IMPORTANT NOTE: This article deals with my own experiences dealing with a particular type of depression that commonly affects travelers. I’m not a doctor or a psychologist nor should this article be taken as medical or psychological advice, rather as a conversation starter and the sharing of the personal strategies I use to deal with travel-related spiritual issues. If you think you suffer from depression (clinical or otherwise) or any other mental health issues, I strongly encourage you to seek medical attention. Your well-being comes first!
May your travels be blessed and safe, my dear reader!
Your plane touches down on your hometown’s airport, skidding and screeching to an abrupt halt. With excitement, you look out the window, and feel you’re waking up to a geography that you know by heart. You’re back, you’re home!
Your trip was marvelous. You can hardly believe the lovely and interesting people you met, the adventures and experiences that you turned into stories, how the miles sped beneath you, how you changed and developed over the course of your travels. You feel like a different person. You have to be… how can you remain the same after experiencing that magic on the road? How can you go back to normal after feeling that sensation that the world is at your fingertips?
You descend from the plane and are most probably greeted by your friends and family, if anyone bothers to pick you up from the airport at all. After a couple of brief hugs and exchanges with those people you hold dearest, something feels… off. Coming home certainly doesn’t feel like the celebration you expected. After all, you were away for what feels like so long that these people must have missed you dearly… shouldn’t have they? After a couple of minutes, maybe even hours, of conversation, everything starts falling into place back to how it was before you boarded that plane with an adventurous destination. And, for the life of you, you can’t understand it.
A couple of days pass by, like the trees outside your train window not a week before. It’s business as usual and life settles down to what it was before. You find yourself sliding back into the same relationship dynamics: the same old arguments over the same old problems. Your feet get restless and you find yourself aching for life on the road once more.
You begin to constantly catch yourself in a brooding or melancholic mood. Going back to work feels like a chore. By now, your friends are sick and tired of hearing your travel stories, about how the Guatemalan Maya produce some of the most beautiful textiles in the world, or anything else really because travel is all you can talk about… mainly because you’re trying to share such a transformative, worldview-changing experience.
But it’s all in vain, the vices of the old world resist the discoveries of the new.
Does this narrative sound at all familiar to you? Have you experienced or are currently experiencing a similar situation? Then you might be an unfortunate victim of post-travel depression. See some of the symptoms of depression here.
It’s very common to fall into a mood when coming back from a trip, especially a long one. In my experience, the range of emotions experienced during such a state go from a mild melancholy to a full-blown existential crisis. There’s a lot of grey area on the spectrum. We also have to understand that everyone experiences and deals with such problems differently.
Now, I’ve been giving this subject a lot of thought, as I’ve recently returned from a long bout of travel and I fell into post-travel depression’s uncouth claws. I wanted to share with you the strategies that I found have helped me cope with the Homecoming Blues:
Understand that others didn’t experience what you did
Look, I get it, travel has a powerfully transformative magic that touches those brave enough to abandon themselves to its joys and perils. I understand just how deeply and completely our spiritual lives and our worldviews can change when we travel; I’ve experienced it after every single trip in some way or another, depending on the path I was treading.
Know that experience makes you grow, change and mature, and the things we go through while traveling have the tendency to be more intense, maybe because we are much more open to them while we’re on the road. As such, it’s important that you understand that the people back home didn’t go through the same experiences that you did and, therefore, didn’t live the process of transformation that you did.
The things that happened to us while traveling tend towards the ineffable. It doesn’t matter how accurately I can describe a spontaneous encounter with someone from a completely different culture and what I felt in the moment if what transforms is being there. You can give others an inkling into the joys and wonders you can live while globetrotting, but we know we can never do living the real thing justice.
No matter how good of a storyteller you are, much of the magic is still lost in translation; both on your side in telling the story and on their side in understanding it. Accept it and move on. It’s the price that explorers from the dawn of time have had to pay in exchange for living extraordinary events.
Keep the memories for yourself
Remind yourself about for who you traveled in the first place. Did you travel for your parents? Did you travel for your friends? Did you travel for your significant other? Let’s face it, unless you embarked on a very particular trip with a very specific set of goals, you traveled for yourself.
