“What’s it like to be back?” We get this a lot. This go-to question gets bandied about whenever one comes home from a trip.
It’s not that I dislike this question, I’d ask the same thing were I greeting a friend who just got back from travelling the last few months. It’s important to test the waters, right? I feel like, really, I’m being asked: “Do you want to be here or you still want to be out there?”
Being that this is the second time we’ve come back from being vagabonds floating about the globe for months, I’m feeling way more optimistic this time than I did last year when we got back from our first round-the-world trip. I feel more grounded, too. This was no crash landing back into the real world, but rather more of a gentle glide onto a runway with plenty of warning that the landing strip was coming.
There are some realities to face and things to look forward to when we go home after being away:
There’s so many great reunions to look forward to! I love sending the “We’re back, when are we gonna meet up??” text. I get excited to see how much weight gain has happened or if they look older. Plus, have I changed? Am I still rocking that thick tan? Has my hair gotten longer? (Just don’t tell me I’ve gained weight: I’ll kill you.)
Don’t get me started on all the juicy gossip I need to catch up on! Break-ups, engagements, new jobs: you name it! All sorts of life goes on while we are away and even though I feel like I’ve come out of a time warp and am super different but my surroundings are not, my friends are the ones who have really changed!
It is strange to get to that point in the conversation where the pleasantries have been swapped, the delightful gossip from the friend has been shared, and then the tables turn and it’s our turn to get interrogated. I always feel awkward at this point. We’ll get asked: “What was your favorite place?” or “What was a highlight of the trip?” as if we can somehow boil 6 months down to a sentence or two because– let’s face it– no one really wants to hear about how grand our trip was. They want the cliff notes, but as soon as we launch into an incredible story about climbing sand dunes in Namibia I’ll see eyes begin to glaze over. How can anyone relate to that? Oh, and god forbid we get the phone out to start showing pictures. Yeesh. Just like no one wants to see your nephew’s baby pictures, no one wants to look at your happy face in front of a thousand-year-old temple.
For me: I try to tell stories of when things really went to hell and everything went wrong on the road. People like this. Oh yeah, I want to hear about your car getting destroyed! Ohhh you got terrible food poisoning? How bad was it??
Overall, it is so nice catching up with people we haven’t seen in months. I just have to be careful not to go full “American Pie” on them by starting every sentence with “This one time, in Spain…”
Going Through the Mail
Maybe for some, going through the mail is a chore. For me, it’s a massive box of presents! What is in there? How many clothing catalogues did I get? What kind of offers did I miss? I feel so special seeing so many pieces of paper with my name on it!
On our first big trip we left in early December and I didn’t get to open any of my Christmas mail. This made coming back in June really fun because I got to open all the Christmas cards and read the yearly newsletters 6 months late. Fun!
Putting our Place Back Together
Having sub-letters in our apartment for 5-6 months means that the place isn’t really ours when we get back. What I mean by this is the smells are different, the utensils are in different places, there might be a new shower curtain up in the bathroom or some new addition to the landscape of our furniture… who knows? Someone else is bound to put their spin on the place even if it is temporary. This means that when we enter back in, we need to figuratively “pee” all over everything so we can change the scent and get the place back in an order that’s comfortable and familiar to us.
I’m not condoning the messes that are left behind. Sub-letters are generally not the cleanest and some will treat our place more like a hotel than a living space. Dishes get broken and not replaced, there are stains where once there weren’t, and NO ONE seems to really clean! I mean: maybe a vacuum will happen once in a while, but there seems to be no deep clean done until after we get back and have to do it.
The deep clean SUCKS. When we got back after the most recent trip, we had to spend two days going through the apartment and scrubbing. The fridge stank, the floors needed mopping, even our rug needed to be ironed because it had been crushed and curled into a weird shape that wasn’t flat on the floor. After the clean, though, the place feels fresh and new and ours. No more “other-person” smell! It also feels good to personally touch all our furniture, wipe down surfaces and reestablish a sense of possession.
Living in New York City means never a dull moment and when you are gone for 262,800 minutes, you can sure miss a lot. We live in Astoria, Queens which is seeing a real boom of activity in the last few years. What was once a quiet residential area with the occasional diner and hardware store is now a bustling strip of burger joints, bars, bakeries and retail. It’s amazing how quickly things’ll change in 5-6 months!
When we go home, I look forward to walking down Ditmars Blvd. and seeing all the new coffee shops and storefronts that have gone in or haven’t opened yet. Jackson and I will stroll down the street observing the changes and judging if the place will last more than 6 months or not.
