to people who KNEW! They pulled it out of us, bit by bit.
After re-constructing it for these folks, I could integrate better and settle in and function. Family members are still convinced I’ve lost my mind. OK; I have found my heart.
Thanks for describing this so well–had a chuckle with the line about American Idol. After a long trip awhile back, the culture shock coming back to the states was big–I don’t think I’ve ever recovered. Yes, lots of memories just have to be cherished or written about 🙂
SO beautifully said, one of your best!
For all the reasons you mentioned, I journal when visiting a new country or on a new adventure because I find jotting down my emotions, feelings and visceral impressions of a place is as close as I can come to “bottling” the experience for savoring later. Doing so helps me capture forever the magic and truth of travel adventures *for me*, all of which fade too quickly from memory upon re-entry. My journal plus photos and videos allows me to hold my adventures in my heart and take a trip down memory lane at will.
Because like you said, no one else – even people who might be traveling with you or who have been to the same place at a different time – will “get” your experiences like you do. I’ve long ago abandoned the expectation that they will, and now focus my energies on treasuring my adventures – and the transformations they inevitably create – for my own sake.
I had exactly the same experience the first time i returned to the UK after backpacking through Asia and Australia, people were interested for a few stories worth and then wanted to get back to talking about washing-machines etc.
It really threw me off kilter for a while, then i got rather down about it and then i realised there really wasn’t anything i could do to change the situation with my friends who had stayed in the UK.
After that i started hanging out in the Travel section of bookshops!
As i was only ‘home’ for a short while the feeling was relatively short lived and i subsequently realised, as someone else mentioned, that some of my old friends are comfortable to talk about travelling and some of them aren’t, i’ve learn’t to tailor things accordingly.
I just wished someone listened or cared, about all the cool $hit I saw, and people I met, but I’m conscious I sound like I’m bragging. I feel so insensitive. But then I realize how ignorant they seem for not caring….
In the end, if I can get someone, just one person, excited about travel, maybe even together, that would be exciting and rewarding enough…why is that so much to ask?
I understand exactly what you mean and the sense of not being understood, loss and disappointment. But you have to realize that the person you’re talking to is going through a lot of feelings themselves.
It seems that wanting to talk about your experiences is only a part of it – you also would like some extra attention. And that’s what you usually won’t get as the one ‘coming back’, because everyone is so wrapped up into their own lives.
I think it’s best to find common ground first (maybe talk about world events, or Aunt Ida) and then see where the conversation goes. If they know you just came back from a long trip and don’t bother to ask any questions about it – look for other friends! At the same time, if you don’t bother to ask any questions about their seemingly boring lives, why should they listen to you! It goes both ways.
I’ve also noticed something else about coming back: Some people take you’re leaving very personal and feel that you left them. They are truly hurt.
I especially like, “Some things are yours alone to cherish.” Last night, I was bummed because I finally booked a venue for a charity event I’m working on. It was down to the wire and to have such a perfect venue come through at the last minute was such a huge relief and cause for celebration. My friends and husband were excited for me, but since most of the cast and director don’t live near me, I had no one around who really “got it.”
I feel better thinking of it as my own special little victory.
You have certainly described a familiar feeling…the disconnect when one returns home even though there are times when one longs for home, and then missing the awesome places one has visited. I certainly relate to the sense that describing one’s adventures to less travelled friends and family sometimes is a challenge..they think it’s exciting, but can’t quite share your enthusiasm. Thanks for sharing. It helps to know I’m not alone in feeling those things!
By the way, part of your description fits my experience with grief to a “T”. When you mourn the loss of a spouse, there is no one who can share that mourning- you have no one to share memories with and people, although they are understanding in the short term- do not have any possible to understand what you might be experiencing. They lack the ability to know how you might feel. You become a stranger even at ‘home’.
This is exactly the reason why we have to travel ourselves. If not, we could just send someone traveling for the rest of us, or read travel books.
I’ve discovered that keeping a travel journal is important for this reason. Photographs might record what you saw, but the journal records what you felt.
I love reading everyone’s comments on this. I haven’t gotten to travel much yet and it’s great to read about the places you’ve been and the little things you miss from there when you come home. It’s also a good reminder because when you haven’t been to these places yourself, you do get this general message that it’s too dangerous.
