1 week before you leave: you’re the happiest, most beautiful, and most free you’ve ever felt… while spontaneously bursting into tears at odd and inappropriate times.
2 days before you leave: you have random mini panic attacks interspersed with feeling really excited about all the food you’re about to eat and clothes you’re going to wear when you get home.
on the plane home: you’re binge eating crackers and trail mix, binge listening to nostalgic music, and obsessively thinking about how comfortable your bed is going to feel.
getting off the plane: you have a level of excitement coursing through your veins that gives you an overwhelming desire to throw up and pee at the same time.
1st day back: you’re squealing and bear-hugging everyone in sight, feeling all the love, and eating all the banana muffins.
2nd day back: you feel disbelief mixed with happiness in how many pant options you now have, and disbelief mixed with confusion in how none of those pants fit you anymore. you take the best shower you’ve ever had, and dry yourself with the fluffiest towel you’ve ever felt.
3rd day back: you spend all day cooking your favourite foods and dancing to your favourite music. you’re feeling totally unqualified to drive but do it anyways. you get excited to see all of your friends and do all of your favourite activities.
4th day back: you remember that you don’t really have friends around here anymore, and all of your favourite activities can’t actually be done here. you think about all of the friends you said goodbye to abroad and how you may never see them again. you miss them, and the person you were when you were traveling. you cry silent tears.
5th day back: extreme boredom sets in. you need to leave the house- now, so you decide to get get coffee. everyone at the coffee shop stares at you like you’re from another planet, and you wonder if maybe you are? some guy in construction boots asks where you’re from. you say you’re from here- he doesn’t believe you, and you don’t really believe you, either. you wonder if you’ll always feel like this much of a freak. you take way too long to order a coffee, because none of the drinks on the menu are familiar to you. you look around for other things you might recognise but everything looks different. you wonder if everything really is different, or if it’s only you that’s different. you cry in your (parents) car on the way home.
6 – 10th day back: you read some books, go on walks, ask everyone you know to hang out with you, meditate, binge watch Leonardo Dicaprio movies in the afternoon, dance in the kitchen, sleep in, download tinder cause, what the hell, and feel okay for a little while.
11th day back: you notice that everything you say makes people uncomfortable and slightly irritated. you try to act normal but somehow this makes people even more annoyed. you forget how to make small talk, forget how to talk at all, and feel so lost and uncomfortable inside of your own brain that you temporarily loose your breath. you forget how to act like a human being, try to articulate how you’re feeling and realise that you can’t, feel like the loneliest, smallest soul on the planet, silently implode, and suddenly feel extremely angry for reasons you can’t quite place. you pull yourself together, take photos of the sunset, and cry soft tears into your pillow that night.
12 – 14th day back: you decide to ignore all of your sad and obsessive thoughts by reading two books in three days and eating entire bags of dill pickle potato chips for dinner.
15th day back: you book a spontaneous haircut with a hairdresser you don’t know and wish for the best.
16 – 19th day back: you make pizza for yourself three nights in a row, visit with old friends, wear see-through blouses tied up as crop tops in the middle of the day and pretend that no one is judging you, even though they most definitely are. you go on walks, marvel at the sunsets, and giggle while watching a family of beavers eat some sticks.
20th day back: you have a vulnerable, heartfelt conversation with someone who is able to empathise with what you’re going through, dream about the future for the first time in what seems like forever, and feel a million pounds lighter.
21st- 24th day back: you take a trip to the lake, watch reality tv with your grandma, read a book about birds before bed and spend the mornings watching them, learn how to fly a kite, sing in the car, have your dad spin you so fast on the jungle-gym that you feel like you’re going to throw up, and talk about aliens while looking at the stars. you feel as unsure as ever about your plans for the future, but for the first time, completely certain that wherever life takes you, it will be full and exciting and beautiful.
you feel human again.*
*If this seems like it was way too easy, I just want to remind everyone of the last time that I returned home after a year and a half of traveling abroad, where I scream-cried all over Saskatchewan for 5 months straight, wrote emo poetry in local coffee shops, and sped down gravel roads and sobbed in an attempt to release pent up rage over being stuck in a place I felt like an alien in, without any money to get me out. I went through phases where I hated my body, hated my job, hated my privilege, and hated myself. I felt ashamed that I was having such a hard time with it all, had no idea who I was, where I was going, or what I wanted, and felt like I had failed myself. I was depressed, angry, and anxious.
Nine months after returning home, I finally faced the anger, disappointment, and most importantly, shame inside of me, and stopped ignoring my most painful feelings. This led to the emotional breakdown I desperately needed, and turned out to be the most life changing and healing time period of my life. With lots of patience, self-reflection, crying, and forgiveness, I pulled myself through it. This process transformed me into the lightest, most whole, grateful, radiant, healthy version of myself I’d ever been, and I moved on with my life and into the future with hopefulness and joy.
My transformation from world traveler to sobbing alien to depressed apartment dweller to high-on-life-bird-watcher took a full year and a half, maybe even more, and 80% of the process was straight pain and struggle. All of it was worth it.
Returning home is going to be a different experience for each one of us depending on what we experienced while we were away, and what we need to learn, but we must remember that comparing our lives to others serves no one; we are all on our own journey with our own timelines. So instead of comparing, let’s try to embrace where we’re at, feel the feelings, scream-cry if we need to, eat potato chips for dinner if we need to, and know that whatever we’re experiencing, someone else has gone through the same thing too- and they survived (and most likely came out stronger and more whole on the other side.)
Even when we feel like the loneliest, most misunderstood, most confused human being on earth; even when we feel like our heart has been ripped in two and left on opposite sides of the planet; even when we feel like weepy, freaky aliens – we’re not the first people to feel this way, and we won’t be the last, either.
Long term traveling is not for the faint of heart, and returning home is probably the hardest part of it all that no one wants to talk about; but if travel has taught us anything, it’s that we are adaptable and clever and resilient and capable of holding space for a multitude of complex emotions within our hearts at once. Travel has shown us how to have perspective when everything is crumbling down and we feel like we can’t recognise a single part of our life or ourselves anymore, and shown us that sometimes the most painful and confusing times in life are also the periods where we experience the most growth.
We see the shiny profiles of influencers and know that travel looks absolutely nothing like that, but instead it is 100x grittier and 1000x more beautiful, and we actually like it that way. We travel to far off places to find answers, but end up realising that what we actually needed all along was simply to let go. We travel because it’s breathtaking and it’s scary and it’s humbling and it’s fulfilling, not because it’s easy… and we know, above all else, that we are not alone, and we will get through it.