During my 10 month stint of traveling abroad, I only returned home once after 5 months of traveling throughout South America and Mexico. On that three hour flight from Mexico to San Francisco, I cried the entire time. Coming home after traveling abroad wasn’t something I was ready for at the time. I didn’t want to leave, I wasn’t done with traveling. I just knew it in my bones. So why was I going back? My best friend was having a baby and I felt like I needed to be there for it. I was close enough, so why not?
During my month at home, I traveled to Cuba for a long weekend, quietly celebrated my birthday at a Peruvian restaurant, and welcomed my besties little one. But almost as quickly as I landed, I started to plan the next leg of the trip, ultimately deciding on a European summer.
At the end of that stint in Europe, where I traveled at breakneck speed to Paris, Prague, Lake Bled, among others and returned to my favorite place, Galway, I was ready for a break. Not necessarily to return home, but to be in one place for a time. I realize I could’ve picked anywhere in the world besides home to settle for a bit, but I decided to come home where it would be easier to get a job, pay off credit card debt that I’d accrued and simply reassess the next best move for my life.
I’ve been home now for 8 months, almost as long as I was abroad and the adjustment has been more challenging than the culture shock I experienced abroad. I guess that’s why they call it reverse culture shock. I’d read a few blog posts about this phenomenon, but none of it prepared me for what actually happened. And most of the advice was just to keep traveling, which I did the first time. But I’m not financially ready to just take off again, yet.
So I sit down to write this post, to share with you what I wish I’d known about coming home after traveling abroad. I hope that this helps you mentally prepare for what it may be like for you, but also, at the very least, help you not feel so alone in it.
What I Wish I Knew About Coming Home After Traveling Abroad
The Streets of Your Neighborhood Look Exactly the Same
I know this may be like, uh duh, they’re not going to go about rearranging the streets in 10 months. But after landing in a new city every week throughout Europe, I became accustomed to quickly learning the general layout of the city. I loved being surprised at the pretty flowers in a window on the random street I happened to wander down.
The day after I arrived home, my Dad took me to dinner and I stared at amazement in how the streets were exactly the same as I remembered. I felt quite unnerved by this and silly for even being shocked by it. The houses had the same flowers and the street names remained the same, but I had changed. And I think it’s the first time I realized just how much.
You Have Thousands of Photos to Go Through, Someday
I actually did a pretty good job at staying on top of my photos while traveling. This is likely due to my desire to grow my Instagram account (go follow me!). Even still, there are thousands of photos and videos to sift through. I have them on my phone, on my camera, on my GoPro.
I keep telling myself I will spend an entire day to figure out the best way to organize and store them so when I am looking for that photo that I am sure I took, I can actually find it. Someday it’ll happen.
I also toy with the idea of finding my favorites to actually print and hang up in my room at my Dad’s house. But that feels too permanent, perhaps someday, not just yet.
Moving Back in with Family Will Be Challenging
Yes, I am currently living rent-free with my Dad in a spare bedroom that both my brothers have lived in at some point after graduation. The room is filled with belongings from all of us over the years. Although, I think I take the cake for the longest time living at home. My Dad gives me plenty of space to do what I want and doesn’t question my decisions. The challenge, for me, isn’t necessarily the fact that I’m living with my Dad, it’s that in the beginning, it made me feel like a failure.
I’d moved to New York after college for graduate school. Then I moved to Detroit where I started my career as an Athletic Trainer, purchased my first home, and relished living alone. After quitting that job and leaving that life behind, it makes me feel like I couldn’t figure out my life.
However, as I talk with more people in the Bay Area and even Google apartments to rent, I recognize that it’s really not financially feasible for me to rent a place here. It would bankrupt me. I recognize how incredibly lucky I am to be in this situation. It has allowed me to quickly pay off debt without having to worry about rent. I no longer feel like a failure and I am incredibly grateful for the support and space my Dad gives me.
It’s OK to Fall Back Into a Routine
There really is no routine on the road, one of the things I love about travel. One morning you may meet people in the hostel who invite you on a day trip. The next morning on your walk into town you pass a bike rental shop and decide to ride into the neighboring national park.
At home, living in the suburbs, that doesn’t happen as much – unless I seek it out. I found myself very restless after a few days of being at home. I didn’t want to fall back into a routine. I didn’t want to go to the gym before work then this cafe after work day after day and call it a week. Where’s the adventure in that?!
