This is it: After 388 days the round-the-world trip is over and I am back in the USA.* As a cerebral man possessing well-oiled defense mechanisms against the turmoils of irrationality, I struggle to pinpoint exactly how I feel about the return from traveling 24 hours after landing.**
Cue therapy through writing.
Return from traveling: Wishing for a return less ordinary
I was ready for this moment. The trip had a clear, definite time limit, and so just as I was ready for leaving and for the journey itself, I was ready for the return.
Home is what sets the course to our travels. Home is what we leave behind, knowing we’ll recover it at the end of the journey. —Andre Aciman
Every trip contains the return. My preparation for the trip and the traveling itself always implied going back at the end of the 12 months we scheduled and budgeted for this adventure of our lifetimes.
Since I was a boy my vivid imagination would play out multitudes of scenarios for any given situation. In planning for the trip and especially during the last few months and weeks and days of travel, I imagined what it would be like to be back.
As a result of all this mental preparation, I felt ready for the return. In fact, it’s been anything but tumultuous. Salman Rushdie titled his June 2000 New Yorker essay about visiting his home country, India, following the overturning of his fatwa, “A Dream of Glorious Return.” While I had no such dream, one thing I did not anticipate was how ordinary the first day back will be.
I arrived from Mexico City in San Francisco and headed to town to take care of business: buy a new computer charger to replace the one stolen from my luggage days earlier, have lunch, find a quiet place to catch up on my notes, meet an online friend… Then I took another train to Oakland where I stayed last night. This morning I trained and bussed again to Napa, where I will be staying with another friend for the weekend. All very inglorious activities that feel more like a continuation of the trip than anything.
In fact, as the trip’s end approached, I adopted the outlook of a permanent traveler. “I now believe travel is a mindset,” I wrote in the latest Toothbrush Talk marking 365 days on the road, “I can be a traveler anywhere, any time, whether I am parked somewhere for a day or for a year.”
In my case the permanent traveler’s outlook gets help from my being an immigrant. The U.S. is my adopted country, and though I am now a citizen and feel at home here more than anywhere else, I will always be an immigrant here. By definition, every immigrant is a traveler.
And so because the trip has now extended to the rest of my life and the U.S. is now just another country on my life’s itinerary, the return has been quite a regular affair.
The end is where we start from. —T.S. Eliot
Return from traveling: Loss, reverse culture shock, and life after the trip
Despite all this, I cannot say I am unaffected. I doubt I will experience depression that recently drove one traveler to suicide, but, as many returning world-travelers have pointed out (for example here or here), the return can be quite challenging.
I knew the trip would end and prepared for it, yet I feel sad. I am now a permanent traveler, yet I feel a part of me, of my life, is now lost, for a while anyway.
I am familiar with the U.S. and it is my home, yet it feels strange, as if I were a visitor, an observer, on the outside looking in. This I’m sure will pass and I will get back used to it the same way other destinations became familiar with time.
I also feel the stirrings of a massive reverse culture shock. There are positives, of course, e.g. wifi on a regional bus, good coffee, or things working. Then there’s the obese man in the immigration-check line barking profanities at a Mexican man whose wife and two kids joined him after standing in another line; prices; the general sense of hurry aided and abetted by smartphones; no one paying me any mind; almost everyone speaking English… I’ll see how this plays out.
For now, I feel I fall into the category of travelers who feel good about returning (see here or here). I mean, I just spent a year traveling the world, experienced the best year of my life, so why be down about the return? “Ain’t nobody got time for that!”
I can’t wait to settle back in Portland, where Lindsay and I will park our toothbrushes for a while, to enjoy the silence of Oregon’s nature, to see people I haven’t seen in so long. I can’t wait to give my time and energy at work to support good causes and apply my new motto, “Will work to travel.” And I can’t wait to report, a year from now, what life will have wrought.
Life will never be the same again. So just as every sunset portends a sunrise (in between it’s time to party and rest), this end is just a beginning, of a life after this trip and before the next one.
* Lindsay returned after exactly 365 days while I took a clandestine trip to a Caribbean island. Stay tuned for reports.
** I arrived in San Francisco at noon on July 10, 2014.