Returning Home & Feeling All the Feels
Although coming home and seeing your family and friends is exciting, you have to be prepared to experience the worst case of the travel blues...
Jesse finally started visiting me in my dreams again. For the whole first two months after Jesse passed away they were nightmares, but this past week they have been good dreams. Dreams of him happy, us hanging out on the beach, joking around like we used to. Part of me believes it’s him showing me he’s around, but I’m not sure if that’s just me trying to comfort myself.
This trip to India has been eye opening. Locals and fellow travelers I’ve spoken to about Jesse all encourage me to continue traveling while practicing positive thinking which will lead me to bigger and better things. Does the power of positive thinking really help? Yeah it does, but it is difficult to stay positive with the year I’ve had.
I am going home for the holidays to be with family and friends which I am extremely excited for and it reminded me of an entry I wrote in March after returning home from Australia and leaving Jesse behind. I thought it would be good to share something I wrote prior to losing Jesse. Hope you enjoy and know you are not alone if you’re suffering from the travel blues...
March 8th, 2017
“I left the country thinking I was only going to be gone for 2 to 3 months and after 22 months abroad it was time to make my way back home. I left America with no plan or direction. I didn’t have any idea who I would meet or how the experiences would mold me into the person I am today. I was scared and lost, but excited and liberated. I left for my most recent trip with the intention to live in Australia for a year and do the working holiday visa. I remember my brother saying, “Nice knowing ya” because he’s had a handful of friends who had gone down under and fallen in love and never came back. I reassured him that would not happen, given I had been single most of my adult life and found myself always in the friend zone, but boy was I wrong.
What my brother was referring to was falling in love with a boy and he was right, but there was more to it than that. The truth is, I did fall in love with a boy, but more importantly I fell in love with myself. The most important lesson learned while away was self-worth and confidence in myself. Before you can love someone and be in a successful relationship you have to be able to show yourself compassion and cut yourself some slack. Life gets tough, but we are all doing the best we can.
Not only did I fall in love with myself, I fell in love with Australia and many other countries before that. I fell in love with the liberating feeling of showing up to a new town or city and not knowing anything. I fell in the love with people of all nationalities and ethnicities. I fell in love with food all over again, something I have always struggled with because of my eating disorder. I fell in love with mother nature and my body.
But what happens when it’s all over? What happens when you have to go back to the life you left so long ago, where all your family and friends reside. You hear people say "traveling changes you" or "I am a different person now that I have traveled.” No one wants to admit all the cliche sayings are true with fear of looking like an a$$, but I back up both of those statements.
Your experiences shape your character. Learning to rely on yourself as a solo traveler is a long journey and trust me, we all have our ups and downs. You become more independent, your perspectives change on politics, love, various cultures, people and life overall. Your priorities change. You aren’t focused on climbing the corporate ladder or owning expensive things, you just want enough money to be able to get to your next destination. You learn that life is short and without living each day like it’s your last you’re just wasting it.
I had the opportunity to visit home over the holidays in 2015 for which I’m forever grateful because I got to spend Christmas with my grandparents and immediate family, but when I came home, it was different. And no, I am not talking about the inflection in my voice that made me sound like I was a British American... The reality was that I didn’t have as much in common with my friends as I used to because everyone’s life went on just as mine did. My perspective on life changed immensely and my priorities were unlike my friends or relatives. All I wanted to do was spend time with family and then get back out there.
It had been 14 months since I had seen anyone I knew from back home when returning home from Australia, minus the random FaceTime dates I had with my family and friends. I was nervous to go home and see everyone. I was not looking forward to the stress and anxiety that would hit me as soon as I got home or the familiarity of being back in the same environment where my eating disorder thrived. I wasn’t looking forward to answering the questions, "What now? What are you planning to do next?" I was scared because I knew it was going to be different, but I didn’t know how different.