My little bit of travel was to Europe, Norway and Germany specifically. I came home desperately missing not having to drive anywhere. I loved that I could walk, or take a train and stare out the window the whole way. Here at home, one day there’s a new building on the drive to work. I know it didn’t get there over night, but I never noticed it in the months it was being built cause I was so focused on traffic and the road in front of me. I never got a chance to look out the window and actually see what was going on around me.
Such true observations about ‘the return’ I felt like you had listened in on my husband and i’s conversations after returning from Kenya, and again from Malaysia, and again from… you get the idea. We experienced the welcoming friends and family; super happy to embrace us a little glazed over when we shared more than a few stories. Travel is such a part of us we felt like we were sharing ourselves with those we care about; we were spreading out a feast of sights and sounds while we quickly discovered they felt it was more like a doggie bag. May seem a strange analogy but as you well know what was rich and satisfying to you while living it is like leftovers to those who weren’t there. You’re right that sharing with those who have been or plan to be where you have gone, those that *get* who you are and where you’ve been really helps. As does the planning of your next *feast* if you will.
Great post Chris!
Whether I’ve been to another country, back from a very successful art show, or to the top of a really large mountain, the general population is simply not interested when you step outside the “ordinary”. It’s up to you to make these adventures memorable in a way that doesn’t require sharing outside a circle of people that will appreciate it, and recognize that the let-down is just part of it all.
Never doubt that is was monumental!
I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Belize from 93 to 95. Undoubtedly the most difficult part of the whole process was coming home. The lack of responsiveness of many of my fellow countrymen to my experiences was disconcerting, as was struggling to come to grips with the overabundance of things that we take for granted in the U.S. (I fear those times are well nigh, by the way). I remember being overwhelmed in a large mall in Texas once and having to get outside just so I could breathe and not be so distracted by all of the advertisements and stimuli. I would parallel reverse culture shock (obviously on a much less severe scale) to post-traumatic stress disorder that soldiers experience after they return from duty.
I find increasingly drawn to more overseas experiences as I enter in to mid-life.
Chris, you’ve completely captured and named something I haven’t been able to articulate… “reverse culture shock.” I’ve been floored by that American Idol comment for years and have struggled with what do with it. At times my feelings have been hurt, taking it too personally, that they didn’t really listen or care what was going on in my world. Sometimes I even sense the other person discounting my experience like it was selfish or frivolous while they were home managing more meaningful aspects of life. I’m learning that these reactions are more about me than them. I’m trying to gently, gracefully share my stories without any expectations. I’m trying to pick the experiences to share… then share why they were important to me. Like you said, no one can take away the reasons you cherished something….
My brother travels extensively and he shares his experiences on his personal blog. While life-changing circumstances just moved back my husband & I being able to travel for abt 10 years, I can still visit other places through my brother’s shared experiences, as well as yours (Chris).
No one will pass up a dinner party banquet inspired by your latest “away”.
Rather than trying to regale folks with tales of far off lands and knowledge and trinkets acquired abroad, simply invite them to a feast featuring the foods of your destinations.
Oh, my God, I am not alone! I am so happy to read Chris’ post and all the great comments here.
I got back from beautiful California to “bleak” Germany and I am already struck by foreign – sickness (as opposed to homesickness). All the great experiences, the beauty I have seen, the people I met. The way people react overhere: Ah, America, what is so great about it?
Yet, I can even top this experience. The only stronghold or attachment I had were all the pictures I took. Unfortunately, I managed to erase them all in one shot yesterday from my camera. Cry – I want to leave again!
The feeling was worse, when I came back from Brazil to Toronto after 3 months. I felt exactly as Julie, Margeret and others described. I felt alienated by the Western standards of moral and life style.
It would be great to be always able to travel and get paid for it! It is so mind opening and I think one lives more intensely, richer.
Let us rock the world!
When I returned to the States after my first 2 years on the road, I was actually a little thrown off thinking in English all the time. I’d grown so used to seeing everything in another language that my own native tongue looked strange. I could hardly greet the cashier in English. Almost like I was in an expat Twilight Zone for a good 2-3 weeks.
Expressing those feeling to friends (in particular) used to get a chuckle at best. Unless you’ve “been there and done that” it’s hard to imagine that your own language could look awkward. So you’re right Chris… sometimes you just gotta hold the memories near and dear and detox on your own.
Returning home from my first extended trip to Europe when I was much younger, I remember looking around and wondering why the cars had to be so big, and why people ate so much fast food and “… you call this coffee?”
