At first glance, returning home after a long period of travel seems like it should be fairly straightforward, even a cause for celebration. However, returning to your old life after being abroad can be deceivingly difficult. In fact, the stages of re-entry into your home country can be compared to the 5 stages of grief outlined by the Kübler-Ross model. Indeed, “reverse culture shock” is a process of grieving for the travel experience, while trying to come to terms with establishing your old life again in your home country.
This first stage is usually a period of brief elation in which you rediscover all of the things you missed while you were away. These things could include: clean toilets, fast internet access, and raspberry lattes from Starbucks. During this stage, you may deny that you changed at all while you were away, and you may try to surround yourself with old familiar things. Denial is also characterized by the illusion that your wanderlust has been satiated, and finally you can go back to building a “normal” life. Symptoms of this may include:
-Taking out a long-term lease on a new apartment.
-Buying expensive furniture to furnish said apartment.
-Finding a job and formulating a plan to advance your career.
-Having thoughts about settling down and raising a family.
Usually this stage blindsides you in a furied frenzy, and it is not long before you advance to the next stage.
This is the point that you start to settle into a routine, and then it hits you: your adventures are over. You are no longer going to feel that rush that you had when you discovered a new place, or when you get lost and stranded in the middle of a rainstorm, or when you made unlikely friends in a strange country with someone who didn’t speak your language. You have the gut feeling that you have dramatically changed from who you used to be, yet everyone else has stayed the same. You develop a growing anger at yourself and/or other people for one or more of the following reasons:
-You realize you just spent a fortune on a new apartment and furniture, and
you already want to leave again.
-You feel like nobody understands you; your friends and family may give you
blank stares when you talk about touring a Palestinian refugee camp, or
hiking in the Himalayas.
-You realize you are broke. Again.
-You have fallen for the illusion that your wanderlust has
been satiated and you can start a “normal” life (see stage 1).
This stage is dominated by a longing for the past and even thoughts that you should have done things differently. You probably say things such as, “I’d give anything to be back in ___(fill in country)______ doing __(fill in activity)_________” or “If only I had budgeted my money better, I could have made my trip longer.” You may feel like you become annoying to other people or yourself by constantly talking about travel. You find yourself always daydreaming and reliving experiences from your trip.
At this stage, you are really unhappy with your situation. You have a deep sense of despair urged on by bittersweet memories of your travel adventures and your inability to recreate the same feelings of freedom and discovery that you felt while traveling. You doubt that you will ever be happy again working your 9-5 job in your sunless cubicle. You may become irritable and slightly withdrawn.
This stage can occur months after your re-entry into your home country, and develops after Stage 4 begins to subside. You finally come to realize that this is not the end of the world. All of the energy you previously exerted in dealing with readjustment can now be put towards your life. You become comfortable in your home environment once again. You begin to see the positive aspects of home, and you may see this break as an opportunity to get some work experience or perhaps start saving money. You start looking forward towards the future, rather than backwards towards the past. If you are a serial traveler like me, you probably start planning your next big trip!