Only recently, with the start of my new full-time job where I have a set schedule, did I surrender to the idea of routine. I enjoy starting my mornings slow, with a bit of meditation, journaling, and a workout. The people at the cafe where I stop on my way to work are already making my matcha latte by the time I’m at the register. Familiarity and community are quite nice. Now, I’m saving my days off for adventures. It’s a happy medium that I’m enjoying right now – and that’s ok.
Make Time for New Experiences
I am embarrassed to admit that I have been incredibly lazy about seeking out new experiences since returning home. As in I live 20 minutes away from San Francisco, a city people travel across the world to visit. Since I’ve been home, I’ve explored San Francisco a whopping zero times. For the first part of my time at home, I was laser-focused on paying off my credit cards. Because of this, I couldn’t justify taking too many trips. Except of course a weekend getaway to Galway, Ireland to see my now ex-boyfriend. But… that’s a post for another day.
I am insanely proud to report that I am now credit card debt free. And I have a job that comes with excellent travel perks. This means that I can begin experiencing new things both in San Francisco and in other places on the west coast that I’ve always dreamed about seeing. Can you believe I’ve never been to Yosemite National Park after living only 3 hours away my entire life?! It’s time to remedy this and recognize that new experiences don’t just occur a thousand miles away. They can happen just a short drive from home.
You Will Gain Weight
I was super proud of myself when I returned after 10 months of traveling to find that the clothes I’d left behind still fit! Sure, my body had changed. It had gotten softer in places, but I maintained my weight and strength.
Then a strange thing happened just last week. I put on shorts I wore all throughout Europe last summer, and I couldn’t button them. Um, what? I have gained approximately 30lbs since being home. In 8 months. That’s a lot. But it’s not just the weight gain, I’ve also lost quite a bit of muscle.
I sat there dumbfounded. How did I keep the weight at bay on the road? I only sporadically worked out and definitely had a gelato quota to meet daily in Europe. Here’s what I believe kept the weight off – I walked everywhere. And when I wasn’t walking everywhere, I could be found riding a bike or swimming in a lake. I never had a problem hitting at least 10k steps daily while on the road. Even on travel days or “lazy” Netflix days I still walked a significant amount.
Although I had a daily gelato quota to meet, I also ate much better on the road. I ate less meat and more vegetables. I would purchase fresh produce and fruit from local markets to create a meal. When I did eat out, which was frequently, I only ate half of my meal so I could save the other half for lunch the following day.
Now, I drive everywhere. I drive to get that burrito or burger and then I drive home. I drive a half mile down the road to the cafe instead of walking. And on those Netflix days where I don’t drive anywhere, I can have Doordash deliver pizza to me.
How do I plan to remedy this recent discovery? Walk more. Plain and simple. Walk to the grocery store when I need something to eat for dinner like I did every night abroad. If I need to go a bit further, take the bike out for a spin. I’m not going to try to do anything drastic, I will continue with my workouts and do yoga. But I will add in more general activity to my day and cross my fingers that at least stops the weight gain. Oh and probably eat fewer burritos.
Your Friends and Family Won’t Care as Much as You Wish
This is perhaps the hardest part about coming home. I couldn’t wait to share my experiences with my friends and family. I had some awesome adventures, witnessed the sunset from the opposite side of the world, fell in love with myself, other people, and most definitely the world. I wanted to tell the people whom I love the most in it, all about the adventure.
And guess what happened? They smiled and listened to my stories, maybe asked a few questions, and then the conversation moved on to some other topic. The quickest conversation I had about my experience was 10 minutes. I’m not going to lie and say it didn’t hurt a bit. Even if they’d been to the place I was telling the story about, it just didn’t resonate. It’s no one’s fault that this happens, but it’s a bit disheartening nonetheless.
It’s not as if they don’t care at all or don’t love you and support your decision to travel. But their lives have moved on while you were gone. They’ve had their own adventures. Like getting married, having babies, buying homes. It’s still an adventure, just a different one. I had to realize the person on the other side of the conversation maybe can’t relate to my stories, just like I can’t relate to baby spit up.
I also had to do my part as their friend and listen to what’s been going on in their lives while you’ve been gone. Stay engaged in their lives and they will let you do that whole “that one time in Paris…” thing.
