Coming home: overwhelmed by consumerism

What struck me the most on returning home from my round-the-world trip was how much stuff I’d left behind. I’d lived happily for over a year out of a carry-on sized suitcase and I’d grown really attached to the idea of all my worldly possessions fitting into something so small and portable. With new perspective, I didn’t understand why I would possibly need so many clothes.

Before departing for a year and a half on the road, I’d gone through my closet to eliminate all the clothes I didn’t wear and packed what remained up in large suitcases stored at my parents house.  It had felt good to cut down on the amount of stuff I was storing – why keep things I wouldn’t want on my return? But looking at this pile of suitcases now I was dismayed. Does this duffle bag really contain only dresses? And is this carry-on sized bag full of only socks, tights and layering tanks? How had I accumulated so much stuff? And did I still need it?

My well used, carry-on, backpack

Traveling with only carry-on luggage had been amazing. I had enough clothes to last at least a week without doing laundry and layers for different climates. I had medecines for emergency, a headlamp for hiking, a full kit of toiletries and makeup and three different kinds of shoes. I had spent considerable time planning the most versatile clothing and accessories to bring for any purpose. Over the length of the trip, I felt as though I’d still packed more than I needed. The contents of my luggage shifted as I got rid of expired medecines that I’d never needed, discarded clothes that had become too worn and gathered a few new clothing items from working an office job in New Zealand.

Now coming home to see this pile of suitcases filled with clothes was exciting but also overwhelming. I had an outfit for any occasion! Clothes I hadn’t seen in years that felt like new! But also, too much choice and with fresh eyes and an altered viewpoint I could see how many of these things I didn’t need. Like dresses that I kept cause they would look nice in that one specific situation with just the right accessories. By the time I was ready to unpack in a new apartment, I was also ready to donate a third of those clothes that had seemed so precious to save when I left. 

A sampling of what I donated in the past year

Since my initial unpack, I’ve gone even more extreme and have eliminated probably 60% of what I had on my return. The appeal of minimalism is now so strong to me. Why do I need so many different clothing options every morning? Smart purchasing, neutral colours and accessorising can bring about a small wardrobe that meets the needs of any occasion. Life is simpler when you have less options, less stuff to store and less stuff to dig through to find your favourite sweater- cause isn’t that the one you always want to wear anyway? 

I still have a lot of clothes!

My family and friends are now having to deal with my enthusiasm for getting rid of stuff. Donate it! Pass it on! Throw it away! The freedom of having less stuff is amazing. In our current society we are inundated with messages of consumerism and material ideals and I feel we’ve forgotten that the best things in life aren’t material things. We’re constantly looking for the high of a new purchase but all that stuff can water down life. When we free ourselves of the superfluous stuff that we own- and I mean really cut down, then I think we will all remember to put more value on the really important things. Fast fashion is what we’ve been taught to want but it’s not what we need. Buying cheap clothing also has a higher cost – check out this documentary to learn more about where our clothing comes from and where it goes when we throw it away. It’s easy to forget about when everything is so cheap and accessible. 

What I’m left with is the challenge of finding the perfect basics to maintain a minimalist wardrobe. I love this challenge when shopping online but have to admit that entering a shopping mall with intent to purchase one item is daunting. My current goal is to find the perfect white t-shirt that I can dress up when needed. Wish me luck! And feel free to post suggestions of where to find quality basics in Canada.

Coming home: post travel depression and easing back into normal life

It’s not hard to find travel bloggers writing about post travel depression (PTD) or the persistent sadness of returning home from a long trip abroad. Advice for PTD ranges but almost always involves planning future travel. What’s concerning is that it’s harder to find articles about those who return from a long term trip and then settle happily into a “normal” life again. Is a traveller doomed to roam forever? On returning home so many questions arise: What have I missed? Have I changed? Will I be happy in my old life? Have my friendships survived?

I read stories of long term travelers who were depressed for a good year after returning. They might cry for no reason. They struggled with what felt like a mundane 9-5 job. They found their old friendships felt flat. No one understood their experiences and they felt more alone than ever in their home city. 

Although I’d read about this in passing, I didn’t really expect it to happen to me even after being away from Canada for a full year and a half. I was surprised, on returning to Toronto, to feel so immediately lost. I felt like a stranger in the city I’d called home for over ten years. It was a shock to the system and it brought tears and an unwillingness to get out of bed.

Imposing on friends and family for a place to sleep for the first few months was probably one of the best decisions that I made. This meant that I was never truly alone and always had someone to talk to – which contrary to popular belief is exactly how solo travel feels. Reconnecting with my old friends definitely helped and I was very happy to realize that although a lot had changed, my friends were still my friends. 
The advice I read online to deal with PTD (beyond planning future trips) was to quickly get any job just to keep yourself busy and get into a routine again. Advice ranged from talking about your trip with friends to not talking about it all. A lot of people recount that their friends just don’t understand everything they experienced while away and don’t want to hear the stories. 

Contrary to the advice, I didn’t rush into the first job I could find but took my time finding something that I could get excited about. To keep myself busy in the meantime, I focused on planning what kind of new life I wanted in my old city. It definitely helped ease the transition that I had pre-planned a few short trips to Alaska and Mexico. As for sharing my stories, I think blogging during my trip provided an excellent outlet and allows those who are actually interested to read at their leisure. I think the best advice is to tell travel stories as they come up in conversation and give travel advice similarly. I’m sure I could talk for hours about my experiences, but I want conversation to flow naturally. I’m not trying to preach. Having a focus on living in the moment is definitely connected to this: I don’t want to dwell on the past, I prefer to live in the moment and plan for a better future.

As for whether I changed since my trip, the answer is definitely yes. People asked that a lot when I came back and it was hard to answer at first. I’ve found that the ways I’ve changed have only become apparent over time and as I develop new routines. Here are a few tidbits: I am more minimalist than ever, I’m more sensitive to the human condition and I talk to strangers more often. 

The sunset in Montreal

I can see my heightened awareness manifest in small ways and I do believe happiness is found in the small everyday moments.There was a time that I only noticed sunsets and sunrises when on vacation and held the belief that they were more beautiful and magical outside Canada. Now that I’m back and more aware of each moment, I can see that belief was false. Sunsets and sunrises are magical every day, all over the world, you just need to open your eyes and see them.