You get over it, but it does get stored away and is not forgotten. You never lose it.
Feeling away at home….! Chris, you capture those feelings so well.
I have just realized that I feel like this every day when I am working in the office in the UK…. So I am in the wrong job… I want to share my enthusiasm for European countries with others.. I just love travelling, discovering, listening and trying out new languages, learning new things, seeing how people are doing things in different cultures…
I feel so rich to be able to think in this way, my life is never boring, and my brain is working on the next project on my back from the previous one…. However small they may be…
Good luck to all fellow travellers!
This was such a good piece. I so understand the feeling of reverse culture shock even though the farthest I have been from home has been Puerto Rico and I would love to go see other countrys but with three young children at home it will have to wait. However the line “you must learn to keep some of the memories in your own heart” touches me. There are things about my life at home right now that no one else can relate to or is really interested in either but they mean alot to me.
No question that Adventure Detox sucks! it’s really good to read all these comments to see that I’m not alone in dealing with the disappointment of having friends and family that just don’t seem to care. I’ve still got another 2+ months on the road and have already begun to dread that feeling of re-entry.
I lived in Scotland for a year, returning to the USA Sept. 2010… I’m still in ‘mourning’ missing the sea and the green. Not one family member has even asked me about Scottish life and some think I have been a traitor to have loved it so much, leaving them feeling rejected–even though I’m here now.
I get these urges to drive on the other side of the road; I turn to BBC Radio Scotland online just to soothe my jangled nerves. These STRAIGHT ROADS are driving me nuts! The lanes are HUGE!
I will probably get over it, eventually, but I’d prefer to just move back to Scotland when I can. Even Walmart (ASDA) in Scotland is like a health food store compared to here…maybe this food here turns us into zombies so we aren’t able to WANT to go to other countries? Thanks, Chris, for re-igniting the travel-bug flame within! I suggest don’t just “travel” but really LIVE there! for at least long enough to experience the rhythm of regular daily life vs. hotels/restaurants. (IF AT ALL POSSIBLE!)
I think you struck a chord for a lot of people here, including myself. “Adventure Detox” pretty much sums up my entire 24 years of life- moved constantly, into and out of very divergent cultures, since birth.
No one “gets it”. Not really. It’s like being from an invisible country that exists somewhere in between the lines and squiggles on the maps. But your advice here is sound- talking to other people who have had similar travels, even in radically different countries than mine, is the closest feeling I get to ever being at home.
And since I don’t plan to stop traveling any time soon, I’ll have to keep in mind the sentiment you put so beautifully (“There’s only one option: you must learn to keep some of the memories in your own heart.”). You’re right; those memories are mine, and they don’t have to be real to anyone else to matter.
That’s wonderful. Thank you.
Chris you always have such a knack for explaining things where I’m like, “exactly! me too!”
This is a great observation and one that I guess I hadn’t fully thought out before. As David Damen said previously, that’s why they travel with their wife, so they have someone to share the adventure and memories with. I couldn’t agree more. When I travel alone, it’s enthralling and I love to discover things the way I want to, but when you come home, it’s just so different and no one can relate or even really care. When I travel with my fiance, it’s so wonderful because I don’t even care if anyone else doesn’t get it, we get it and it’s our own little “secret experience” if those are even the right words.
I will never understand people that don’t value travel, but at the same time, I don’t judge them. To each their own.
Pico Iyer wrote a good article which touched on aspects of this “syndrome”, it was called The Nowhere Man.
He describes feeling all too familiar with too many airports, knowing all too many places that feel like home when you return to them and howthat feeling also cannot be explained to the non-travelled non-home-changing folk.
Signor Chris – you have written a splendid thing here which in its precision I have yet to see addressed before.
It prods the senses and reminds of the numerous tangles and mazes of communication and the clashes or contrasts between the familiar and the strange – familiar being that sad Idol and the strange being so often, “that thing I didn’t see myself” and therefore do not understand.
Best wishes and happy travel and stays!
I embrace travel, it keeps me grounded in sanity and flying high in intellectual inspiration. Travel makes being home bearable until my gypsy spirit draws me, once again to find new campfires to dance with. I so understand your article Chris. I am thankful for memories, the only paradise that remains.
