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It’s easy enough to see the world’s beauty while on the beaches of Thailand. But how do we keep this perspective once we return to the hustle and bustle of home?

JELLY-LEGGED AND sun-subdued, I lay in my hammock and am soothed by my surroundings. I gaze up and see a sky wide and blue that reaches to a horizon edged with an aquamarine sea.

I’m lulled by the beauty of my surroundings, a gorgeous beach on a tropical Thai island. This is what I’ve been hoping to see ever since I first stepped onto the streets of Bangkok 18 months ago.

With its white sand, crystal clear waters, and mountains covered in jungle, Bottle Beach is a paradise. I ease into this new scene. After months of hard work in Chiang Mai, I’m free again to spend my days as a traveler – absorbing, appreciating, taking nothing for granted. But amidst birdsong and cicada chatter, I find myself seized by an unmistakable crunch.

Thrust back into my old life, I wonder if the magical aspects of life I’ve come to appreciate will simply evaporate.

I have only a few weeks left abroad, and the responsibilities and realities of life in the West are beginning to grind at me. I feel seasick, unsteady, and clouded with questions. Thrust back into my old life, thrust into the turmoil of economic fragility and debt, I wonder if the magical aspects of life I’ve come to appreciate will simply evaporate.

Glancing down at my thai tattoo, a motorbike burn so common as to have acquired the name, I’m reminded of the fact that my life in this country has affected me on layers more profound than the mere physical.

The scalding exhaust cylinder on my bike left its imprint on the back of my leg. Likewise, each sensation and experience I’ve had abroad has left imprints on my many layers.

Wisdom Through Journey

Often the wisdom we acquire during long journeys is most evident only after we’ve returned to where we began. Coming back to once-familiar territory highlights the changes that were too subtle to notice as they occurred.

So there is no way of predicting how we will adjust once we’ve come “home” – or how well others will adjust to us.

Although I’ve spent my time traveling, my family, friends and acquaintances have undergone their changes as well. Time has passed, massive changes have occurred at home.

I’m filled with fear and excitement when I wonder if I’ll be a recognizable version of my former self, or whether I’ll be able to relate with people to whom I’ve already come to feel disconnected.

The beauty of traveling for extended periods is that you learn how to adjust and adapt quickly, to bring out various aspects of yourself, and to meet new people with ease.

However, without the thrill of being in a new culture, of having escaped a stagnant life at home, or being newly on your own, the ease and openness with which we relate to others can easily be diminished.

A Dutchman who’d recently arrived in Thailand spoke to me of his friends who, after years spent on the road, had great difficulty adjusting to life at home. “It took them about a year to be ok and comfortable again,” he said. The closed mentality and the easy-to-understand bitterness of all work and little play was difficult for them to readjust to.

The lack of an exotic locale also makes the practical and necessary aspects of living lose their luster. It was easy to start from scratch in Thailand – to look for work tirelessly, find a place to stay, to make ends meet – because I was so stimulated by the environment. I will have no such distractions when I return to Southern California.

The End of Freedom?

Photo: Señor Codo

In a country in which cycles of debt and spending leave one constantly needing to work in order to pay the bills, is it realistic to hope for the same heightened levels of experience I’ve enjoyed for so long?

Will dashed dreams lead me to scramble restlessly for a way out again, or can I create a beautiful life at home?

Pensive in my hammock, swinging as the sun goes down, I ask myself these questions. Later, the moon shines through the branches of a tree next to my bungalow, creating intricate shadows on the sand.

Like a glimpse from the sublime, the scene filled me with both awe and beauty. The world I have grown used to is about to be swept, yet again, out from under my feet. If there is one thing I’ve learned while abroad, it’s that perspective is something we can change at any time and in all circumstances.

With a little shift in thought, I can see that my return to the U.S. will be as adventure-laden as my departure.

How do you handle the transition back home? Share your tips below.

Culture + Religion


About The Author

Brittany Vargas

Brittany Vargas is a California native currently living in Thailand.

  • Turner

    “Will dashed dreams lead me to scramble restlessly for a way out again, or can I create a beautiful life at home?”

    I honestly don’t know.

  • Alaina

    “With a little shift in thought, I can see that my return to the U.S. will be as adventure-laden as my departure.” — this is so true. What seemed so commonplace and normal before living in Thailand is going to feel foreign and new this time around.

    Thanks for this post. I share many of your concerns.

  • Abbie

    After traveling, I always have a hard time “re-adjusting” to the American lifestyle…

  • Joya

    Hi Brittany, I’ve been home for a while now – 2 years to be exact and I am just now starting to feel adjusted. It was hard for me to get into a work routine after I spent everyday exploring a new city. I’ve realized that I don’t have to travel far to travel and am rediscovering my hometown and have made a promise to my self to visit a new country every year to keep the wanderlust going. I guess it takes time.

  • Susanne

    Hi Brittany,
    I have been to Indonesia 3 times in the last 12 months, and for this kiwi country girl, who now calls Australia home, I found the transition to the Indonesian way of life, and easy one….despite the initial culture shock. However, coming back to Australia has not been an easy one, despite having spent just 1 week, then two stays of 3 weeks each time in Indo. Despite the mosquitoes, the poor sanitation, drainage and refuse disposal there, I would happily live there. The people and their way of life is stressless, and so easy to adapt to…but on returning home, I walk right back into the stresses and problems I left behind when I boarded my flights.
    I can relate to how you, and others, feel.

  • Ayen

    Thanks for sharing! I really enjoyed reading your article. As someone who is seriously considering venturing out on a few adventures very soon, simply to experience life and try new things, I found your words inspirational.Continue to enjoy the journey!

  • Emma Astrid

    Thanks for writing, great article! So true!

    ‘If there is one thing I’ve learned while abroad, it’s that perspective is something we can change at any time and in all circumstances.’

  • Emily Tran

    I know this article was posted a while ago now, but I returned from 2 years in the Peace Corps in Senegal half a year ago, and have been relentlessly travelling in and out of the country and all around in attempt to recapture that magic. I still don’t have the answers to how to reintegrate and adjust, but I’m hoping they’ll come to me someday. Thanks for sharing.

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