The Clothing We Left Behind
Nothing feels as good as opening the containers we shoved under the bed months ago and being greeted by the clothes we left. Having spent months recycling the same 4 pairs of underwear and suddenly seeing 2-weeks worth of panties is dizzying. Did I ever wear this much!? Being reunited with that broken-in pair of jeans, that comfy shirt, the old sweater… what a nice feeling! I get the same high as having done a huge, fresh load of laundry except I didn’t! So many choices on what to wear!
Another side effect of coming back is looking at your worldly possessions with a shrewder eye. Do I really need this? What am I holding on to this thing for anyway? I find that after coming back, it’s good to do a purge of my stuff within the first week so I can shed some crap and make more room for myself.
My Life Feels like Someone Else’s
This is a strange feeling, but one I have had both times we have returned. There is a Natalie of the Past and a Natalie of the Present. The Past Natalie might have not noticed the dust that constantly settles on the piano and the consistent honking noises from the street. The present, just-got-back-from-around-the-world Natalie TOTALLY notices. The Past Natalie was not hyper aware of how small her kitchen felt, the new one IS. Past Natalie didn’t know she wanted to leave New York City and live somewhere else; she might have had an inkling that that was something she’d eventually do, but Present Natalie is ready to go. Life, and the world, await!
Present Natalie feels older, bigger, different. She looks at her surroundings with fresh eyes and a new perspective. Maybe the way Past Natalie would live her life is no longer relevant anymore. New Natalie is ready for something new: feeling fresh and dewey-eyed after a trip around the planet.
The Post-Vacation Blues
It is a fact that when a vacation comes to an end there is a depression. I’m not saying that this is a bone-crushing depression where I can’t get out of bed, but it’s an ending and I mourn. A lifestyle that I had gotten used to is over and now I have to readjust to the realities of the present.
Traveling for a long time creates a rhythm. When we go, we are going for months on end, stopping no longer than a week at a time in one place (no: we haven’t done slow travel, yet, but we want to try that out next trip). So, we’ll bounce around the world, packing our bags every few days and throwing ourselves into new locations, languages, situations and climates constantly. To be back home is to freeze that and go in the completely opposite direction: predictable, stable, and familiar. We aren’t packing up every few days, my clothing doesn’t live in a bag; it’s in a closet. That change is abrupt and takes a while to get used to.
Going back to work is a reality. I’m on someone else’s schedule. I am no longer planning plane tickets, itineraries, researching a location, learning a new language… I am stationary. I always miss the freedom with my time, looking forward to the weekends when we can get a small amount of that freedom back for a few days.
Nostalgia is a horrible mistress. At once a sweet reminder of the happy times, it also creates a sad feeling of loss. No, I am no longer on that beach in Fiji, I am on a stalled ‘N’ train in the midtown tunnel. FML. The post-vacation blues will wear off eventually, but the last time we got back we were really bummed for a while.
Is there a sense of relief when we go home? Yes. I didn’t die, I managed to do everything I wanted to do and am now back to tell the tale. I don’t need google maps to tell me how to get to the nearest grocery store or what restaurants should be avoided. I know where I live: I don’t have to think about what I am doing or if I might offend someone because of my lack of cultural awareness.
The best I can do when I get back is to start planning the next trip, whether that is feasible in the near future or not. Traveling is really expensive and it takes a lot of consideration and organization that can get exhausting after a while. I have to keep an eye and an ear open for the next place to go, it’s the best way for me to transition back into my life. I imagine all the new locations I have to see, and some old ones I’ll need to go back to visit before too long.
We also make new goals for ourselves when we get back. This year we are planning on attending some conferences for travel bloggers so we can get a sense for others who are out there doing the same thing we are. What can we learn from them and how can we make this lifestyle more of a reality that is sustainable? I signed up for a writing class at the Gotham Writers that starts later in the summer that I am really excited about (my first writing class!). In a way, coming back means we can spend the energies we would have spent on not getting lost, on growing our talents and expanding our influence. Last year we created an Instagram account and developed this blog over the summer. Who knows what we can accomplish next?
Could I travel forever? I don’t know. I do know that I can travel for a long time, longer than we have been, but that coming back and touching base is important and reestablishing friendships is a must. Plus, this gives us a chance to vamp up for the next trip, right?
What about you? How do you feel when you go home after a trip?