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.
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.
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?
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.