Returning home after a journey away creates a whole new concoction of emotions all swirled together. At heart, there is often a feeling of restlessness: Our travels may have ended but it takes some time for the momentum in our souls to settle back into routine life at home. Our children feel it too, and it often comes out in their behavior. As parents, we put this down to tiredness and prescribe them a simple solution of an early night to bed. Maybe that’s what we need as adults too when we are feeling out of sorts.
There is this strange sense of time having being warped around us: Life seems to have plodded on somewhat uneventfully at home with days and weeks casually blurred into one period of time. Meanwhile, we packed our days full with a carefully planned itinerary of unique adventures and can recall together over the dinner table exactly what we were doing a week ago. It is hard to switch from one mode to the other and I often find myself daydreaming about the next journey even before our return to allay this subtle discontent.
Thanks to social media, friends and family can follow along on our journeys, sharing a few of our moments as we go rather than waiting until our return to hear all about it. I appreciate that I can jump onto Facebook today and see photos of a friend sitting on a train from Amsterdam to Paris, another exploring London with her children and others sitting on the Great Wall of China. We can offer tidbits of advice and virtual high-fives while they are on the go. For the traveler, the connection and feedback are rewarding too.
The Internet’s immediacy has all but replaced those lengthy dreamy sessions flicking through someone’s physical photo albums back at their house over a cup of tea, or even those infamous slideshow nights from my childhood where people wondered when the slides would ever end.
Moments being shared instantly has meant less time for reflection on our travels with our friends and family once we are back home and I have felt like this has made it harder as a traveler. Returning home, we can be bursting inside our heads with stories, thoughts, feelings, and ideas that have sprung up from our time away but it can be hard to find people to share this all with — from the outside it seems like they have already seen, and therefore understood our trip.
It is surreal to walk back into everyday life and bump into someone you know to swap small talk, ‘How was your trip away?’ they ask. ‘Incredible,’ you reply. ‘That’s great, are you going to so-and-so’s birthday party this weekend?’ they ask. ‘Yes,’ you reply. The topic of conversation merely brushes over the travel then moves on. You may get a chance to share one anecdote which you will find yourself repeating many times over.
Our children are often asked the impossible-to-answer question ‘What was your favorite thing about the trip?’. They struggle to answer and often shrug and say nothing. It’s so hard to compact everything down to one thing to share. I want to ease the awkwardness by jumping in and prompting them with answers but I hang back. I make a mental note to ask other children easier-to-answer questions such as ‘What was something funny that happened on your trip?’
Walking back into our house after some time away feels a little surreal. Everything is the same, but we are not. We can smell things our noses grew used to before (wooden flooring, outside grasses), hear the strong, cringe-inducing accents of our fellow New Zealanders (talkback radio, retail assistants) and be reminded once more of how pollution-free our skies are. Returning home can feel a little like the time away was a dream — was I really on the other side of the world yesterday walking amongst thousands of people out in the hot summer sun? I can picture the scene so clearly in my mind as I change into my winter clothing, feeling the odd tightness of jeans against my legs for the first time in weeks. We see with new eyes the things we want to change in our houses (more rugs), the things we want to get rid of (all that junk lying around that AirBNBs never have) and the things we are grateful for (our own pillow).
There are no easy answers: It is hard to settle back in. Finding fellow travelers to spend a night swapping stories over pizza helps.Talking to our kids about their memories helps. Having plans to look forward to in the future helps. As does sleep.