Frequent travelers, you’ll know what I’m talking about.
For those new to traveling, sadly, I’ve got to break it to you: yes, there is such a thing as the deep and consuming void that is Post-Travel Depression.
What exactly is post-travel depression, and why does it happen?
Picture this: you’ve been away seeing fantastic sights and hearing incredible stories you never would have dreamed could be true in your own culture. Every day brings something new, and you’re constantly being bombarded with new information and exciting adventures.
Suddenly, you’re back to routine life, doing pretty much the same thing every day. The lack of variety and excitement in your life becomes startlingly apparent. You may become bored, or even find the people you always hung out with to be disappointingly close-minded and confined to cyclic routines. Worst of all, none of them seem to understand the wonderment of travel and the new feelings you’re experiencing.
While in reality, your life may not be so bad, compared to the ecstatic or adrenaline-driven highs you experienced during travel, things tend to look worse and all this can result in depression. Think of it as the come-down period.
The good news is, post-travel depression isn’t a bad thing. Well, okay, it’s a pretty tough experience to go through—but think about the whole reason you’re having it in the first place.
Chances are, going to a new environment made you a much more capable person. Abilities like organization, keeping your head in tricky situations, and navigating have probably improved a lot. Your personal growth has seen a dramatic increase whereas everyone back home will be more or less the same. It can be frustrating to see some people unwilling to embrace personal growth. What’s more, they might not immediately realize you have changed and treat you the same as always.
Then there’s your awareness of world issues. After traveling thoroughly and meeting all kinds of people, we are often able to grasp concepts such as cultural differences, racism, the impact of history, and pollution, on a whole new level.
These concepts were possible to understand before from a passive, theoretical perspective—hearing about them in the news, learning at school, etc. But something about coming into direct confrontation with them during travel seems to hit us at our very core. It’s as if experiencing these things firsthand gives us a whole new understanding, and allows us to actually empathize. Whereas before, the most we could accomplish was detached sympathy, guided by a moral code taught to us from an early age by society. There’s nothing wrong with this, but it’s clear that empathy has a stronger effect and may motivate us to do more about these issues and change our habits.
Because of this, seeing a lack of awareness or empathy in others around us can be difficult. We may react differently to friends’ opinions or casual prejudice, sometimes causing them to label us as “sensitive.”
But feeling depressed about this kind of response and an environment where the attitude is what we had before, rather than what we have now, is ultimately a good thing. It’s proof that we’ve undergone changes which help us understand these issues and our personal growth better. While it might seem hard at first, this is going to have a positive influence on our lives and those around us.
But remembering the positive implications of post-travel depression isn’t necessarily going to make it easier to deal with! That’s why I’ve put together a list of strategies I use not only to cope with it but to make the experience enjoyable.
1. Keep Meeting People
You should be well practiced at talking to strangers now, right? So why stop? Just because you’re in your hometown doesn’t mean you know everything about everyone. It’s impressive what you can learn by talking to new people. You might even meet people who are traveling through your hometown—in which case, you’ve found a fellow traveling friend! Maybe you can return the favour others gave you during your travels—help them out by recommending sightseeing spots, touring them around, or going out for a meal or a drink with them to share each other’s stories. You may think the whole meeting strangers thing is exclusive to travel time, but the truth is you can do it anytime, anywhere! Even in your own hometown! And you can always learn something new, no matter where you are.
If you find you tend to always end up talking to the same types of people, try talking to people in a somewhat different place (e.g. a bar, or a different area of town). There is also the possibility of joining a new club in your local area. Better still, a culture, international relations, humanitarian issues, or politics club where you’ll often come into contact with other cultures or end up discussing them! It will feel like you’re abroad all over again.
2. Challenge Yourself
Often while traveling, we are pushed to the edge of our comfort zones and beyond. This can cause a kind of adrenaline boost, and you can quite literally get withdrawal symptoms from this after travel comes to an end, hence “post-travel depression.” However, finding ways to continue pushing your limits can prevent this, and allow you to continue to grow as a person, something we tend to miss after travel.
There are various ways you can do this. Try something new! You could go total adrenaline junkie and try an extreme sport like rock climbing—but joining any new club or doing something unfamiliar can keep the excitement in your life, giving you that adrenaline boost you’re so badly missing.
For me, going out alone and getting the courage to talk to strangers was a new challenge. It was definitely both nerve-wracking and exciting. But every time was, surprisingly, a positive experience. I also met travelers this way who were really friendly and shared their stories with me. Always a good time. If you think this is a challenge you’d like to try, check out The Art of Rolling Solo: Going Out Alone as an Introvert.
3. Mix Up Your Schedule
Travel makes it hit home more than ever how boring routine is. While we may have to stick to routine to some extent (and a bit of consistency never hurts—we are human, after all), there’s no reason you can’t change things around every now and then.