I first experienced that kind of adventure detox and pushback from family and friends after studying abroad during my sophomore year of college. I remember telling my parents, who had helped pay for my three months in Vienna, Austria, that “I could never live the same way again.” Rather than infect them with my wanderlust and zest for new languages, cultures, and challenges, they became worried, as though they’d lost their son. I quickly learned to steer conversations away from what I’d learned about politics or the pervasive ethnocentrism I had identified: Everything that U.S. Americans do is bigger, better, faster, smarter. This just wasn’t true, but many people weren’t interested in having those conversations. I had to relearn how to be sensitive and observant in my native habitat!
I spent 10 years living and working in Africa before my wife and I decided it was time to come ‘home’. And the adventure detox as you put it Chris, was pretty heartbreaking. It had been an experience that was integral to who we were, yet no one was really capable of understanding our experience.
We had come back with thousands of photos (mainly slides). I had kept these hidden away for most of the first year, because I felt that if I spent too much time reminiscing or looking at them I would simply want to pack it all in and head back to Africa. But there were too many beautiful experiences (and beautiful photos) to keep them in their box.
Eventually we held an exhibition for family and friends. With each of the 30 photos was a short piece of writing describing the event through our eyes. We invited everyone we knew – many came – and the response was overwhelming. It cost us a fair bit of money, but allowed us to feel understood and acknowledged.
I think you understand Chris! Thanks
As always Chris your comments are spot on!
That seeming “rejection” from everyone at “home” really rocked me the first time, now I just expect it and hold back a lot more. Those precious memories are just safely stored away and hopefully many more will be added to them before I’m done!
This same exact thing happen when you live abroad. Every time you go home, you are very excited in the beginning but then you start to miss the things where you live now. And people doesn’t seem so excited about the experiences you’ve had – Unfortunately. But what matters most is what all this experience brings to you as a person and gives you more tolerance and respect for other people, religion, opinions and cultures.
Fantastic writeup! Im a musician and I love being in my hometown Kuala Lumpur as much as I enjoy traveling. So nice to find other people who feel the same way 🙂
You have both a way with words and a way of getting people talking.
When I was a college student I wasn’t very clued into world politics and took a trip with a friend where I ended up in a country undergoing a military coup. Martial law, curfews, tanks in the streets. When I returned home people wanted to know what I had been up to (nothing, I was clueless). But the worst thing was that I had seen things and KNEW things and what was on the local news was not what had happened. So everyone thought I was crazy because I had a different story. I did quickly learn to keep my mouth shut and after many years the official story has gradually shifted toward the truth.
Add in all the other stuff everyone is saying. So much food and so much shiny stuff at the mall and so many cars. I do feel that every time I leave and come back. I agree with the person who said you never recover. Heck, who would want to recover to where that seemed normal?
This article has made me feel so much better. I travelled through Europe for 6 months and have been feeling what you described since i returned home. It was shocking to find that the only questions people really asked were “What job did you have?” or “where were you living” and maybe the occasional “how many girls did you shag?”
As someone else mentioned earlier, going on google maps and looking at some of the places you visited is a great way to re-live the happiness you felt. This can also enhance your longing even more though so be careful.
It’s always windy at the top.
Great post, Chris! Your words and everyone’s comments speak to the visionary in each of us that thrives on exploration, discovery and new connections. It’s so incredibly fulfilling, that connection aspect is still vibrating ~ humming along ~ when we return. It moves us to WANT to share it with others. It’s a kind of cherishing.
My daughter and I create scrapbooks like several other folks who posted. It seems to satisfy the inner as well as the outer. Next adventure will probably be an digital share as well! Thanks for your keen and tuned-in observations!
Lots of great comments here already. Chris you make an excellent point. Often people don’t want to take the time to understand what you’ve seen and done while traveling, especially if you’re gone frequently. However, I do find that sharing stories of specific conversations I’ve had with people in other countries and talking about their understanding of America always becomes an engaging discussion. People always claim they want to travel and learn about other cultures but they don’t usually want to take the time and energy to engage other people that are different. Learning that we all have more similarities than differences sometimes makes the topic of the latest reality show not so interesting after all. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
I absolutely love this post and have written a lot about this topic on my own blog. When I first came home after 3 years away, it was quite a joyous experience as there were about 10 of my other close friends around me who had just returned home. I always had someone I could share my memories with. And at that time, I met my husband Craig and we began playing straight away our trip together around the world.
When we returned home after a 5 year honeymoon we went through a severe detox. It put us in such a low place, we didn’t really understand what was happening to us. We had our little girl during this time and it wasn’t long before we packed up our things and headed overseas again.
