Photo: Kay Fochtmann/Shutterstock

How to Remain a "Traveler" Once You're Back Home

by Amanda Machado Sep 23, 2014

You’re finally home. You’re surrounded by friends and family for the first time after months of traveling. You’re feeling “settled.” And you suddenly realize you don’t feel that great about it.

The people around you seem content within the bubble of their daily routines — commuting to work, getting home at 5, going to happy hour — and you’re expected to follow suit. Now that you’ve had the chance to “get travel out of your system,” it’s time to “get on with it,” return to “normalcy,” and pick up this structured lifestyle exactly where you left it.

But for me, travel was not something to be experienced and then put away. It had become an integral part of my identity, an energy I carried with me every moment of my life. So the question now was: How could I maintain my identity as a traveler, even while living and working at home? After a year of trying, this is what I’ve come up with.

1. Create a community of traveler friends.

Nothing made me lonelier than being surrounded by people who couldn’t understand my experience. It was crucial to have a core group of people with whom I could exchange travel stories and talk about the values that travel instilled in me. I used sites like Meetup to remind myself that people with my same passion for travel exist everywhere. I attended Couchsurfing happy hours that link travelers in cities across the world.

Yet, curiously, almost all of the new traveler friends I’ve made this past year were already acquaintances, and people I previously thought I had little in common with. But by simply sharing the experience of taking time off to travel, I found we now could connect more meaningfully than I could with my closer friends before.

2. Work toward a meaningful goal.

After coming home, it was disappointing to gradually hear that former traveling partners had conceded to some societal expectation they’d promised, while traveling, never to do again. A friend I chatted with in Kathmandu about the pressures of staying in a passionless job rejoined her company a few weeks after coming home. Another confessed that after his “life-changing year abroad,” he ended up back in the exact job from which he had used travel to escape.

Many times, this happened because of finances or other lack of means to make radical change immediately upon returning. But if you have the privilege of pursuing what you truly want, in any capacity, don’t hesitate. These friends ultimately did leave their jobs, change their careers, or at the very least, began pursuing a side-hobby or passion they previously hadn’t prioritized, and felt far more fulfilled because of it. One friend quit a prestigious engineering job to join Teach for America and begin teaching middle school math. My friend from Kathmandu ended up completing a yoga training course and teaching classes in her hometown.

3. Pay it forward.

Traveling allowed me to witness firsthand many of the problems our world’s citizens deal with daily: educational inequality, poor healthcare, violence, environmental hazards. After coming home, it seemed fitting to donate part of my leftover travel funds towards the issues that affected me the most while traveling.

After spending six weeks in Peru, I donated to Willka Yachay, an organization that provides education to an indigenous population near Cuzco. I also used websites like Charity Navigator to ensure that I donated to charities that work most effectively and efficiently with the resources donors provide. Giving back or staying involved with a cause you recognized through traveling is an easy way to remain connected to your experience.

4. Keep forging into the unknown.

As a traveler, I found it easy to push myself outside of my comfort zone abroad, and yet rarely considered challenging my comfort zone at home. While traveling, I never said “no” to a new type of food, a new bar, a new hobby, or a new friend. Yet at home, I caught myself reverting back to my old routines and social circles. I had to remind myself that, even in my hometown, I could explore and push my limits: I could visit a less trendy part of the city, introduce myself to people outside my usual “bubble” of friends, or spend a day talking to strangers.

During my first month home, I joined a rock climbing gym, started conversations with the sommelier at a local wine bar, and found a delicious outdoor Thai buffet in a neighborhood I rarely visited before. If I claimed to miss the “adventure” part of traveling, I found I could create some of that adventure at home.

5. Plan the next trip.

Whether through smaller trips in the US or shorter stints volunteering for organizations abroad, I’ve prioritized travel however I could: I volunteered for Global Glimpse in Nicaragua. I presented at the EdTech Summit conference in South Africa. Now I consult for the LEAP network of schools in Cape Town. Even when it’s not financially or logistically possible to travel constantly, I remain focused on travel as a constant goal — saving, planning, and preparing. So when the opportunity comes along to once again hit the road, I’m ready.

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