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Many moons ago before eighteen-year old me left for her first solo adventure, if someone asked me what I thought the hardest part of travel would be, without a doubt I probably would have said something like eating the local food or navigating your way around a country you don’t know or understand.
But these days, as a relatively seasoned explorer of countries I probably shouldn’t go to alone, I’ve realised that for me the most difficult part of travelling is simply coming home at the end.
It doesn’t matter how long I’ve been away for, be it a week, a month or a whole year, or where exactly I’ve been, I always always always find going home more nerve-wracking than anything else. Just the thought of it absolutely petrifies me!
Jump out of a plane? Piece of cake! Swim with sharks at feeding time? No problemo! Navigate one of the world’s most dangerous cities alone? Easy peasy lemon squeezy.
But go home? Go back to normality and family and friends?
I’d rather jump back in with the sharks, thanks.
It’s actually incredibly disorientating returning home after however many months ‘on the road’ in some of the most far flung corners of the world.
Because when you travel you grow accustomed to a certain way of life that’s just different from all you knew before. You grow accustomed to living in a different language, paying in a different currency, driving on the opposite side of the road, eating food that’s sometimes still alive when you chew it. Depending on where you go, you get used to paying a pittance for life’s essentials like water, food and the odd trip to the cinema. You get used to the kindness of strangers. And when you go home, it’s just not the same.
Sometimes you need to leave to really see your own stomping ground.
The UK is unnecessarily expensive; we are a nation obsessed with money and making profit. The UK has way too many rules and regulations for its own good. We are so straight edge it’s actually funny. And the people? Well, sorry if this offends but they’re kind of rude. WE are kind of rude.
From the outside we may seem a little too polite – we say please and thank you for everything, we open doors for absolutely everyone and we put our rubbish in the bins (go us!). But when it comes to person-to-person communication, we are so damn rude!
We don’t say good morning to strangers, we tend not to do nice things unless there’s something in it for us and we have this really odd aversion of sitting next to strangers on public transport. Heck, if a stranger so much at smiles at us we’ll probably start mentally planning our own funeral because of course they want to murder us in our sleep.
Culture shock is real when you land in a new country for the first time.
Culture shock is even realer when you head home.
I know exactly what’s going to happen when my plane touches down at Heathrow on Saturday evening.
I’ll go through security and customs without so much as a smile from any of the officials. I’ll drag my bags from the carousel without a single offer of assistance from strangers or airport staff. I’ll go to buy a bottle of water from one of the little shops at arrivals and will be shocked and appalled by how much they’re charging. The miserable National Express driver will grunt as I board and I’ll take a seat. Nobody will sit next to me unless they can help it, no other passengers will make eye contact. I’ll spend the next three and a half hours staring out of the window listening to sad Avril Lavigne songs and pretending I’m in a 90s music video.
It’ll be cold. So, so cold! The food will taste bland. Traffic and roads will annoy me. Why can’t they just overtake each other?! For a while the money will confuse me; whereas before I could have confidently stuck my hand in my pocket and pull out a 50p piece by touch alone, now it’ll take me a good few seconds of fumbling about before I manage to scrape together that £1.20 I need to buy a bottle of coke. Which, by the way, will just taste weird.
Every morning for at least a week I’ll wake up confused as to where I am. Why does it look so miserable outside? Why is there no sun? Why can I smell bacon instead of garam masala?
For a while I’ll revel in the novelty of being home. I’ll eat way too much cheese, I’ll catch up with everyone I’ve missed, I’ll finally build the Lego Simpsons Kwik-E-Mart that’s been patiently waiting for me for a whole eight months, I’ll rejoice at not having to resort to charades when it comes to ordering my own food and I might cry at how good the WiFi is.
But after a while the honeymoon period will be over and I’ll be miserable, a little lost and completely out of sorts.
When you go on an extended trip you kind of forget that although you might not be there, life back home does go on. People go about their daily business the same as they always have, the only difference being you’ve swanned off somewhere to ride buffalos through the forest or something.
Your colleagues still go to work every day as they always have except you’re not there to share the lunch break jollies. Your family still get together for special occasions just like they always have, the only difference being you’re not there to jot down everyone’s takeaway orders. The restaurant you used to work at is still standing, still cooking and still raking in the dough, except everyone’s favourite barman is absent (FYI, that’s me, hi).
Life goes on with or without you.
Which makes it all the more difficult to just slip right back in where you left off.
I always find it extremely disorientating returning home after however many months ‘on the road’. And that feeling tends to stick around for a really, really long time.
Things happen when you’re away that you miss out on and by the time you get back, it’s old news that nobody really wants to talk about anymore. It’s as if you’ve woken up from a really long Sleeping Beauty-esque sleep with huge gaps in your memory that just can’t be filled.
You won’t know why your friend and her boyfriend broke up because it happened four months ago now and you know, that’s old news now so why even bother bringing it up? You might never find out what happened to make so-and-so quit their job and start selling homemade candles instead because you just weren’t there and you don’t really want to ask.
When you go home, everything is different.
Life is not the same. And more importantly, you’re not the same.
Not to sound too cliché or reminiscent of a tree-hugging hippy but travel does change you. Things get put into perspective and your outlook on life is completely altered, hopefully for the better. So going home, trying to slip back into every day life is a lot harder than it seems.
Do you find it difficult re-adjusting to ‘normal’ life after a trip? I’d love to hear if others feel the same way!