Things long term travelers should know when coming “Home for the Holidays”

Welcome Home, I think?

My hometown, Pittsburgh Pennsylvania
My hometown, Pittsburgh Pennsylvania

You’ve been away on a gap year, semester abroad, sabbatical trip or long getaway, the end of the year approaches, it’s the holiday season and a great time to come home to visit family and friends.  The best, but difficult part is that things are different and the reality is that they may never be the same.  I’ve spent the majority of the last two years on the road and each time I return home it seems to be a mixed bag of emotions.  I’m excited to see family, wash my own clothes, not live out of a suitcase and sleep in my OWN BED.  I’m excited to come home but at the same time extremely sad to leave the life I’ve begun while I was away.  I’ve had a few flights home with butterflies in my stomach, being more nervous to come back to “normal life” than when I left and then feeling homesick for being away soon after I’ve returned.  There have been a couple of changes that become glaringly obvious when I’ve come home for the holidays and I’m hoping other long term travelers can relate, so if you have been thinking this too you aren’t alone!

You’re a little weird.

Processed with VSCOcam Ok so that sounds a little harsh, but hear me out, this goes somewhere, I promise.  My mom, with her wonderful kindergarten teacher attitude, always has a way with words to make the negative seam not so hurtful and instead of weird, she is often calling me “unique” or “unconventional”.  I had a friend say recently that I was the weirdest person he knew, mainly because there aren’t many people in our circle of friends that lead such a wacky nomadic lifestyle and it’s true, it’s a little weird.  Now I should say that 2012 me would have probably taken that as an insult but 2014 me thinks of it more as a compliment.  Dare I say older is wiser?

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In Malta learning about Falconry

You don’t realize how different you really are when you are out on your journey, meeting other travelers, and it feels more normal when you befriend people that have been backpacking for 8 months, or you find another location independent person who is living in Bali for a year because she can work from anywhere.  When you come back and are catching up with friends and family that have mortgages, fancy new cars and restricted vacation time it makes your semi nomadic lifestyle to them a little more “unique”.  At first, I was self conscious about being our group’s token weirdo but now I get a kick out of seeing some of my friend’s reactions when I tell them I’m volunteering in Cambodia, spending the day as a falconer, or going to a week long silent meditation in Indonesia.  It’s my way of keeping everyone on their toes.

You’ve been traveling solo but you don’t feel lonely until you come home.

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Meditating in Greece

You travel by yourself for months and there usually isn’t feeling of being alone until you come home.  Spending time catching up with friends who have gotten married or made time getting involved in more serious relationships is a glaring reminder that you are pushing against social norms and I’ve found myself occasionally second guessing my recent travel choices.  Then I pinch myself and remember all of the amazing, enriching experiences I’ve had and that those traditional choices I’ve decided to put on hold will be there for me later IF I want them and in a lot of ways I think I’ve become a better person to be with because I’m more content with being by myself.

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You feel a little out of place.

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Hiking in Vermont

Things are pretty much how you left them but after having experiences of being away for so long, things for you have drastically changed and in some ways it is harder to return home than it was when you left.  I have so much to say about all of the incredible experiences I have had on each of my trips but how do you put all of the growth, adventure, excitement and challenge into one conversation.  It leaves you with both having so much to say and being quiet at the same time.  How can I describe all of the phenomenal ways these journeys have shaped me over just a coffee at Starbucks or Thanksgiving dinner?  I’ve noticed this more around the holiday season than any other time of the year.  I have spent a lot of my time in some impoverished and developing areas so coming back to the overeating during the holidays, purchasing expensive presents and holiday excess in general is a little overwhelming to the senses.  I found myself feeling guilty the other day that so many houses had a blinding amount of Christmas lights that I came home and donated to a charity that places solar panels on schools and hospitals in Nepal that are without electricity.  Your perspective changes and things that mattered to you before don’t really seem as important making it hard not to look at the world in a different way.

(Check out SunFarmer if you too are suffering from Christmas Light Guilt)

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Volunteering at Elephant Nature Park in Thailand

Maybe it’s because I’ve now shifted into a semi-permanent lifestyle but if I’m not planning another adventure I feel like I’m in limbo.  I’ve come to embrace the middle ground, the feeling of what’s next in my gut is the one that keeps me dreaming, helps me stay creative and in the space of uncertainty it fuels my passion for travel and ultimately story telling.

You’ve developed the syndrome, itchy feet, the “addiction”.

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Exploring Athens, Greece

Call it whatever you want but wanderlust is real, I suffer from it.  I have yet to come back from a trip without buying a ticket for my next adventure.  It’s a curiosity of learning more about the world and yourself that urges you to push outside of your comfort zone of home and go out and explore.  I’ve joked that they should have group sessions for recovering travel addicts, others like me who are searching for their next adventure “fix”.  I gaze at a map in my room and I’m constantly picking out new places to add to the list, or seeing a photo on Instagram that soon becomes research and quickly gets added to my travel schedule.  Being away makes you realize how much of the world there is to see, what a small part you have in it and in a way it makes me want to grow that little speck into something bigger.  I think it’s returning home that gives me that wonderful realization.

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