Don’t Be Sad That Your Big Trip Is Over

5 Ways to Soothe Travel Withdrawal and Re-adjust to “Real Life”

Photo by Christine Renard from Pexels

Travel is a high. Which means you feel an inevitable low once a trip is over — regardless of whether it was a weeklong honeymoon in Greece like my friend recently took, or a two-month backpacking stint around Guatemala, like the one I just returned from.

Fortunately for us both, re-entry to the real world doesn’t have to involve sadness. Nor that mental hangover where you longingly peruse your travel photos whilst cursing the relative mediocrity of your regular life.

As a self-proclaimed binge traveler, I’m lucky enough to take several big trips a year (here’s how to score this lifestyle). These trips yield plenty of chances to practice readjusting to the real world, the daily grind, or whatever we’re calling it these days.

Here is my cheat sheet for how to make coming home less painful:

1. Embrace the haze

You’re sitting in a meeting on your first day back, and suddenly you can’t quite recall what exactly your job is. Or it all seems slightly (okay, completely) pointless. More pressingly, you don’t remember the password to unlock your laptop. The one you robotically typed in hundreds of times before your trip.

This is not early onset Alzheimer’s, nor the beginnings of a midlife crisis. The haze is there, paradoxically, to give you clarity. Your head may feel fuzzy, but your life should be in greater focus, in terms of what’s truly important to you. I doubt password recall would make anyone’s top five.

Do you feel off because of standard issue jetlag coupled with the break from your daily routine now awakening some of those mindless, repetitive tasks you had on autopilot pre-trip? Or has your time away magnified a deeper dissatisfaction with life back home?

The fact is, even if your office has a water slide in the lobby, going to work is infinitely less fun than going on trips. But one does tend to finance the other, so be realistic about the expected ratio of work and play in your life — and careful about comparing the two as apples to apples.

Most importantly, defer any existential crises until your jetlag has long worn off. This disorienting state is basically evolution’s way of reminding us that a mere 100 years ago, no human body had ever traveled faster than a horse.

So fun and majestic, but considerably slower than a Boeing 777. (Photo by Johannes Plenio from Pexels)

2. Steer clear of snow globes

Instead of haggling for cheesy trinkets that will collect dust at home, I try to bring back mementos that will add some semblance of tangible value to my life. Falling into three basic categories, they deliver practical and emotional benefits, ultimately reminding you that the trip wasn’t just a dream.

Food. Obviously avoid fresh treats that could get you in trouble at customs, but dry goods like coffee beans, tea leaves and chocolate are scrumptious fair game. Opt for the beloved varieties you sampled while traveling. Our senses are more reliable than our memory, so those familiar flavors and fragrances should transport you back to where you found them — and ideally to the blissful state you found yourself in.

Wearables. Food is awesome, but eventually it dwindles in supply. That’s why my go-to travel loot includes non-perishable items I will definitely wear back home with some regularity. A delicate necklace that goes with everything. A pair of knockoff “Ray-Bam” sunglasses that will forever remind you of the sunny views reflected in its mirrored lenses. A lace-trimmed scarf that you probably could have bought at home, but it has special meaning because it caught your eye in a cobblestone alley in Portugal. (Even those elephant-print harem pants make a solid souvenir — just stop wearing them in public once you leave Thai airspace.)

Decor. Alright, I’ll concede there is something adorable about a miniature replica of the Eiffel Tower encased in a glass orb filled with water and fake precipitation. But it’s infinitely more satisfying to bring back artwork or other home decor that you would still choose to buy if you actually lived in Paris. I try to minimize travel purchases in general to avoid home clutter, but sometimes these things choose you, like a wooden mask of the Hindu elephant god Ganesh that enchanted me in Nepal. Its new home in Texas has been divinely enhanced by its hanging presence.

Lest there is any confusion, these all fall into the snow-globe category. Just say no. Oh fine, you can get the bear. (Photo by Sara Afonso from Pexels)

3. Check your local blind spots

Wherever you look, there is something to be seen.