I know it’s great to share and be generous with your stories. However, you have to live your life. it’s important to remember that those experiences are the building blocks of your time on earth, not someone else’s. If someone is there to bask in the joys let him or her be welcome at your side. Otherwise, internalize it for yourself.
By reminding yourself about who you traveled for, you diffuse that pressure to share that’s bubbling up inside you like steam in a kettle. Sharing becomes natural and enjoyable, instead of a bore for others and a chore for yourself.
What else do we travel for if not for the stories and the memories? That’s the stuff life is made from. Be the tree in your life, not the leaves.
However, don’t be afraid to share with someone who wants to know more
Even though you travel for yourself, don’t be afraid to share your stories when someone genuinely wants to know what you went through. Just because you (primarily) traveled for yourself and your own enjoyment and growth it doesn’t mean someone else can’t benefit from your worldly perspective and experience.
Keep in mind that there’s a difference between having a genuine conversation about travel and trying to push an idea on someone and such difference lies on whether that person is open to receive it or not. Get a feel for the crowd or that particular person’s intent: Is he or she curious about your experiences? Did they ask you about it? Is sharing the story relevant to his or her life? Just be polite in conversation.
Be generous with those who ask for your generosity. I guarantee there’s someone out there who want to know what you do.
Process and digest what you learned
Just like when you bite off a bit more than you can chew, you need to give yourself some time to digest and process what you went through. Sometimes, the lessons, the meaning and the beauty of your travels don’t become immediately apparent. It’s a process that can last for weeks or months… sometimes even years.
Take some time to think about what you lived through, and how it changed you. In what ways are you different? What changed from that person who first stepped on the plane to adventure?
It’s important at this stage to give meaning to your travels and glean the lessons you learned from them so you can move on with your life. If you don’t, the trip will nag at you from the back of your mind, as you have unfinished business with it.
Treat your travels as you would your teachers and pay attention to what they’re trying to tell you. It’s likely that your depressed state comes from the fact that your mind is still a thousand miles away on a path you already trod.
Write it off
Where do you think this article comes from? I needed to vent! To vent! Vent or go mad! No, no, seriously now, writing has always been a good method of relieving oneself of those pesky, lingering thoughts, or as a way of rationalizing and internalizing feelings or experiences.
If you’re going through a post-travel depression, you might benefit enormously by writing about what you went through, be it in the form of a travelogue, a travel essay, a short story, a diary entry, or whatever form you think best expresses what you’re bursting to tell the world.
Even if you aren’t thinking of publishing or showing someone else what you wrote, even if you wrote it just for your own enjoyment, pouring out your soul on a blank page is an effective, time-proven way of clearing your mind.
So what are you waiting for? Reach for your pen and get writing!
Meditate and let go of the outcome
One of the probable causes of your post-travel blues could be that your mind and your heart were left behind somewhere else. It happens to us all, and it happens often. I leave a small piece of myself everywhere I go, and I take a bit of it back with me like so much dust settling on my worn boots.
Here is where meditation can come in handy as a tool for processing and accepting what you went through in the past while grounding you in your present (you’re home, after all). Try mindfulness meditation as a way of bringing your heart and mind to where you are. Check out some awesome meditation guides here and here. The memories and the experiences will always remain, there is no loss in bringing yourself to the here and now.
Try and let go of the outcome of your travels by accepting what you did learn and being grateful for the blessing of living through your adventures. Be grateful for your travels and I’m pretty sure you’ll be back on the road in no time!
Start planning your next big adventure.
The technique that helps me cope the best with post-travel depression is starting to plan my next trip. With my restless feet appeased by that exciting promise of getting back on the road, my noisy mind kept busy by the minutiae of planning the next adventure, I can flow again and the cycle of the travel repeats itself, as it should.
Keep your eyes on the future, but especially on what you can do in the present to bring it that much closer. It’s hard to feel depressed or blue with the prospect of another great adventure on the horizon!
HAVE YOU ALSO FELT DEPRESSED AFTER TRAVELING? HAVE ANY OTHER STRATEGIES TO HELP COPE WITH POST-TRAVEL DEPRESSION? SHARE THEM WITH THE TRAVEL COMMUNITY ON THE COMMENTS BELOW!