Do (different) things at irregular intervals. Instead of having a set time you do certain things, mix it up a little—if you can. Also, alternate the things you do. For example, go to a restaurant with a type of food you’ve never tried before, instead of the same old café you and your friends always hit up. Even little changes can be enough to keep variety and interest in your otherwise mundane-seeming life.
Be spontaneous. As mentioned in my other articles, travel doesn’t always go to plan. So sometimes you have to come up with an alternative on the spot. Sometimes, we may give up on planning altogether as travelers, and simply go with the flow.
Sure, some things will have to be pre-arranged when we get back to ordinary life. Our work times, for example, is a common one. But there remains something thrilling about going out to do something spontaneously, and we can still do this in our spare time. Be creative! You could even get your friends involved, if they’re flexible like that. You might give them a pleasant surprise, and they’ll probably start to see you as an adventurous, fun person to be around if they haven’t realised that already. If they’ve been negative about other changes in you caused by travel, like the whole being sensitive thing, then maybe this will help them to see that sensitivity is for a good reason, and maybe isn’t such a bad thing if it comes with other changes like adventurousness. Heck, this might even encourage them to start traveling too—and then you’ll always have someone to talk to about your travel stories without feeling like a show-off or a bore.
4. Be a Tourist in Your Own Neighborhood
How many of us can say that we’ve actually visited all the sightseeing hotspots in our own hometown, or any other part of the local area we can get to without much trouble? Start exploring what’s right before you.
After becoming used to constantly noticing new things in a travel situation, you may have become more alert and started noticing things about your home that you didn’t before. Being able to compare and contrast with the countries you traveled to will highlight things that never seemed relevant before.
Take advantage of your alertness to realise how exciting your own area is. Visit that museum you’ve never been to. Walk down that backstreet you’ve known all your life, but only ever walked past. Become familiar with your own area on a whole new level.
Maybe you’ll even end up impressing the other locals who think they already know all there is to know! I bet none of them have seen what’s down every backstreet.
It doesn’t matter if you’re from a city with lots of things to do or a small village. I’m from an isolated, rural settlement myself, but even boring little walks can suddenly draw your attention to new things and be exciting and informative. This is one of the advantages of post-travel depression. You’ve re-attained a childlike wonder in the things you see. Don’t let that go to waste—you’ll learn a lot while having a good time!
Even the places you’ve visited before will seem different after the changes you’ve undergone. You’ll most likely take more notice of things you just skimmed over before, or may interpret things differently in a way that it becomes more meaningful to you. What better way to re-connect with your hometown? You’ll appreciate it more and mope less about how you could be traveling, making post-travel depression not only a whole lot easier, but actually quite a pleasant thing. 😊
5. Read About Travel
After the waves of information we’ve been experiencing, our intellect tends to be booming after a trip, so reading about travel can be a great way to keep that extra curious brain of yours well-sharpened! You’ll be craving an inflow of information, so use books to substitute for that, and keep learning! You know how big the world seems after traveling? Well you can still find out more even when you’re not traveling yourself! Why wait? It may even give you ideas of where you want to go next, plus some good travel advice.
You can read either about other people’s experiences traveling (try Paul Theroux, he’s great), online travel blogs, or Lonely Planet-type stuff. I also find reading up on the histories of other countries hugely fascinating, whereas before my travels it would have put me to sleep.
If you reckon reading isn’t your thing, there are also a ton of YouTubers
who talk about travel, so check them out too!
6. Make Future Plans
Post-travel depression makes some people realise that traveling is even more important to them than they imagined. If it’s to such a degree that you can’t stand an ‘ordinary’ life and want to make travel a regular occurence, then it could be the perfect time to start planning a different future.
A travel lifestyle may not come instantly. But to keep yourself from getting bored, and to prepare yourself or make moves towards attaining such a lifestyle, you can start researching how others have done it—online businesses, freelancing, blogging, and so on.
While it can be difficult to monetise, if blogging is something you’ve thought about, you should start now. You don’t have to be on the move in order to blog—you probably already have a massive horde of great travel stories you can post. You can start working on promoting it through social media. It can take a long time to gather enough of a following to make a living off blogging, so the sooner you start, the better.
On the other hand, if you’re happy with your lifestyle but want to continue traveling in the future, it’s still worth planning out a way to save your money, or other things you can do to increase earnings—maybe take on extra work if you’re really determined. Just don’t overwork yourself—you may end up hating ‘ordinary’ life, and not find any time to take advantage of the previous tips! Remember, just because you aren’t traveling anymore, doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy what you have.
Researching new destinations is another great distraction from your depression. If you’re super into it, you can start planning an itinerary, even if you’re not sure when you’ll next be able to travel. Get the maps out, and get on the net, search the best things to do and places to stay.
Eli Sooker is a travel blogger, writer, conservationist and wildlife photographer. Originally from New Zealand, Eli has traveled to Europe, Asia and the Pacific Islands, and currently lives in Japan. His passion is outdoor-focused travel e.g. hiking, camping and nature; interacting with locals and going off the beaten track. https://elisooker.wordpress.com/