Every time I get settled into my seat for the long plane ride home after a trip, it hits me: the homecoming hangover.
Somewhere between sitting down and taxiing the runway, I find my mood uncontrollably oscillating between anger and sadness.
Heading back from my first trip to Europe, I wept like a child. The next time? I drank myself silly.
Nowadays, I usually just glare into space, or, if I’m feeling particularly constructive, I’ll journal a little. Coming home, it seems like there’s nothing to look forward to in the conceivable future.
I’m not alone in experiencing this phenomenon. Almost every traveler has had at least one pretty severe bout with what seems to be reverse culture shock.
If you don’t address the problem quickly after your return, the apathy or aggression you feel toward your home (and your life) can easily become a serious form of real depression that can last for months.
Before you call a shrink or decide to get on meds, let’s take a moment to think about this post-travel condition and what it really means.
Back to the Grind
After an extended stay in another country where you are constantly surrounded by the excitement of new and exotic things, it’s only natural to experience a let down when you hit the pavement back home.
This is home turf – you know how to get around, it may seem there aren’t many surprises left, and the fact that you understand the language and customs makes it that more difficult to tolerate social situations when people act rude or inconsiderate.
You have a routine that involves work or school, cooking and cleaning, and other, generally less-than-life-altering tasks requiring your immediate and often undivided attention.
Routine is sometimes boring and annoying. But it’s an unchanging facet of life, and we have to force ourselves to remember that it’s these day-to-day mundane activities that make travel so invigorating and exciting.
If you took a different trip every month, travel itself would become something of a chore, trading its luster and allure for the crinkled brow and glassy eyes you might associate with a three-hour board meeting.
In fact, if you traveled all the time, you would likely find yourself wishing for home on a much more regular basis.
While it’s difficult to remember when you’re fighting for your luggage in baggage claim, every chance you get to travel is special. Scratch that, it’s sacred.
Think about how many times you’ve had to defend your drive to travel against the more “traditional” desires of those around you, whether it’s parents, family, friends, or significant others.
Shouldn’t you pursue a more expensive car, buy a house, get married and have children? (Not that these things preclude travel, but they often don’t mix well, either.)
Remember, not many people manage to scrape together the gumption and cash to experience travel and appreciate foreign cultures.
In our politically-charged world, travel is becoming an even more important tool of mutual understanding. Throughout history, borders open and close subject to the will of leaders we can’t control. Don’t take your freedom to roam wherever you want for granted.
The Gift of Travel
Travel is a gift. So instead of dwelling on the fact that you can’t go as often as you like – and let’s face it, who can?-focus on how lucky you are to understand the value inherent in leaving your country for another one.
You may make the commitment to consider the perks of living in your home country, and resolve to learn more about your city in the downtime between your trips.
There are a million ways you can fill your time and avoid the homecoming hangover – scrapbooking, socializing, planning a new trip – but it may be better to work on changing your frame of mind altogether.
It’s unlikely you’ll ever feel as elated coming home as you do when your plane hits the runway in say, Barcelona, but you can channel that depressed feeling into renewed energy.
What’s your advice for appreciating home after a trip? Share your thoughts in the comments!