Post-Travel Depression? Before my first trip around the world, I was driving through Boston with my friend Mike. I was talking about how excited I was about my upcoming travel and how I was looking forward to seeing all the changes that would happen in Boston while I was away.
Where would my friends be in life? How would they have changed? What jobs would they have? New hobbies? New relationships? What would the city be like?
The possibilities seemed endless.
“Matt, everything will be exactly how you left it,” he said. “Look, when I studied abroad, I thought the same thing. But in truth, nothing will be different when you come home. Everything and everyone will be the same.”
“A lot can happen in a year, Mike.”
“I’m telling you, Matt,” he continued, “life will be just the way you left it. You’ll see.”
When I came back home eighteen months later, I realized that he had been right. While I had changed, the home hadn’t. My friends, now heading into their late twenties, still had the same jobs, were going to the same bars and were mostly doing the same things. They were still the same people I had left before. Moreover, Boston itself just felt the same. It had the same vibe as it had had before. There was still construction everywhere, and the restaurants were still the same.
Mike had been right. While I had grown, the home had remained frozen in time.
And while I still loved my friends, family, and city, I realized I didn’t fit into Boston anymore. It felt small to me. I had outgrown living there.
However, the worst part was I now had this fire in me that I couldn’t express to anyone I knew. I yearned to try new things, go new places, and meet new people. But my friends couldn’t understand why I was so depressed about being back. They didn’t want to hear about my trip or all the cool things I did while they had commuted to and from work.
To my parents, it was like I was equivocating on my place of birth. To my friends, it felt as if I was now “too cool” for them.
But it wasn’t that.
As Benjamin Button said, “It’s a funny thing about comin’ home. Looks the same, smells the same, feels the same. You’ll realize what’s changed is you.”
After the initial excitement of being home wore off, I had become restless. I had post-travel depression.
Returning home is hard and few people address the reality that it’s often an anticlimactic end to a life-changing experience.
After a year of mind-blowing adventures, you‘re back where you started — sitting on a couch, back in your apartment or your old bedroom, bored, anxious, and jittery. Your friends don’t understand the new you, don’t want to hear your stories or don’t get why you feel so uncomfortable.
“What? You don’t like it here anymore?” they’ll ask.
But it’s not that you don’t like it.
It’s just that you went from 100 to 0 faster than you can process.
You feel as if you come back to the exact spot you left. You’ve gone from backpacking the world and trekking in jungles to sitting in a cubicle. One minute you’re your dream you, the next you’re the old one back in an office that yearned to be free. And you feel like you never really escaped your old life after all.
And that’s depressing.
Anyone who has ever traveled the world has felt this.
After you come home, when the initial hugs are hugged out, the stories told (to those who will listen), and the reunions over, many of us find that our true home is being surrounded by the unknown.
Every time a friend comes home from traveling, their first question to me is always, “How do you cope with post-travel depression?”
There is no real cure for post-travel depression. The only real way to get over post-travel depression is to stay busy. You talk to people online, go to meet-ups, or plan your next trip. Keep that energy you had on the road going. Go out, sightsee in your own town, take road trips, find a hobby… do something. Because the more you stay still, the worse your depression will be.
But it only ever fades as more time passes. There’s no cure other than time. It’s like getting over a relationship. Sure, you can stay busy but it’s only as time progresses that you slowly begin to move on.
When you were traveling, you viewed every moment as an adventure. View your life back home as one too. Stay busy. Stay active. Try new things. Keep that can-do attitude.
When you do that, the home will feel a little less suffocating.
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