You hear people say they feel like an outsider when they return while suffering through the harsh stages of the travel blues, but I didn’t know the transition would be as hard as it was. I felt guilty for putting my family and loved ones through the eating disorder, I felt guilty for picking up and leaving career opportunities on the table, I felt guilty for not flying home for the holidays in 2016, I felt guilty for leaving my boyfriend in Australia and I honestly didn’t know when the next time I would see the amazing individuals that made up my life in Australia again.
Unfortunately while on the flight home, my Grandma passed away from a stroke that took her life. I didn’t learn this until I landed in California. I fell to the floor in tears while a lovely woman I had met at my layover in New Zealand comforted me with a hug. I gathered my bags and pushed my cart through customs where the customs officer hugged me for at least a full two minutes. When you travel alone it is hard to hear and deal with tragedy that happens so far away. This moment showed me that even though those two people had no idea what kind of person I was, at the end of the day we are all human.
My sister picked me up from the airport and through the tears I tried to readjust to seeing California again. Driving on the opposite side of the road and sitting in the opposite side of the car, seeing towns I grew up around pass by through the window. Thinking about my grandma, my grandpa, my parents, my extended family, my boyfriend and the life I had just left behind. My experience coming home was unique, but so is everyone's.
I felt lost all over again. I knew who I was, but I didn’t know what move to make next. I left the life that made me happiest and now I wake up every morning feeling anxious and sometimes cry myself to sleep thinking about Jesse and Melbourne. I thought coming home would be easy because I had so many trips and weddings to attend to keep me distracted, but I was wrong. My heart was broken from losing my grandma without the opportunity to say goodbye while leaving the man, country and life that I loved in Australia.
I had to take a step back and remind myself it's okay to feel stressed. It's okay to feel anxious, alone and sad. I felt like my friends and family were happy to see me for the first five to ten minutes and then I just felt in the way with no idea what to do. I was trying to adjust to the societal norms and pressures of America while trying to figure out if I should jump back into a career or continue making enough money just to get to the next country. The fact of the matter is there is no right next step to take and although all I wanted was for someone to understand where I was coming from, I wasn’t going to receive any sympathy from friends and family that have continued on with their daily lives and careers while I’ve been on an extended holiday around the world.
Leaving family and friends is hard and homesickness is a very real thing, but coming home is even harder. No one will ever have the same experiences you have had abroad. If I was to give advice as to what to do when you get home it would be these six things:
1. Remember it's okay to be sad and anxious. Cry it out and reach out to as many people as possible. I consistently reach out to people I met traveling around the globe to get updates on their lives and share stories, as well as, friends back home that I hadn’t talked to in a while. Having an outlet to vent to is one of the healthiest things you can do for your mind, body and soul.
2. Do what you did traveling, but in your home town. Find a national park or a glorious beach to visit not far away. A lot of us never explore the places where we were born.
3. Plan something to look forward to. Book a trip to go visit a new place near your home, or get together with friends you haven’t seen in a while.
4. Channel your feelings into a hobby you fell in love with abroad. For me, it is journaling, yoga and swimming. Doing these three things distract me from my all my feelings and stress.
5. Remember to live in the present moment and breathe. Appreciate the time you have with your friends and family, although you may feel like the odd duck or a fish out of water, these people love you to your core and want you around, despite your internal feelings of not belonging.
6. LOVE AND TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF. Whatever you decide to do when you come back home, whether it be a career or just a job to save up some pennies to travel again, be sure you are making your health a priority. I myself fell back into the stress trap and I had to take a step back and remember that as long as I am eating healthy, exercising and taking care of my body and mind then everything else will fall into place. It took me 26 years to be able to realize that this is the most important of all, but trust me when you feel good in your own skin everything happens to work out for itself.
Whatever decision you make, cut yourself some slack. You are brave for broadening your horizons and jumping out of your comfort zone. Many people go their whole lives without leaving their home state. You, my friend, are courageous, experienced and a different person than before you left, and now you have some amazing stories to tell. The travel blues are real and all your feelings are justified.”