Last week my dad returned from 15 months abroad in Asia and Europe. It’s hard to say if he’s here to stay or he’ll be off again but his return reminded me of the hardest part of traveling – being back.
While you’re gone life goes on without you. People miss you, sure, but they live their daily lives as they always have, filling the hole that you left with something or someone else. They have to. It’s called living. When I came back from traveling, both times I found that nothing had changed. No major dramas, no deaths, no births- just everyone living as they had before. Someone might have moved or gotten a new job but nothing particularly dramatic. Except of course that no one knew I was there. I was left off of text messages or inadvertently not invited to gatherings. When I first left I was invited to events I couldn’t possibly attend. When I came back even my roommates forgot about me.You secretly hope everyone has been desperate with you, planning each day for your return. It’s not true.
There is also the difficulty of adjusting to routine. As a returning traveler, many welcome routine back in, relishing the comfort of the expected but it can also feel… repetitive. When you’re traveling the day is what you make it. You supply the expectations for your day.
Do you explore today? Nature or urban setting?
Do you relax today, take the “day off” so to speak and sit by the park, tree, beach, pool?
Do you learn today? Will you take a tour, visit a monument or museum?
Is today a travel day? Do you have someplace you have to get to?
Sometimes you work when you travel, whether or remotely or locally, but I imagine many other travelers felt like I did when working- that I was there by choice. At home, the sense of obligation and need for planning felt much stronger. In other countries where I worked for local employers I wasn’t worried about my resume or burning bridges with my manager. My job was a means to an end AKA my next destination.
For better or worse, life at home involves a lot of routine. I take care of my dog, go to work each day (and care about my job), clean my house, take care of the yard, weed my garden and so on. There are many positives to this habitual life. I don’t have to make new friends every day. The friends I had yesterday are my friends today and they live in the same city I do (well, some of them). When traveling you are constantly saying goodbye and hoping to meet again. I can take classes and join clubs. I have neighbors, not bunk mates.
Coming back from traveling involves a lot of readjustment. First there’s jet lag, then there’s a little culture shock (So many SUVs! There’s a store here for everything? Oh, that seems familiar.), reintegration into family (reunion- hooray!) and then regular ol’ life. It’s a constant trade off between the comforts of home and routine and the absence of the new and different.
Traveling seems so long ago now to me. It was only a few months here, a year there, a season elsewhere. It was all done under the umbrella of youthful exploration, missing the dedication that hardcore travelers have within. I have never figured out how to integrate into my “regular ol’ life” though I admire those that do. Friends Ardent Camper and Local Color XC are setting a fine example of American exploration. Who knows what they, too will find if they ever decide to lose the wheels and come on “home”.