We have just returned after another 2 years away and again are struggling. We have learned how to deal with it now and have found lots of travelling friends to hang out with and we started our travel blog as a way to share our travel memories with those who want to hear them. Great post!
Great post. That rang true on many levels.
I remember catching up with my best mate after my first big travel adventure, and was showing him some photos… His attention span lasted all of 30 seconds.. and hits you like a ton of bricks on how much you change.
Travel is a wonderful thing, and will be included at different stages always as part of my curiosity for life. But I soon learned to appreciate everyone and the choices we all make. Simply put, some of us love travel and can’t even contemplate a long adventure.
Great post. I recall boarding the plane home from Jamaica and having huge tears in my eyes (sad to leave)…the pleasure of being immersed in another culture is hard to describe to a friend or family member that has never stepped foot outside of their own country. Show them pics and describe the highlights I suppose. I have given up on attempting to explain the joys of traveling to a foreign country to those that have never been. I am not angry or upset with them – I just have resigned myself to the fact that they cannot relate. BTW – Jamaica is awesome!
Thanks for sharing these beautiful, truthful sentiments. After living overseas for 15 years, I have found it very hard to “settle” back into American life. I don’t know if I ever will “settle”…the adventures, excitement, interesting people, global perspectives, cultures etc. etc… I feel ready to hit the road again but with teenagers you just can’t pull up stakes that easily anymore….
Love this post, Chris! Always look forward to your posts but this one I can relate so much!!
Look what you’ve started, Chris! Fascinating reading. I can relate so much of what is said here. When I first coined the term culture shock to describe how I felt like an alien back in my own tribal lands friends of mine laughed along with me thinking I was joking!
It doesn’t matter how much you try to reprogram you head on the plane home, coming from another culture, from 42c to 5c, travelling through time zones for 24hrs, changing accents as well as clothes and maybe languages too, travelling completely changes your perspective on life and living.
Some of these experiences can’t be told, or described even in a journal although I like attempting to unravel them there but the fact that I’m enriched is really all that matters. No-one else needs to understand, it’s just great when we find others who do feel the same, like here.
We probably expect too much of friends and family.
I put my energy into a creative project on returning. It helps. A lot.
And if I ache for a place, I return.
Great post Chris! Can relate and it’s very interesting to read everyone’s comments. What an interesting group of followers 🙂
Synchronicity. I posted a photo on twitter earlier today of a past trip saying that it’s fun to post photos and think back on that trip and be able to share at least the photo with others. I just finished posting on my blog about a trip within a trip (planning the next trip while still on a current trip). It’s almost painful though to not be able to impart the feelings/love you have of where you’ve been with everyone when you get back; they listen but don’t really hear sometimes.
What a lovely post. Honestly, I never thought about this before. Sure, I’ve always had the “travel detox” of things seeming very strange when first back at home, but just figured it was part of the interesting effects of travel. I find it rather enjoyable, actually.
I always maintain a diary and this relieves the desire to have to tell anyone about my experience. There are things that I could never verbally share as they are too mysterious and personal. One of the side affects of not saying too much is that friends keep asking about the trip! I guess it’s sort of the “cat syndrome”, which is, if you want to pet a cat, you need to ignore it and then it won’t leave you alone. 😉
I’ve had the most amazing experiences in various places, and it’s truly wonderful to years later have some odd story to share. The life I’ve led while away from home feels like a secret warm blanket I take with me no matter where I am. It is a comfort and a joy.
Great post, Chris! After 10 months away, my deepest fear was that I wouldn’t be able to hold onto the person I’d become while travelling – the person I discovered that I actually LIKED, the one who wasn’t afraid to strike up conversations with strangers and try new things. I was afraid that either friends wouldn’t like the ‘new me’, and wouldn’t understand the growth that I’d been through. Or worse, I was afraid that eventually I would revert to being exactly like the person I was before I left. I hated the thought that, after a few months, everything would return to ‘normal’ and it might feel as if I never went away. One thing I discovered (by accident) was that it helped to connect with people in my city who were doing exactly what I had done – gone to the other side of the world for an adventure. They’re the people who don’t mind hearing all your stories, and the ones who will help you feel like you’re still out there travelling and meeting new people. They’re the ones who get it.
I know what you mean about telling your adventures to others (family) who have not traveled. Their attention span is very short.
