Two weeks ago I returned to my hometown.
It is cold and rainy here.
I am living on my mother’s couch.
In a suburb across a bridge from the city.
The nearest beach has pebbles for sand and swimming in the water will literally give you hypothermia.
There is no papaya, save for the unripe ones sold in Chinatown, imported from Southeast Asia, for the price of a hostel bed.
I cannot walk to the water, the jungle, or yoga.
There is a gold and diamonds pawnshop, an adult toys boutique, and a Salvadorian bakery just around the corner.
If I borrow the car, I can drive to a co-op. There I can buy canned coconut water for three dollars.
My life has changed a lot in the last two weeks.
But my mother’s couch is in my mother’s house and in my mother’s house is my mother.
Baking me homemade plum and blueberry crisp.
Teaching me watercolor techniques at the dining room table.
Leaving a new pair of pajamas on my “bed”.
Telling me at least ten times a day how happy she is that I’m home.
Here, in this rough around the edges neighborhood, lives my sister.
The one person in this world who might actually be perfect.
Her sweet smile and gentle voice greeting me at the door.
Then comes my babbling baby nephew, crawling across hardwoods in his caterpillar pajamas.
Smiling when I walk in.
Grabbing fistfuls of my hair and chewing on my chin.
Across the bridge is a city, a beautiful city.
Filled with friends who love me.
Restaurants with four walls and fancy cocktails.
Water views everywhere I turn.
Art and theater and music and all of the luxuries a city allows.
There may not be beaches but there are mountains and lakes.
And papaya and mango may disappoint but we have the sweetest, tartest, crispest apples in the world.
Life may feel easier, happier for me on a South American Caribbean beach.
But I choose my own happiness.
And I can choose it here, for the time that I am here.
This is my fourth time in the last year coming back home. I know how difficult it is transitioning back to what many people call “the real world”.
Because of this, before I returned, I devised a plan that I would like to share with all of you, to make the transition a little easier.
1. Get Excited
The first thing I do is remind myself of everything I that love about home. Especially things that are not available in the places where I have been traveling.
To see my family, my friends.
To cook in a well equipped, modern kitchen.
To have clothes that are actually clean and dry.
To have access to any kind of food that I want to eat.
What do you love about the place that you are returning to?
What luxuries did you let go of in your travel life?
Maybe you actually decided that you don’t need those luxuries anymore.
You can still be decadent and enjoy them when you return.
2. Set a Long Term Goal
Sooner than you realize, the novelty of first world luxuries will wear off. Sitting at your parent’s house in your pajamas catching up on your favorite shows on Hulu does not maintain its charm forever. This is why you need a long term goal.
Something that reminds you of why exactly you are here.
That this is only a state of transition.
That things will get better.
Did you return home to go back to school? To start a business? To work and save money for future travel? To prepare for a move?
Do not forget your goal.
Continue working toward that goal.
It will give your actions intention and purpose.
Knowing that this transition does not last forever, you can actually enjoy the present moment more fully.
3. Develop a Routine
Having a routine makes me feel happier, more comfortable, and more grounded. I find it’s incredibly effective at making transitions easier.
It makes a place feel like my own.
Like I have some control when everything is changing.
It is something I can count on.
Being from Seattle my first step is always to find my coffee shop.
The little café on the corner in Trastevere when I studied abroad in Rome.
A hip college spot across from Forsyth Park on an extended stay in Savannah.
La Botanica Organica in Playa Chiquita.
Today, where I am writing this now, Cupcake Royale in West Seattle.
I feel security knowing I can make it to my café at the same time every morning, open my laptop, and begin to write.
Where can you find routine exactly where you are today?
Could you run on the waterfront every morning?
Step out of your office and sit with a cup of tea and a cookie each afternoon?
Move through a relaxing yoga flow before you go to bed?
What would make you feel grounded? At home?
4. Bring What You Love About Your Travel Life Into Your New Life
Your fear of returning home may center on the idea that you will revert back to being the person you were before. That everything you learned through your travels will somehow disappear.
This is not true.
Maybe you developed a yoga practice.
Replaced television with books.
Felt more social and open with strangers.
Became less judgmental.
More self focused.
You don’t have to let that go.
When I returned home from Costa Rica last year, I had changed immensely. I missed living in the jungle, answering to no one, buying nothing, and spending most of my time on the beach. However, I found ways for my life in Seattle to more closely align with my life in Costa Rica.
I turned my cell phone off most of the time, or left it at home altogether.
I cooked myself huevos rancheros for breakfast every morning.
I sat in a chair and read for hours rather than watching anything on a screen.
Maybe what you miss most about traveling is living your life for yourself.
Consciously deciding how to spend every moment rather than appeasing the demands of others.
Living for your own happiness, not for outside approval.
You can absolutely replicate this at home.
5. Accept That There Are Things You Can’t Bring Home
Last year I remember buying flavorless mangos at the grocery store every day.
I remember wearing brightly colored tank tops in March and freezing in the house.
I remember going to dance clubs only to be disappointed by the price of tequila and lack of Reggaeton.
Enjoy where you are now for what and where it is.
Focus on what makes it special.
Perfect summer berries and juicy peaches.
Picnics in the park bundled up in a blanket.
The moment the sky turns blue after days and days of gray and rain.
Tiptoeing through silent rooms in art museums.
Life is much easier when you love and accept where you already are rather than fighting to make it something else.
6. Explore Your City Like a Tourist
Treat your city the way you treated each of your travel destinations.
Wander the streets taking photographs.
Observe in wonder.
Be curious, not judgmental.
Fall in love with what you see.
7. Be Patient
It takes time.
Don’t be so hard on yourself.
Don’t be so hard on where you are.
Resist the urge to speak or think negatively about this place.
Resist the urge to compare.
You chose to be here, so be here. It might feel uncomfortable for a while. That is part of change.
8. Know That Your “Real Life” Can be Anything You Want it to Be
You don’t have go back to living the life you used to live if you don’t want to.
Maybe you came home and realized it isn’t what you want anymore.
That is ok.
If you want to continue to travel, find a way to make that feasible for you.
If you want to live in the middle of nowhere in Southeast Asia, allow that to be your reality.
My life when I am traveling is my real life. It may be a different life from the one most people are living. It may have its difficulties like any other life. But it is the life that I want to live. And it is real.
Choose the life you want to live, for yourself.