South by Southeast: Coming home

Long-term travel forces us to face our fears. Whether it’s eating something unfamiliar or visiting a place that scares us, we’re forced to rely on our wits and abilities in ways we never thought possible. But of all the daring activities that occur during a long trip, none is more frightening than the simple act of returning home.

After spending five months on the road in Southeast Asia, it’s a dilemma I’ve faced as the days and hours counted down to my return. Much like the forces of gravity, the best-laid plans and biggest travel budgets are eventually laid bare, pulled back to earth by the relentless tug of reality. How will your friends and family react to your adventures? Will they care? Is there a job waiting for you, or will you need to look for work? The answers to these questions don’t come easy.

But the end of a life-changing trip doesn’t mean your journey is over. There are ways to translate the lessons of travel into a new way of life. How do we use an amazing adventure to change our lives at home for the better? Keep reading below…Save time to reflect
The minute you step off the airplane at home, the assault begins. Friends and family will unexpectedly show up, wanting to hear about your crazy travels. There will be a huge stack of bills to open. You’ll probably need a new place to live that isn’t a $5/night hostel. In other words, the realities of home will demand your attention.

Before the ritual of daily life sets in, it’s important you set aside time for reflection on your trip. What made you the happiest? Did you have an experience that’s made you think differently about the world? Without this reflection, it’s difficult to translate the experience of travel into new behavior.

Go easy on the stories
Dude, did I tell you about the time I was rock-climbing with endangered spider monkeys in the jungles of Laos? Everyone is going to want to hear about your trip when you return, but there’s a difference between sharing your stories and bragging. No matter how many amazing adventures you had, resist the urge to share everything and anything. Your friends and family are genuinely interested in what you did, but their eyes will glaze over after too many tales. Keep a few of your favorite experiences just for yourself.

See the world with “travel eyes”

Remember that first moment you stepped outside in a new place? It was like being a newborn, thrilled by an alien world of strange stimuli waiting to be explored. Why doesn’t that happen when we come back? By instinct, our brains tune out the familiar – resist the urge to “tune out” when you come back. Try to look at home the way you looked at your trip – as a world of new experiences, people and places that are dying to uncovered.

Don’t fall into old habits
Taking a long-term trip is like going through a time machine. You’ll come home a different person than when you left, but the people and places left behind are still the same. Before you get too cozy, don’t forget what you learned. Maybe you want to change your career. Maybe you’ve discovered a new activity or skill you want to develop. If you don’t make it a priority, then nobody else will – take the initiative to incorporate your travel experience into life at home.

Don’t expect travel to change you
Books like On the Road and movies like The Beach condition us to believe travel is a “transformative” act. Except it’s not always true. Sometimes an amazing trip is simply that and nothing more. Despite everything I mentioned above, you might come home and realize you like your life the way it is. Be satisfied with the accomplishments of what you’ve done and leave it at that.

After more than five months and nine passport stamps in Southeast Asia, I’ve had the privilege to experience a region in flux. But it’s time to return home. Southeast Asia isn’t always a non-stop exotic adventure. But neither is it a place that’s been sanitized and homogenized, lost to the “tourist hordes.” The truth instead, is somewhere in between. Much like our greatest travel fantasies, it’s region that becomes whatever we want it to be. Remember, wherever life or your travels take you, make sure you chart a course “South by Southeast.”

Gadling writer Jeremy Kressmann just got home after five months in Southeast Asia. He’s excited to be back, eating cheese again and looking forward to catching up with family and friends. You can read all the posts from his adventures “South by Southeast” HERE.