The Reality of Coming Home (There is No Cure for Wanderlust)
I knew all along it wouldn’t be easy. Spend a year doing anything and it can be difficult to transition into something new. Spend a year exploring exotic new places, meeting inspiring people, having the time of your life, with complete freedom from a job, house, car and most regular adult commitments–how do you cope with the end of that? In so many ways I had become accustomed to life on the road. With the exception of friends and family, I missed very little from my past life.
On my last night, I had dinner with a Brittish girl from my hostel. She too was nearing the end of her trip (4 months through South & Central America and Mexico). During our meal, she revealed that she was ready to go home and spent several minutes highlighting the things she missed…”vegetables and healthy food, shoes and clothes, hairdryer and good hairdays, a phone, normal routine, all general comforts of the developed world…” And this was after just 4 months. In some small ways I could agree with her. Though, looking back I can think of only a handful of moments where I was lusting for something I couldn’t seem to find.
In parts of Central America, I missed good cheese and beer (though unbelievably, it was possible to find Wisconsin cheese & beer every now and then), sometimes I missed having more than a couple grungy clothing choices: i.e. feeling clean and put together. At brief times, I felt an inkling of a longing for a routine: for not having to pack and unpack and pack again. Most strongly, I missed having close knit relationships and constant figures in my life. I grew weary and tired of constantly meeting great people, then saying goodbye to them. It could be so lonely at times; yet sometimes I chose to be alone for lack of energy to put myself out there, yet again.
But the darker times were so overwhelmingly overblown by the beautiful, the amazing, the new–that I was always left with a deep sense of satisfaction. Most of the time I was loving my life. I was doing what I most wanted to be doing–travelling.
The first few weeks after I returned home I was a tad overwhelmed. I kept leaving my cell phone at home, often turned off. For some strange reason, I couldn’t turn the TV on without feeling oddly depressed I felt anxious staying in the house, and often left for long walks through the countryside. I couldn’t even contact my friends until my third day back and most of them, not until weeks, or sometimes months later. If I let myself think about my last 12 months, I’d get choked up. I was trying to live in the moment, except so often the moment felt wrong.
Intense flashbacks from my trip swept through me at random times, leaving a heavy feeling in my heart. Each night in my dreams, I’d find myself in a steamy, tropical place with palm trees and sunshine and beautiful, happy people: I’d wake up confused and disheartened.
I quickly realized I could no longer take a leisurely stroll to the city market for fresh produce; I couldn’t grab a quick, yet hearty, lunch on the go for mere pocket change. The air conditioning was too cold; the ice water as well–it hurt my teeth. Everything was too quiet, too clean, too beige, the food–too bland. A bedroom is a quiet and lonely place without 5-11 people from around the globe sharing it with me. I’d go to places with large crowds and feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of white people in one place. The grocery store had hundreds of different brands to choose from–of the same things. Where was the loud music, traffic sounds, or obnoxiously persistant street venders? How could there be so many big houses that are grey, white, tan: all with lawns, meticulously mowed? I couldn’t just hop on a bus and head for somewhere else. There are no buses. Everyone seems to love to talk about cars and the weather. Nobody can keep their fingers off their touch screens….
You could say I was suffering from reverse culture shock. Or PFS–Post Fun Stress Disorder–the less serious relative to PTSD. Luckily, in time, many of those feelings faded and I again became mostly accustomed to life in the American Midwest. At least temporarily.
I realized that more than anything I was mourning the end of my big adventure; something which I had spent a year planning, saving and yearning for–and then, a year living. A year where I was more free than I’ve ever been (and likely ever will be) in my entire short life. Where I would wake up each day to, literally, a world of possibilites. If I wanted to spend all day reading under a tree, I could. If I wanted to hike to the top of a volcano, I did. If I wanted to pack my bag and head to the local bus station, purchase a totally random ticket to a city I’d never heard of, I would. And it was up to me, and only me. The world was my playground.
Everyone should be so lucky to experience this sense of freedom; these kinds of feelings, before inevitably (and thankfully) we must return to normal responsibility.
It didn’t help when people kept referring to my last year as my “trip of a lifetime.” Returning to America after such a trip, at the age of 26, I felt a sort of panic. Like–THIS IS IT–now I have to spend the rest of my life being an adult. It seemed daunting to go back to having a car, cell phone, bills, a strict schedule where every day looks basically the same.
Of course, I now realize now this was a tad dramatic. I can live my life as I chose. Plus, there are loads of people–totally, completely happy people–who lead fully functioning adult lives, working at office jobs they enjoy, buying new cars, the latest smart phones and flat screen TVs, taking two week vacations. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this. I’m happy for them. Someday maybe I’ll join them again.
“Once the travel bug bites there is no known antidote, and I know that I shall be happily infected for the rest of my life.” Michael Palin.
In the end, one of the biggest lessons I learned is that there is no cure for Wanderlust. The irony of Wanderlust is that the only antidote is travel, but travel only fuels the addiction. The more you travel the more you yearn to see, and for some, the harder it is to return to a stable lifestyle.
I have the bug, and I likely will until the day I die. And until I have that next big trip planned, I will always have at least a little bit of anxiety deep inside–tugging at my heartstrings whenever I page through a National Geographic, see a movie shot in a faraway place or hear about a friend’s vacation.
Though I’m not yet completely sure which direction my next big steps will lead me, I have a feeling that whether I escape again for another year of exotic experiences or get a job and sign a lease, my Wanderlust will push me to live my life in a way that allows for ample exploration and discovery.
There is no cure for Wanderlust…but isn’t that a good thing? If it inspires you to live your life differently and seek out opportunities where you can grow and open your mind and live your life to the fullest?
I’d go so far as to say–maybe the world would be a better place if more were infected.