Sailing near Bora Bora, July 2017

Post-Travel Depression and How to Deal With It; Struggling With My Return to Civilization

Matt Ray
Matt Ray
Jan 6 · 7 min read

Depression. The struggle is real.

I just spent the last 3 years sailing around the world by Global HitchHiking or crewing on sailboats. Sailing around the world is an exciting, event-filled process. There are always new places to see, new experiences to have, and new people to meet. And because of the way I was doing it, I didn’t have to worry about making a living while I was there. I just enjoyed the passages, the countries, and the journey as I sailed around the world.

But coming back after being gone for 3 years has been a bit of a challenge. I mean, Donald Trump wasn’t in office when I left. That alone is enough to depress me about life in the US. But besides all of the political insanity that is a big part of the US today, there are other things that I find are challenging me.

How did I get here?

I was inspired, in part, to leave everything and go sailing because of something I read in the 4-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferris. Tim suggested that we should take mini-retirements or intentional breaks throughout our careers, rather than one final retirement. Three years was a wonderful mini-retirement and it made a lot of sense to take a few years off now, rather than 14 years from now. However, I didn’t plan too well for what I would do when I got back and the mini-retirement was over. Partially because I thought I would start a new career in the sailing industry. But in the end, I decided I didn’t want that after all.

Since I’ve been back I’ve been trying to get into the groove of working every day and the fast pace of life that is completely different than that of traveling by sailboat for 3 years. I was basically on a vacation from normal life and living. And even though I didn’t make money while I worked on the boats, I had a job as a crew member. I took shifts, I cooked and cleaned and helped with all the tasks on the boat. And I woke up each day with purpose, that of circumnavigating the globe.

Prior to embarking on my sailing adventure, I had been gainfully employed since the summer I was 14. My first job was pouring insulation into warm California attic spaces for the summer. From 14 to 51, I have consistently had a job or was making money on a part-time or full-time basis. Today, at 54, I feel that in some ways I am starting over again and trying to get back into the swing of working every day. My brain is resisting my efforts and is still in circumnavigation mode and the jobs are not forthcoming, which fuels my depression.

Another related issue is technology. I work in the computer consulting world and it changes constantly. Most of the customers I had before I left have since moved on to different consultants and solutions. Making a living as I did before sailing around the world requires the acquisition of new skills and information. I have done a little of that skill acquisition, but there is much more to gain before I am in a place that will allow me to make a good living. It feels like an uphill battle, seeking out the training opportunities, paying for them when my income is limited and it all exacerbates my depression.

The Thrill Is Gone, Welcome to Real Life

Sailing around the world brought new adventures and activities on a weekly and sometimes daily basis. I visited 40 new countries in 36 months. Each new country brought exciting experiences, photo opportunities, and ideas to share with my friends and followers. The adventures were happening organically and I didn’t have to seek them out. I had goals and felt I had a purpose. The bigger goal was the circumnavigation itself. The smaller goals were all the countries along the way, mile after mile of sailing the globe, so many nights at sea, so many days and nights on passage. Every day there were new things to see, hear and learn. The feeling of purpose and accomplishment was through the roof!

Now that I’m back in the US, I feel I am having to force myself to have goals and purpose, and my accomplishments pale in comparison. My goals include making money and saving for my next adventure, which includes buying a boat and developing more passive income sources. None of this compares to what I have been doing which puts my endorphins in the basement.

One of my goals for passive income is writing regularly, which is a challenge since I am primarily a travel writer, and I’m no longer traveling. My passport is no longer being stamped on a weekly basis. Back in the grind and back to “normal” life. Nothing exciting is happening. I can always go back and write about the experiences I had before, but it was far easier to write when there were new experiences and literally new horizons each day.

Sailing the Post-Travel Depression Seas

I’m incredibly thankful for the ability to have traveled and experienced so much. But post-travel depression is a real thing. I did some research and found out I wasn’t alone. On Google, my favorite information gatherer, I discovered that there are hundreds of articles dealing with post-travel depression, discussing a variety of different travelers. From people going on a 1-week trip to a tropical paradise, to others studying abroad for a semester, and still others teaching English in China for a year. While every traveler’s journey is unique, post-travel depression looks very similar to those who experience it.

Below are some tips I will be trying. You may find that some of them work for you, too.

  1. Set goals and keep them in the forefront of my mind. I need to not only have long term goals, such as the ones I’ve listed above but also short term goals to help me accomplish those that are further out. The goals should be time-sensitive and specific.
  2. Push through to write. Even though I’ve struggled with creating new content, it’s vital I push forward. I need that sense of accomplishment. I am working on a couple of projects, including a book about my journey. Smaller, specific goals will also help me in this regard, as writing a book can be daunting and adds to my sense of being overwhelmed. Ironically, writing this article has helped lift me out of a much darker place.
  3. Have a short-term travel goal. Having a short term travel goal will give me something to look forward to as I work through this process.
  4. Travel and explore locally. There are so many things to see and do in my own backyard without having to travel around the world. I discovered this firsthand in 2013 when I did a SouthWestern Parks Tour and visited 10 National Parks in 10 days. So many things to see right here.
  5. Learn more about Reverse Culture Shock. Learning about this will prepare me for future returns. Turns out returning to normal life causes culture shock!
  6. Practice what I learned and enjoyed from my travels. Since I sailed around the world for 3 years, I really need to get back on a boat regardless of where I am. I’ve been back since October and haven’t been on a boat since. Getting back on a boat will give me some of that bliss I am missing. It will also help me to connect with others in the sailing world, which is one of the other steps of overcoming post-trip depression.
  7. Practice gratitude. I feel lucky to have traveled for 3 years as well as lucky to have the things that I do have. I have so many friends and family who have encouraged me and love me. I have my health. And I have the ability to do all the things I’m trying to do in this article.

If you’ve tried these things and others suggested by the articles I reference and you’re still struggling, you might want to look at getting professional help. Depression is nothing to mess around with. Take it seriously if it lasts for too long or starts impacting the rest of your life. For more information about how to overcome post-travel depression, take a look at 8 Things To Do When You Feel Post Travel Depression.

If you have tips you’d like to share about overcoming post-travel depression, please do. As for me, things seem to be taking a turn for the better as I come out of the haze of my depression. I still have some things to work out, but following the ideas I’ve outlined will hopefully help me get there sooner than later.

Docked in Richard’s Bay, South Africa, October 2018

Matt Ray

Written by

Matt Ray

Writings of a world traveler, photographer, computer dude, musician, blogger, and striving minimalist. All pics used are my own.

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