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.

Return from traveling

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.

Return from traveling

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 weird 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.

17 Responses

  1. Catherine

    Welcome back. Having traveled extensively myself, I empathize with the disorientation of returning to the US.

    After spending one summer in Central America, I found myself in a bathroom in Houston staring at the toilet cover seats. They seemed so ridiculous and pointless that I couldn’t fathom that they existed. That moment still seems fresh in my mind even though it happened about 15 years ago.

    I wish you all the best as you readjust and adopt the mindset of an always-traveler!

    • Peter Korchnak

      Thanks, Catherine, it’s great to be back. Yes, I am a bit weirded out by things in the U.S.: customer service people are all smiles and jolly; I get carded when I buy beer; and I chuckled at your toilet cover seats story because it just happened to me on Day 1 back.

      On the trip I try to learn to just take things as they are. A wise man we met in Thailand said, “The situation is the same, it is your response that you can control.” It is what it is, would be another way to put it. Sure, that kind of attitude kind of flattens an experience, but it also takes the edge of culture shock out of it and makes for an open mind to accept the world as it is.

  2. Bethany ~ twoOregonians

    Welcome back to Oregon! I enjoyed reading your thoughts at this juncture, and I love the approach you’re taking now, considering yourself a permanent traveler.

    My first taste of that spirit came when I flew home to the US after living in New Zealand for five months as a 20 year old, and I began to appreciate Oregon in a deeper way. I suppose that’s part of the allure of leaving to explore elsewhere: (re-)jump-starting that subliminal shift in perspective. Perspective makes travel wonderful and makes home all the richer.

    Side note: I’m really curious to hear about your clandestine visit to…the Caribbean. Ted and I have been chatting trip ideas lately (and eating at Pambiche, ahem); I’d love to glean some tricks and tips.

    • Peter Korchnak

      Thanks, Bethany. Let’s chat in Portland soon, Pambiche would be most fitting… In fact, Lindsay and I are scheming to put together a meetup of Portland travel bloggers. We’ll keep you posted.

      As much as I was ready to be back I did expect to also feel a bit down. Now I think the trip has changed my outlook enough that I am very much upbeat about it. You also put into words an aspect of the return that I didn’t get to, that I actually appreciate my adopted country even more than before. And I haven’t even made it back to Portland, yet!

      • Bethany ~ twoOregonians

        Yes, that would be great fun. I used to go to the BootsnAll meetups in town before we left on our trip, and I always enjoyed the chance to catch up in person with folks. It’s a little trickier now with an infant in the house, but I’d love get together. Meg and Tony from Landing Standing just moved to Portland, too, and of course Carmel and Shawn will be back soon, and eventually Kathrin and her gang will be in town again 🙂 It’d be a great group. Keep us all posted!

        Too, one of these days I’m going to get another of our #RTWdinnerparty dates on the calendar. It’s been a very long hiatus. Maybe we can have an in-person dinner party to coincide with the digital version? Keeping the travel spirit alive no matter where we are on the globe, right? 😉

  3. Steph (@ 20 Years Hence)

    I think it’s impossible to really anticipate how we will feel at the end of a journey as big as the ones we have both just taken. Just as I find it difficult to summarize with economy what this trip has meant to me, I find it equally hard to put into words what it’s like to be back home now. I know that I came in expecting to feel really alienated and miserable, that I would feel claustrophobic and stifled. I didn’t want to come home… and yet, it honestly has been a pretty easy transition. I thought we would suffer from insane culture shock, but the reality is, after 2 years of never knowing what is going on, being back in Toronto, Canada feels easier than I anticipated. That’s not to say that there haven’t been some challenges and things to adjust to (namely getting used to living with my parents!), but it’s not like roaming the world didn’t have those elements as well. Mostly though, I expected coming “home” to feel hollow and false, but in reality, it’s felt pretty good. I still look forward to hitting the road again, hopefully sooner rather than later, but for now, I’m content to be where I am. It sounds like you’re in a similar position!

    • Peter Korchnak

      Yay for that! I agree, being back in the U.S. has been like putting on a pair of well-worn shoes. It’s been a while and maybe they’re dusty but they fit well.

      I used to be a very impatient, anxious person, always looking for what’s around the bend. The trip has changed that, or at least set me squarely on the path of contentment and enjoyment of every experience for what it is.

      Life is pretty damn good.

  4. Pech

    I’m a new reader to the blog, and look forward how you continue to “travel” now that you’ve returned “home”. Even after living in Portland/Oregon for almost 5 years, I still don’t feel quite like this is a place I know and that I’m still exploring.

    • Peter Korchnak

      Thanks, Pech, and welcome to Where Is Your Toothbrush? I feel the same way about Portland, after 8 years of living there. It certainly helps lead the life of a permanent traveler!

  5. Carmel

    I second what Steph said. I thought it would be more drastic, but it’s little things. I think the transition has been easier than when I came back from my 6-month study abroad. First of all, I’m older and ever-so-slightly wiser. Secondly, we have been trained to adjust constantly for the last 10 months, so it’s really no different than learning to adjust to a new country. But I’m sure things will still come up…and we’re not really *home* home yet. So, we’ll see.

    • Peter Korchnak

      Exactly! The whole trip was a constant adjustment, so what’s another one, and to the place I already know? I’ll keep a lookout for your updates on your return.

  6. Sarah

    This is fascinating. I am not sure I really understand what it is like to want to travel. Sure I would like to see the world, but I dont do anything about it. I would rather spend the time and money on other things. I wouldnt mind being there but I have never had much luck getting places. I used to fly a lot and they always always always lost my bags. I like it here. I like weekend trips to the beach and I love camping. I also think a RV trip would be great fun, but not all the way around the world. So good for you! It is massively impressive that you did it!

    • Peter Korchnak

      Thank you, Sarah. Maybe international, long-term travel isn’t for everyone. It sounds to me, though, that you’re a traveler anyway, what with beach and camping trips. I don’t think you have to travel far or for long to be a traveler – it’s a mindset.

      I like Oregon, too, it’s one of the most beautiful places on the planet. I so look forward to beach and camping and other trips around the state and the Pacific Northwest myself.

  7. Kathrin - Taking The Big Break

    Peter – Glad you are still writing. Keep those reverse culture shock posts coming…. make give the rest of us more perspective before our own returns. I suppose, though, that not too many will have must sympathy for us after such grand adventures. “Poor us…. we had an amazing trip and now we are sad to return.” LOL! But, together, we can cry into our beers, OK? 🙂

    • Peter Korchnak

      Of course I’m still writing, Kathrin, I was just off the grid for a while. We’ll keep the blog going, don’t worry.

      No way I’m crying into my beer, tears would ruin it!

  8. sallie

    I just want the whole world to know that after a year of traveling and writing “Where Is Your Toothbrush”, that my son in law arrived home without a toothbrush. Yes, I had extras.

    • Peter Korchnak

      Thanks, Sallie. I did arrive with a toothbrush, it was just way down the hill in the yurt and I didn’t feel like fetching it. I needed a new one anyway. The extra you gave me (thank you!) is the best toothbrush ever.


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