The internet is inconclusive on the original source of this quote (apparently it’s a tie between The Talmud and Gavin Rossdale), but it nonetheless holds conclusive wisdom for those of us suffering from travel withdrawal. You don’t have to go far to find interesting things to see or do.

The attractions closest to our home are often in our blindspot. I lived in New York City for six years and never once went to the Statue of Liberty. There was always a feeling of “I’ll get to it,” and yet I never did, until I finally moved away and returned to the city as a visitor.

I realize this is far from novel, original advice. Take a staycation! Be a tourist in your own city! But it bears repeating because we’re such chronically busy, easily distracted creatures the minute we step back into our natural habitat.

Take a day trip to a nearby town or even stroll through a local neighborhood you don’t normally traverse. Just because you’re not in Ulaanbaatar anymore doesn’t mean life is less interesting. It’s simply harder to notice when there are fewer vowels.

Do a quick Google image search for your hometown, or consult Atlas Obscura for odd, lesser known attractions in your relative backyard. The world’s largest fork might be an hour away, or a TripAdvisor review may inspire you to do a sunrise hike at a nearby park.

Amazingness surrounds us, if we only check our blind spots.

Wander around in search of cool street art. Most cities have it. They might not all be as photogenic as this alley in Bogota, but talented local artists are everywhere. (Photo by my mom)

4. When you can’t wander, simply lust

You may have heard the term “armchair traveler” or can deduce its meaning ’cause you’re smart. Now, reading Cleopatra’s biography or watching a documentary about Egypt is clearly no substitute for getting your butt atop a camel to see the pyramids for yourself. But great books and videos are forms of travel in their own right.

My favorite travel books are too numerous (and random) to list, but I’d start with A Wolverine is Eating My Leg by Tim Cahill. Anything by Tim Cahill or Bill Bryson, for that matter. They aren’t authors so much as well-traveled comedians, and laughter is a halfway decent consolation prize for no longer lying on a sandy beach in Zanzibar.

This reading list is reasonably comprehensive if you want the modern classics.

If you’re more of a visual luster, watch anything that features Mr. Bourdain. He left us a lifetime’s worth of first-rate armchair travels.

If all else fails, it’s never too early to start window shopping for your next trip. Check Instagram for #beautifuldestinations. Kayak’s interactive map of where in the world you can fly at any price is addictive, so don’t click here unless you can afford to get nothing productive done for the next hour.

I wish I were in Egypt right now, but even looking at this camel makes me feel better. (Photo by Simon Matzinger from Pexels)

5. Be grateful for what’s different

When I find myself wishing I were somewhere else, lamenting that a trip is over, I always remind myself of this: To come back to where you started is not the same as never leaving. It’s a marvelous insight on travel from novelist Terry Pratchett.

Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.

Travel changes you. In some ways temporarily and in other ways with more permanence. It infuses you with new energies and perspectives, and you bring this all back with you, whether you realize it or not.

Sometimes I don’t notice it until a friend back home says, “You seem different.” More peaceful and centered, perhaps. Lighter in spirit. And increasingly more grateful for the life I have.

Grateful that I have the money and time to travel. That I have people who miss me while I’m gone. Grateful that we live in a world where we’ll never run out of beautiful things to look at or kind people to meet. And grateful that I can bring some of that world back to share with others, whether in the form of writing or chocolate.

If you find yourself afflicted with the post-travel blues, know that the very feeling of travel withdrawal means that it changed you. That it got under your skin.

So technically there is no going ‘back’ to where (and who) you were before. There is only gratitude for the now, and excitement for what else life has in store.

For those of us who travel nearly as much as we’re home, re-entry is a moving target and feeling disoriented is amusingly constant.

One week post-trip, I’m wearing my Guatemalan jewelry like it’s permanently tattooed on my body. Several passwords have been forgotten. My head is still fuzzy, but it’s crystal clear that this trip has altered my life in ways I don’t even know yet.

And that the next trip will, too.

Travel withdrawal is guaranteed after you leave this view. (My home for the last two months in San Marcos, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala)

Thanks for reading! Please “clap” in multiples of seven for good travel luck.