Mourning the Loss of the Journey
I walk through the arrivals gate at the airport late one evening, a practice I have completed time and again over the past year, but this time it’s entirely different. This time there isn’t another destination close in my future or a hostel to find in the middle of the night. This time the airport is entirely familiar: the art installations, the signage, the advertisements showing off familiar products with new labels and updated logos… After 15 months, there should be some elation that comes with my re-entry. I should feel excited to be home. I feel jittery and nervous… oddly lost. Everything feels comfortably familiar and alarmingly foreign at once. Welcome back. This is home. I live here.
Fifteen months ago I left on an extended trip with my husband. We had a rough idea of the direction we were going to travel and an even rougher timeline. We had estimated our trip solely on the size of our savings account, with the help of an online travel calculator. We’d been planning to give this a go for years, never knowing if we’d be able to save enough or be willing to take the plunge and actually go for it. But against all the adversity that arises in a monolithic adventure like this, we were able to pull it together. The easiest part was jumping on that first plane.
Perhaps the hardest part was coming home.
Nevertheless, our trip was the single best thing I could have done. Now that we’re home, things are a bit confusing and we haven’t quite pulled our lives back together. It takes more time than I anticipated. We’re living with family, working side jobs while seeking more permanent employment, and catching up with old friends. We laugh, we adjust, and we worry sometimes. But nothing can take away what we’ve accomplished. You won’t find us regretting a thing about our decision to travel.
Our travels through 22 countries, including a boat ride over the Atlantic, were extraordinary. People at home thought we were crazy. The feelings of freedom, self-discovery and empowerment were astounding. We discovered new foods in Cambodia, dove the barrier reefs in Australia and Belize, stayed in tiny thatched huts in Malaysia, and learned native dance in Guatemala. We worked at an Italian cooking school in New Zealand, surfed the infamous waves in Bali, and tasted prosciutto in Spain.
Every day was about new experiences, brilliant colors, and laughable moments. Now that I’m back, sometimes life just feels like everything went to beige after a year in a rainbow. My experiences abroad broke down both personal and cultural barriers for me. I learned how to communicate without using language, how to let go of my need to control things, how to quickly adapt, and how to thrive in unfamiliar territory. In many ways it was the perfect preparation for coming home; I am stronger, more willing to adapt, and seem to take things as they come. I worry, but not all that much. We know ourselves well enough now to know that we’ll land on our feet. More than anything, I just miss being out in the world. I miss the adventure, the confusion, the uncertainty, the mind-boggling views and the tiny villages… In a way I feel more at home out in the midst of it than when sitting in a familiar living room. That realization is weird to me.
My initial re-entry was so much less shocking than I had thought it would be. That first night at home didn’t bring on the stress of reverse culture shock in the way many had warned me about. Things felt almost normal, oddly normal. It started out with general observations more than anything else. We scooped up magazines we hadn’t seen in a year, ate citrus from the farmer’s market, and drank coffee from the little place on a corner we use to frequent. The sidewalks seemed impeccably clean, a 6-lane freeway looked enormous, drinking water from the tap was a luxury, and finding that every house and business had plumbing came as a shock. Grocery stores were a maze of new products and old standbys. We were thrilled at seeing our favorite local cheese, and we devoured tacos from the best cart in downtown. Throughout our first few weeks back, it was the little things that got us the most: no food was spicy enough; public transportation ran on an actual schedule, ice cream flavors were so ‘normal’… These insights are comedy; they offer little smiles throughout the day, they are mementos from our travels that sneak up on us daily.
The knowledge I come away from this trip with personifies everything I wish for humanity—everything I wish we understood about each other and everything I strive to understand myself. Lately I feel like I have been mourning the loss of my journey. Many people will say that to travel long term is to become desensitized to what you see or what you experience, but for me this couldn’t be farther from the truth. I was aware of the sanctity of every hour of my trip—the long bus rides, the frustrating travel days, the language confusion and the angered border crossings—even in the most aggressive of situations I was still elated to be in that moment. I now harbor experiences that few can completely comprehend and fewer make effort to understand. It is something I strain to find the words for, but my soul has grown wiser because of it.
Seeing the world has become my muse, and the brilliance is that no matter how much I try, I will never run out of it. The world is too big, to dense, and too varied to ever be fully discovered. For us, there is peace-of-mind in that, because no matter how life changes here, there will always be an adventure out there waiting.
To learn more about re-entry, check out the following articles:
- Reverse Culture Shock: Dealing With It Without Spreading It
- How to Deal With Reverse Culture Shock
- How to Make Processing Part of the Re-Entry Process
- The Ultimate Guide to Coming Home
Stacey Rapp and Dave Roberts love hiking, scuba diving, cooking, and of course, traveling. They decided to take a career break after years of planning imaginary trips on a world map taped up on their living room wall. Now back in the US, they have relocated to San Jose, California from Portland, Oregon for work. They are busy unpacking boxes and getting reacquainted with their cat, Baja. The couple documented their travels on their blog, Breakfast on Earth, and they look forward to adding more posts whenever the next adventure comes around.