Being an active member on the discussion forums of Travellerspoint.com, I notice many popular topics resurfacing all the time. One that seems to be a more serious or troublesome one for the longterm backpacker is the problem of "coming home" again, calling it a day with the travels for a while and reassimilating back into the way of life they closed the door on all those months or years ago. It's not as easy as it might first appear, at least not for everyone....
So, why does it pose such problems for us? Aren't we looking forward to getting back and seeing our friends and family again? Haven't we had enough of roughing it in hostels and hauling our lives around on our backs like proverbial snails? In the short-term, the answer to these questions is usually "Yes". Even if we feel forced to return home due to lack of travel funds or personal commitments, there are always the warm fuzzy feelings associated with landing in your home country again, reuniting with your friends in your local pub, seeing the dog again...whatever your favourite things might be...most of us love that feeling of returning to the fold.
Why then it is generally experienced that these feelings are fleeting only, typically lasting a number of weeks before life goes back to normal, being home again loses it lustre and our thoughts wander once more to those places and people we experienced in our recent past.
To bring it to a personal level, upon returning from my own recent 18 month long adventure, I found after just a few short weeks that I had an acute sense of alienation. To some extent, I suppose I had always experienced some feeling of not exactly fitting in with my peers at home, and while travel was in almost all respects the answer to that, in a strange way I felt that alienation even more intensely when I returned. Friends especially now saw me as on a different path to them, and I was. A common complaint from the traveller returned is "I found that none of my friends were really intersted in stories of my travels". And, to be fair, maybe they can't be expected to sit enrapt every evening while we regale them with tales of our adventures and amusing mishaps abroad. For the most part, life has continued as normal for them at home at a somewhat less exciting pace, and, unless they happen to be exceptionally broad-minded and curious individuals, they are only going to listen to so much of it. It's only fair. But where does that leave you? You're like a square shape trying to fit back into a round hole. You've changed, probably quite dramatically. For a long time now, you've been conversing and swopping stories with other equally adventurous souls, and you suddenly find yourself without like minds to which you can relate. And, for most of us, this feeling just deepens as time goes by, leaving us feeling extremely unsettled and yearning for the road again.
Unless you have spent every day on your travels swilling beer in hostel bars and sleeping in, then you will have had some pretty life changing experiences. Not only then will your view of the world have broadened or altered significantly, but you will return to view your homeland with fresh eyes. Maybe you will understand certain aspects of your culture better, or maybe you will scrutinize absolutely everything about your country now under a very large magnifying glass, but for whatever reason, home suddenly now seems a lot different to when you left. On the surface, things generally remain the same, but you have learned to scratch the surface and are looking more intently at what lies beneath. Again, this serves to further delineate your otherness in this place you once called home.
Yet another claim of the prodigal backpacker is "I really just dont have much interest in material things anymore". Most of us embark on our travels because of a general malaise, a dissatisfaction with working 9-5 and living for the weekend. Some will call it escapism, some will call it good sense. It really doesn't matter what your initial impetus may have been for leaving it all. All that is clear when you have experienced travelling in poor/third world countries is that so much of our lives in the Western world revolve around feeding the addicition of materialism. We earn to buy things. It's a commercial carousel that the vast majority of us find ourselves on. We think we can't get off and that it's going faster and faster, but it's really not that difficult. You just have to jump!
So, what's the answer to all this? Is it even worth going travelling to begin with if this is what we can look forward to when we return? This is the trade off friends, the small price you pay for your big life decision. When you take that leap, cut the ties, give up something like a good job, a house, a car, you are making a choice. You are making a real choice to do something significant in your life and this is the trade off. Very few of us can manage to travel at length, balance that with a real career, and still manage to fit back into the life you had before. I would wager that it's next to impossible, and would you even really want that? The deeper rooted reasons for why we travel have less to do with escaping the quotidien, and more to do with really understanding the world and ourselves in the process. With that in mind, when you return with a serious dose of the "coming home blues", try to remember that while you might feel like an alien in many ways at first, deep down this seemingly negative feeling is probably what you are actually looking for. Bring your experiences from your travels back to bear on your life at home and build a better one. Be a better person, be a stronger person. Be all that you can be. And, instead of seeing "coming home" as the end to your travels, try to view it as just a stop along the way to wherever you are going next.