Feature photo by eric dickman. Photo above by matsukawa1971.

Sometimes, as travelers, we forget that we can have meaningful and authentic experiences in our own backyards.

The week went like this: on Tuesday I was sipping red wine, discussing philosophy and the human condition as I drove through the fields of France. By Thursday I was guzzling light beer on the back of a pick-up, debating The Simpsons or Family Guy as I cruised around the cow pie-splattered pastures of Nevada.

The fact that within the span of three days I had such diverse experiences in such far-flung locations speaks to both the marvel of modern travel and to the irrevocable, unwavering melancholy I always feel at the conclusion of a big trip.

Travel is my addiction. My heroin. And when I’m nearing the end of an especially good fix, there’s not much that can save me from being bummed out.

And so, after this last (especially wonderful and thought provoking) trip around Europe, I was so totally in the dumps about being home that I did the unthinkable: I hung out with people from high school.

I know that sounds snobby, but for those of you that grew up in a small town like I did, then went to college just a stone’s throw away from said small town, then you might also take pride in the fact that since high school you’ve gone outside your comfort zone and scored new friends.

Photo by josephaskins.

I remember dorm move-in day. While kids from out of town were sizing each other up as possible bedmates, I was scampering around, looking for new friends. Didn’t matter if their faces were covered in piercings and they had a penchant for bands with names like “Cradle of Filth” — if they were from the out of state, or even better, The East Coast!, then I wanted them as My New Friend Not From My Hometown.

So I was surprised to find myself, after such a high-minded journey around Europe, back in the fields of my youth with the people of my formative years.

I had been wallowing around my apartment in a jet-lagged, “No one here understands me (dramatic sigh)!” stupor, when my old buddy Josh invited me to a pig roast. Apparently, he and our other friend Chad had bought two little pigs at the beginning of the summer, named them Wilbur and Petunia, and slaughtered them when they were good and fat.

They were going to roast Wilbur first, over a big pit they made on Josh’s brother’s ranch, sit around and play the guitar, mess around on the bongos, and did I want to come?

Wait a minute. This sounded suspiciously like something I’d want to be invited to while traveling. If someone in another country asked me to attend such a down home, laid back, authentic event, I wouldn’t dream of saying no. In fact, I would feel like I had really succeeded in getting off the tourist track.

So I said yes.

And I haven’t had as much fun in a long time.

Photo by nikoretro.

It wasn’t that anything especially crazy happened, or that it was some life-changing, life-affirming evening. We basically sat around the big pit, chanted like tribal people when we lowered Wilbur onto the fire, dared each other to walk on the flaming coals, sang songs and told stories.

I did three manly tricks for the first time: threw an axe, drove a quad, shot a gun-and this little trio of activities acted out in a Nevada grassland was as exhilarating as black water rafting in New Zealand and zorbing in Australia.

We named our cook-out Burning Pig, in honor of that most famous of festivals held annually in our state.

It was just a good time with good people. The type of people I would probably be thrilled to meet abroad.

COMMUNITY CONNECTION:

For more on the always-tough post-travel re-entry, check out The Hardest Part of a Journey is Coming Home, or Six Simple Ways to Beat the Post-Travel Blues.