Anyone who’s gone on a great trip knows that the post-travel depression struggle is real. Feelings of dread and sadness can pop up in our last days of vacation, on the flight home, or hit hard once we’re back to work. It’s kind of like the Sunday blues on steroids. But the good news is that there are ways to make the transition easier. Even better? It’s an opportunity to take a closer look at our life and find ways to make our day-to-day happier.
I remember the first time I experienced post-travel depression like it was yesterday. I came home from my first cruise ship contract after seven months of traveling to new places, living and working with people from all over the world and having my eyes opened wider every day.
Coming home felt like a part of me died. Seems dramatic, I know. But I went from exploring new countries on the regular back to my familiar and uncultured (at least that’s how I viewed it then) Florida hometown.
The people I met and the adventures that pushed me to grow were suddenly stripped away. As soon as I got on the plane home, I felt an overwhelming sense of being alone. The following weeks and months were spent in what felt like a pseudo-reality where I watched the world go by before me, lost in another space and time.
Of course, I missed my parents and friends, but nothing had changed while I was away, and here I was, so different than when I left not even a year before. I didn’t fit in anymore. Nobody could understand what I was going through. Home felt foreign.
Why we get post-travel depression
Usually, the longer you’re away, the harder it is to come home. Any length of trip, though, can elicit a sense of the blues, even a short vacation. Why?
We miss the novelty of new places and experiences. Travel makes us more mindful, aware and appreciative of our surroundings. Instead of taking a place for granted, like we often do at home, we notice details, pick up on nuances and put more value on what we see and do. Back home, surrounded by the familiar, it’s easy to think anything worth noticing happens somewhere else.
We sink back into our comfort zones, which might not be so comfortable anymore. Traveling forces us to grow outside our comfort zone whether we realize it in the moment or not. Back home our same old routine, job, and hangouts start to feel stale. This is actually a good thing—it makes us more aware of what’s not serving us in our lives anymore.
We mourn the freedom of relative anonymity. If no one knows you, you’re free to be who you want to be. No strings attached. No expectations. Just you being authentically you…or testing out a new way of being without judgment.
We have to face “reality.” And that could mean stress, a crappy boss, strained relationships, and bills. After all, travel’s been known to rack those up.
How to deal with travel blues
Feeling bummed about being home certainly isn’t fun, so here are a few tips for dealing with those emotions after (and before) your next trip.
Reflect on your travels
It might seem counterintuitive to ruminate in your struggle, but I’m not talking about dwelling in your own sadness. Instead, think about the meaningful moments, the memorable experiences and the little sparks of joy…and then learn from them. Travel journaling is a great way to discover and record your thoughts and find ways to take action on them.
Be a tourist in your hometown
Look at your city through the eyes of a newcomer. Visit sites, restaurants or shops you’ve never been to before. Maybe even take a guided tour and get to know your city in a brand-new way.
Volunteer, take classes or join a community
Nothing is a better pick-me-up than picking someone else up. Find a cause you care about and pour your energy into giving back some of the positive experiences that travel gave you. Go to a cultural event, learn a new language or pick up a hobby and dive into the community.
Find a creative outlet
Write about your experience. Put together a travel video or photo album. Paint. Travel makes us more creative, so use it as an outlet for your emotions.
Create a new space
A change of scenery can do wonders for your state of mind—of course, you know this from travel! But small changes can impact us in big ways too. Rearrange your furniture. Paint a room. Find a new coffee shop to hang out in. Take your work outside if you can. Play different music than usual.
Have something to look forward to
When you feel bummed about being home, plan your next trip. It’ll put you in a better mood, give your work purpose (travel money!) and give you something to look forward to. The anticipation is one of the best parts of traveling anyway, right?
Just don’t get so wrapped up in dreaming of your next adventure that you miss out on enjoying the present moment, or use travel as a crutch to run away from your own life. Problems and responsibilities left ignored tend to eventually catch up to you wherever you are.
Next time, before you head out on a trip, plan something in advance that you’ll be excited to return home to. Maybe that’s making a reservation at your town’s hot new restaurant, booking a massage, or making plans with friends and family you missed while you were away.
Return from your next trip inspired
The thing about feeling sad or let down is that it’s an opportunity to check in with ourselves, our expectations and the choices we make. Of course, working, paying bills and cleaning the house will never be as fun as adventuring, exploring, and relaxing. But the post-travel blues can help shine a light on aspects of our lives that could use a little love.
What do you miss most about your travels? How can you bring more of that into your daily life? Like writer Annie Dillard said, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” Don’t live your life waiting for your next vacation. Instead, bring more vacation moments into your everyday.
To live a happy, fulfilling life starts with making choices that align with our values and priorities. It means putting what truly matters first. What mental or habitual souvenirs can you keep from your travels to make the “real world” one you’re excited to come home to?