Chris, you have all of us to tell your adventures to and we will listen and enjoy. I’m still waiting to hear about the African adventure you and your wife had. Talk and transcribe it into a book or report, please.
My wife and I went to high school in Beirut, Lebanon. Our school mates get together every three years to enjoy talking about old times and new adventures for days. It was such an adventure that it never gets old to us.
As more of us die off each year they my have to become memories that only I enjoy, unless I journal them.
My girlfriend (born and raised in Armenia) and I (born and raised in Switzerland) have been living in the U.S. for years now. We both visit our home-country, family and friends regularly and call what happens when returning to the States “the mind-f$%k”.
Yep home is where the heart is but the world is where your spirit flys. The ying and yang of an adventurous life. You can’t have one without the other….until one day they become the one and same. Godspeed.
I am not sure this experience is limited to travel.
I have been living in different countries since I was 4 and have travelled a lot (not as much as you Chris, but I would say I probably travelled longer and deeper to the places I did go to).
On some level your post here is only a facet of the larger philosophical problem of human beings essentially being always and perennially alone, with only tiny flashes of connection to other souls, including our loved ones.
There is a name for it in philosophy I am sure, but ultimately it’s an existential problem. The only difference is one of scale. You notice after a trip because the “disconnect” is bigger, but it’s really there all the time if you pay attention. The only “solution” I have found is to become really very comfortable with who you are at a fundamental level. Looking IN rather than OUT is a lost art and particularly so in the West (USA and Europe), but it IS the answer.
Great post….I can so relate. Having returned to the USA after living in Beijing, China for 15 years you can imagine the culture shock moving into these United States. I look into my heart and visit my China memories often and plan little excursions to refresh myself. Thanks for such a profound post.
On my first trip to Belize, about 5 years ago, I began a daily email to a small group of people. By the end of the week long trip, the “group” had turned into 25. I began a blog, for friends and family, and now on every trip I have a group of 50-75 who join me..on the good days and bad. When I return, they help me with my detox, welcoming me home but also celebrating my experiences.
Unlike most of the readers I haven’t done a lot of traveling yet and seem like I keeping making too many excuses. I do know that I like just relaxing on my trips simply because I am not traveling all the time. I dont want to go on vacation only to need a vacation from the vacation itself.
Wow, this is SO true! I have experienced this on a few ocassions and as someone who loves to share with others, I really struggle with the disconnect between my own unique, one-of-a-kind experiences and the ability of my loved ones to connect with them. I think remembering, journaling and talking to the extent that you can all helps preserve the memories, whether in your own heart or through sharing them with others. Great post!
This is so true! I want my friends at home who don’t travel to enjoy my trip through my telling of it, but that never seems to happen like I plan. They have no way to relate. I have learned so much on how we are all the same people, but just with different experiences. I want to share and pass it on.
And yes, home, where my heart is, is all the sweeter for where my heart loves to roam.
That is exactly why I am not only looking forward to going home, but I am also scared. I have been away for nine month now, originally from Germany and now living in the States, and will go home in about four month. I talked with my family about being scared of going home, they dont understand. Once I am home, they want me to stay for longer, but I already now that I have to hit the road again and after a couple of weeks have to get out of my hometown.
Great post. I enjoy reading your blog so much!
Well said (or written rather). I was saving this post in my reader and just tuned in during the commercial break of, gasp, American Idol. Too funny. Anyway, thanks for posting and posting and posting.
Totally know the feeling.
A thing that helps me is to keep a list going while I am traveling of things to google and research when I get home to do with the country I have been traveling in. I find for about a year after, my mind and reading is still on that country and I am still learning about it. Then when I start to research for a new trip and then make a new trip the center of thought moves to another place.
wow, sitting here in a coffee shop on one of my adventures and this post brought tears to my eyes. We leave for home tomorrow and I can already tell I’ll have to keep much of this trip in my heart. Thanks for the wonderful writing. It really touched me.
Wow. This just completely summarized how I’ve been feeling. I’ve been home for a week after just over 5 weeks of being away. My heart is so heavy with memories that I will cherish forever. Thanks for this post; it helps to know I’m not the only one!
I get this feeling a lot. I’ve found that it helps to see coming home as another adventure. Remembering all the good things about home, so it doesn’t turn into an “I hate everything about my own country” pity party. Keep life exciting. And write. I write a lot when I travel, and I blog as well. So I don’t feel the need to talk about my experience except for sharing with a few very special friends, who are always happy to listen and share my joy.
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