Sometimes I wonder how I’ve had an easier time adjusting to living in the remote jungle, or eating unidentifiable street food in Asia, or navigating the hectic maze of Morocco, than I have simply coming home.
I wonder how the shock of what’s familiar, can sizzle my brain with a force far greater than a cockroach the size of my fist or a street congested with motorcycles and donkey carts. I wonder how despite the many comforts, a world that I once lived in, can feel so devoid of what I’ve grown to love.
I wonder, how does reverse culture shock bite sharper than culture shock?
Over the last three and a half years, I’ve returned to my hometown of Seattle seven times. You’d think that at this point, the shock would wear off. You’d think that it would no longer affect me. But, it still does. I still experience reverse culture shock, every time I come home.
And from what I hear again and again, from friends, readers, and travel bloggers, is that I’m not alone in this feeling. For those of us who have the travel bug, going home feels hard.
But this past year, coming home has gotten easier for me. And not because I’ve gotten my travel fix or finally satisfied my wanderlust itch.
It’s gotten easier because I’ve decided to approach my life differently. I’ve decided that the answer isn’t always running away to the next tropical destination. The answer is making peace with where I am, wherever that may be.
So how do you do it? How do you make peace with where you are, when it’s not all that awesome? How do you go home after seeing the great big beautiful world with more freedom than you ever knew possible… without going crazy?
Stop Comparing “What Is” With “What Was”
I know how dull the city streets and skyscrapers can look in comparison to golden sand beaches and vibrant jungles. I know how empty the suburbs and shopping malls can appear in comparison to beehive communities and bustling artisan markets. I know how boring routine can feel in comparison to life on the road. I know that when you compare climax to stasis, stasis falls flat.
But the only thing that makes one experience better than the other, is your perception. And in truth, magic lives everywhere.
Try experiencing this time and place without applying it to a background of other experiences. Try to feel it exactly as it is, unaffected by what else you’ve done and what else you’ve seen. Try to appreciate where you are right now, rather than comparing it to what in retrospect seems “better.” This present moment, is the only thing that actually exists, so you might as well enjoy it.
Many times I struggled when coming home (read my post The Hardest Part About Coming Home) because I couldn’t accept the image I had of the person I was when I lived here. In turn, I judged myself when I noticed those old behaviors arise, I judged others when I saw my former self in them, and I judged my environment for being the driving force behind all of it.
But last winter I decided to actually step into the shadow of my former self and fill it with light. Since then, everything has become easier.
So you came home and you started acting like less than your best self. It happens. Own it. Allow it. Maybe you had a mind-blowing experience on the road that changed you forever, and come home to find your friends and family haven’t changed at all. You can get frustrated over the fact that they don’t “get it,” or you can accept them for who they are, redefine your relationship if necessary, and move forward. Maybe where you are physically isn’t as beautiful, or interesting, or laid back as life on the road, but you are here now. And this present moment is the only place to find real happiness.
Accept others, yourself, and your environment, and you will breathe infinitely more joy into your experience, whether you’re traveling or not.
Talk to People Who “Get It”
You wouldn’t expect an alcoholic to quit the bottle without the support of others, would you? So why would you expect that when you go cold turkey off the travel drug, you can do it alone?
And I don’t mean spending time with friends and family from home. I mean talking to people who have been through reverse culture shock and have found a way to handle it. Talk to other wanderlust friends, people who are out on the road, and particularly those who have also recently come home. Even if it turns into a bitch fest of why you hate the United States, it’s helpful to remember that you’re not crazy. Other people go through this, you’re not alone, and you will survive.
Make a Gratitude List
Yep. Do it. Do it now. Write out everything that you’re grateful for, and any struggle you may be experiencing will lighten. I promise. Do this daily and watch your life transform.
Embrace the True Meaning of Adventure
I heard a wonderful quote the other day that went something like this, “adventure is life reconsidered.” Adventure is taking a step into unknown territory. And if you’re actually living in the present moment, that means you’ve always in the midst of adventure. But living in the present moment is surprisingly difficult to do.
One of the things I love so much about world travel, is that through adventures and misadventures, I find myself pulled into the present. I find myself so immersed in what is happening now. That makes life feel so much richer.
How can you bring that essence into the way that you do everything? Can you make even your daily practices and your interactions an adventure, by pushing your own boundaries and comfort zones? What happens when you start saying yes to things that scare you, in an exciting way? What happens when you start sharing parts of yourself that want to come out, but you’re afraid to express? What happens when you start setting boundaries that feel uncomfortable, yet so relieving at the same time?
Travel is a beautiful adventure that I would never trade for anything in the whole world, but the journey of the self, is the greatest adventure of all.
Do What Makes You Happy
Pretty much every time I come home, I notice myself creep into old patterns and habits that don’t make me happy. I stop doing yoga as often, I lax on my daily meditations, I get lazy about going out and exploring. It’s like the simple act of being home leads me to stop doing all of the things that normally make me happy.
Anyone else with me on this one?
I’m willing to bet that a lot of the routines and habits that we have when traveling, could in fact be replicated at home. No, it won’t be same, but it will certainly make the transition easier.
Instead of falling back into an old routine that seems “natural” in this environment, consciously make the decision to set a new one. What are the things that you know make you happy? How can you bring them into your life at home too?
If you need some inspiration, read my post 24 Ways to Find Happiness No Matter Where You Are.
Remember Why You’re Here
In most cases, I’ll assume that coming home, for whatever reason, was your choice. You decided that this was what you needed to do at this given time. Though despite the fact that you chose to be here, it can often feel like you’re trapped. That’s why you need to remember why you’re here to begin with.
Are you here to make more money so you can get back on the road? Are you here to have the time and space so that you can develop a business that you can do from anywhere? Are you here to spend time with people you love, who are important enough to stop traveling for? Are you here because your body and your spirit told you it was time to take a rest?
What are you ultimately hoping to create or experience? How can being home help facilitate that? Can you set some goals that help you stay motivated and focused, even through the challenge?
It takes time. Be patient. Lighten up. Smile. Know that like all things, this too shall pass.
Allow Yourself the Space to Grow
Sometimes the struggle you feel is more than a transition that you need to just breathe through. Sometimes the struggle comes from living in a way that doesn’t express what you feel in your heart. Sometimes the struggle comes from realizing that you don’t belong here anymore, no matter how much you think you should.
Allow yourself the space to grow. Even when the growth comes with pain.
Absolutely find peace, contentment, and happiness in this moment. But also find the courage to do whatever it takes, to follow your bliss. Life is too short, and too long, for anything else.