Side note: this is one of the reasons I love blogging. I get to share my experiences with those interested while providing helpful tips and tricks for solo female travelers out there!
The Problems are Still There
I left home when there was a bit of family drama and to be honest, I was happy to be getting away from it. I barely thought about it on the road. Until I landed for the first-month long break and within a day of being home, the conversation returned to the same drama. It had been 5 months, haven’t we moved on yet?
The problems I thought I left behind just don’t disappear because I’m a thousand miles away. To truly make them to go away, I have to speak up about it.
You Know You’ve changed, but Other People Still See You the Same
Quite honestly, I think I am basically the same person I was before I traveled. I am still quiet and reserved. I still hate small talk. I still prefer nights at home with a bottle of wine and close friends to large gatherings.
But I am also drastically different in other ways that maybe only I can see. I prefer wearing no make-up and have accepted my gray hair – although that’s fairly obvious. I am more open to different perspectives. My temper has improved and my patience increased. And in a thousand other small ways I’ve changed, and it’s OK if no one else sees that. I don’t want to be like Bran on Game of Thrones. I don’t mind if people still see me the same way, I like who I was before. Now I can just surprise them every now and then.
Your Friends Have Changed Too
It’s a bit arrogant to think that just because I traveled to other countries, I’m the only person that changed. Becoming a mother is life-changing. Buying a house is life-changing. Going through heartache is life-changing. Traveling isn’t the only life-changing experience a person can have. It’s important to be available for your friends and family as they go through these life changes – even if they’re different than yours. How would it feel if they abandoned you as you went after your dream of travel? Don’t abandon them. I constantly remind myself of this advice.
USA Grocery Stores are Insane!
The first time I entered a grocery store in the US after being abroad I was entirely overwhelmed. I stared at this wall of bread and tried to choose one loaf from over 100 options. Who needs that many bread options?! In the end, I didn’t even buy bread, it was too much of a decision to make.
I’d grown accustomed to the small grocery stores or even specialty shops. In Paris, you’d go get your bread from the bakery, then cheese from the cheesemonger, fish from the fish guy… you get the idea. Even the Aldi I went to in Ireland only had a few bread options.
That being said, since I’ve been back, it is quite nice being able to find everything I need in one place because life in the US doesn’t quite leave space for shopping at multiple locations to just create one meal.
Reverse Culture Shock is Real
Reverse culture shock is a phenomenon I am still experiencing, although not quite as frequently as I did when I first returned home. I experienced issues with this the most when I got a job in retail upon returning. Customers would complain about paying 25 cents for a shopping bag after spending $300 on new clothes. When in England it was normal to just bring your bag with you to the shop or know you’ll have to pay for one should you forget.
Another example is the pace of life in the Bay Area. Everyone is in a rush, noses glued to their phones, working hard, and looking out for themselves. I forgot that “busy” is the expected response to the question “how are you?”. This has been the most shocking, frustrating and difficult value to readjust to after enjoying the slower pace of life in Croatia and Slovenia.
The best way I’ve handled this is just by reminding myself to slow down. That it’s ok to spend an afternoon reading and not chasing the hustle. And most importantly, to put my phone away in the company of friends and family so I can be present.
You Get to Choose The Meaning of Your Circumstances
When I first returned home I felt like a failure. Like I couldn’t figure out how to make long term travel financially sustainable. So I had to return home to get a job and re-enter the real world. I felt defeated. I felt like my experiences didn’t matter because I couldn’t make them last longer. I felt as though they were relegated to the past and I had to trudge back to the traditional workforce.
I still struggle with this a lot! But, I’ve also realized, like, dude, you just traveled for 10 months. Who cares if it didn’t last the full 12 months you planned because you decided to splurge on a few nice meals here and there? Or because you snuck in one more country.
Now, I am grateful for this current season of life, even if it results in a bit less travel time. I can now fully fund my retirement account for the year and that feels really damn good too. I have extra time to spend devoted to Just Chasing Sunsets. And I am here for the major life events of my friends and family.
Never forget that you get to assign the meaning to your life circumstances. Why not add a positive spin?
What was your experience coming home after traveling abroad? Did you have similar experiences? I’d love to hear about them and support each other through it. Let me know about your biggest struggle returning home in the comments below!
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