Post-trip depression. Coming-home blues. Perhaps the hardest part of traveling. Not widely talked about, but it is starting to be discussed by at least a couple of bloggers. (For example, here and here.) It’s the low you feel when you’ve come home from some big trip. It stems from the feeling that you’ve changed but the world and people around you back home have not. It is mostly talked about as coming after a long term trip, but it need not necessarily be so. For so many, it is true travel changes you. Something shifts inside. A perspective is gained that is hard to come by in your daily life.
But, what if the let-down is connected not to the fact that you have changed, but that you haven’t?
Travel has always affected me. While observing a world that is not my own, I often gain some kind of understanding or clarity on an issue in my life. With this trip, I went in with no expectations of the itinerary (re. activities, places) or of myself (re. life lessons). Or, so I thought. But, expectations have a funny way of forming without you really knowing.
As I neared the end of my time in New Zealand, I was quite certain I was ready to come home. But, when I first got back, I had this terrible pit in my stomach. I thought this was the post-trip depression setting in. I must have been so dramatically changed that I was feeling restless to be home again and not still moving around.
But, it was a feeling of ‘ugh’ (the only reasonable word I’ve come up with to describe it) – and still is. I want to neither be home nor traveling. The feeling, I think, has more to do with the fact that I am struggling to deal with the daunting task of figuring out my next step; of dealing with the disappointment that this trip wasn’t the revelation that I, or others, expected it to be. That’s the perception we always have of these trips, right? They are life-changing! But, my trip of a lifetime hasn’t changed my life or me. The trip that everyone has been calling ‘amazing’, really wasn’t. Well, fuck… that’s disappointing.
Turns out, I had a pretty high expectation for my time away. When I left, I had no idea what my future plans would be. It was nerve-wracking but also exciting. I was sure that if I had the opportunity to clear my head, relax and just enjoy myself, that somewhere in my subconscious something would click. I would just know. It may not have been a fully formed idea, but I’d have some sense of it. Some inkling of what I want to do or be.
The realization of just how much pressure I had put on myself to come up with that picture of the future only came up when I returned home and started to agonize over answering that all-important question: what now? I cannot travel forever and definitely can’t stay unemployed forever (although, both quite appealing). The savings will dry up and I will need to make more money at some point in order to survive. And, hopefully, do a bit more than just survive. So, how do I do that? And where do I do that?
Those were questions I was intentionally avoiding asking myself while traveling. I didn’t want them to weigh me down. I would deal with them later. And, honestly, I was trying to avoid them for as long as possible when I got home as well. I wanted to remain in a bubble of travel ignorance bliss. Well, later has come. And, avoiding those questions didn’t really last long anyhow since it was easily one of the first questions each friend and family member had for me. ‘So, now what?‘ And my heart sank every time.
The mountain of unanswered questions and uncertainty that is forming is overwhelming at times. Do I want to go for another engineering job? Do I want to switch to something more creative? Graphic design? Photography? Writing? Would those mean going back to school? Do I do contract work? Would I do that alone or through an agency of some kind? Do I want to stay in Toronto? If not, where else could I go? Where do I want to go? Etc…
And with those questions making my head spin, others surfaced. Did it really not happen? Did nothing click?! I was convinced I must intuitively know something about what I want. How could I not?! But, the more I try to grasp at a gut feeling or a desire for what to do, the more frustrated I get with how elusive it feels.
I will say this: some things were quietly validated for me on this trip. No big lightning bolt or eureka moments; these were already so obvious to me they seemed almost unimportant. First, my love of mountains and snow. And, to get back in touch with photography and being able to shoot almost every day, was – dare I say it? – amazing.
So, maybe those grand life-altering epiphanies are reserved for the twenty-somethings or for those still new to traveling, at whatever age that may happen. Or, maybe travel is not always meant to reveal something new but reaffirm what is already known, perhaps too often ignored. Either way, it always ultimately comes down to how you choose to let what you’ve learned about yourself shape your choices in the future.