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.