After traveling the world for a year, there’s only one question people ask more than “What was your favorite county?”
Curious friends, family members, and co-workers seem less interested in the trip and more concerned with how I’m faring being back in the United States. “How does it feel to be back?” they ask.
There’s even a hint of worry in some of their voices. They imagine depression and reverse culture-shock as likely responses to ending an entire year of travel and a break from a conventional job.
For some people this is true, but I’ve yet to experience any grief for loss of my traveling life (or am I stuck in the denial stage?). As for reverse culture shock, what is there really to be shocked about anymore? We spent a year readjusting to cultural differences every few weeks or so. Being back in the US is just another type of readjustment.
What has helped the most is continuing to live like a traveler while my toothbrush is parked in the United States. I may be back in Portland, but I still consider myself a traveler and through this lens I’m structuring a new life.
Here are some of the ways I’ve adjusted my lifestyle to stay in the traveling mindset.
Sharing a home
Sleeping in almost 80 different beds, in apartments, hotels, guesthouses, and hostels around the world, has made us pretty adaptable to different living situations. Tiny studio apartment with a rock hard couch-bed? Fine. Dark hostel room with thin walls and a drippy shower? Totally cool. Weird, dirty apartment in the nightclub district? We got used to it.
So when my sister offered to let us stay with her and her husband after the trip, we didn’t even have to discuss it much. The shared-living option just sounded like another adventure.
And it’s great. It’s sort of like living in a cool hostel, but with people you already know and love and get along with. I still feel like a traveler because I now live in a different part of the city that is fun to explore. We don’t have to acquire a lot of new stuff, which leaves us free and mobile. I am excited to cook for our roommates and share dishes from our travels. Sharing the rent saves us money and we can ease into our new work lives and eventually build our savings for future trips.
Working to travel
One reason I wanted to travel and take a career break was to get out of a career rut. I had worked in the same job for five years and wanted a new challenge, but I didn’t know where to go.
Even though I was on a leave of absence from my position, returning to 40 hours a week in the same position I’d felt stuck in seemed a sure way to erase a year of self-development. Yet there was a lot that I liked about my job and there were a lot of pros to going back.
So I asked my boss if I could come back part-time, and she said yes. It was a self-esteem booster to know I was valuable enough to them to negotiate a part-time position. Working part-time allows me to have extra time for the projects I started while traveling. I can earn a living, and enjoy my time at my job, while taking time to make my next move. I have time to write, take care of myself, and even travel.
Traveling at home
My biggest fear upon returning home was that after the first couple weeks of reuniting with my old life, I would be bored. Traveling was exciting. I loved the thrill of being in a new country, city, town, environment and figuring out what it was all about. Trying the food, watching the people, figuring out the public transit—it was all just a lot of fun.
Fortunately, spending the year exploring the world this way has taught me how to see my own world this way, too. There are cities and towns and villages to discover. There are mountains to climb. There are new friends to be made, food to eat, beers to drink, and plenty of photo ops. Boredom is not an option.
Continuing the blog
What happens to a world-travel blog when the world travel stops? Peter and I both agreed that we wanted to keep the blog going after we returned. It keeps us in the travel mindset. And, though life feels surreal sometimes, we haven’t left the world. Portland, Northern California, the national forests of the Pacific Northwest, and other places we plan to visit, are all part of the world, too.
I’m still a traveler and still a travel writer. Exploring the world through words is the reason I have a new perspective on my own environment. There are things to say about the places close to me. There are stories everywhere.
Living the adventure
It has taken me a while to process my feelings about being back (I’ve been stateside just over a month). I was waiting to feel something more dramatic. Some kind of sinking feeling that I was starting from scratch, that the big, exciting year of my life was over and I would never feel that way again.
But this feeling never came. It could be that it’s to come and will sneak up on me during the next two-hour work meeting. More likely I’ll be fine, because I never really left the adventure.