Traveling is incredible. It presents us with infinite opportunities to explore faraway places, grow, and connect with kindred spirits. But, one inevitable part of traveling is rarely talked about – the post-travel blues. It’s that dull state of mind we find ourselves in when we must settle back into our normal routine after having had an epic trip, regardless of duration.
What exactly is the post-travel blues?
When we return from our vacation or extended trip abroad, we find that our physical bodies are not necessarily in tune with our minds. We may be back where it all started, but our thoughts and feelings are reliving or processing the adventures we just had.
I remember when I returned to Chicago from my semester spent abroad in Italy. I had the most amazing five months my 19 year old self had experienced up to that point, and I was so excited to share everything about this life-changing period with my friends back home. When I got back, I found everything and everyone as I had left it, yet I felt so different from the learning and growing I had undergone. It was as if home had remained frozen while I was away but I was a vastly different person.
I found myself constantly feeling frustrated and a bit out of place with my immediate social circle because I couldn’t connect quite on the same level I had with the people I met abroad. What helped me cope through this period was keeping in touch with the friends I’d made, and talking about our shared experience with the pesky post-travel blues. After a couple months I settled back into student life and extended my group of friends to include those that shared my new interests and ideas.
Since, I’ve been affected by this condition – to varying degrees – time and time again. As have many others.
While in Chicago
The most recent episode of the post-travel blues was last week, when I returned to Korea after spending three weeks stateside. The fact that it happened and the intensity with which it struck was completely unexpected.
I’ll take a few steps back and quickly relay what it was like to go back home after being away for nearly a year.
As soon as I landed in Chicago, I felt as if I had returned to an alternate reality, as if the Korean Sojourn was a vivid dream but mutually exclusive from the Chicago Universe. Perhaps it was because I went right back to my old lifestyle, to my parents’ house in the suburbs, to hanging out with the friends I left behind and doing the things I did before I went to Korea. And because living and working in Korea wasn’t part of my reality when I went about my life in Chicago, my mindset reverted to its Chicago default. I even had a reunion party at my old apartment (my old roommate was gracious enough to host it), which looked exactly how I left it. Seemingly, everything was unchanged.
This was a new and strange sensation – to feel as if I inhabited two parallel universes – but the comfort of family and friends, and the familiarity of the environment (and the delicious food!) far exceeded any sense of displacement.
Besides this odd feeling, my stay in Chicago was relaxing and pleasant.
It was returning to S. Korea that shook me up.
Back to Korea
Perhaps the short-lived but powerful episode of post-travel blues was influenced by 24+ hours of traveling, by switching environments so suddenly. Whatever the reason, as soon as I arrived in Daegu and got in a taxi to go home, I had this enormous desire to cry. It was interesting that I was 10 minutes away from my Korean ‘home’ when reality set in that I no longer was in the States.
The fact that I was just in Plano, the suburb where my parents live, about 24 hours prior proved to be too overwhelming for my tired brain. My surroundings seemed off. All of a sudden, the buildings, the people, and the language felt foreign and unwelcoming. The long journey to arrive in Daegu was sound evidence of how far I really am from home and my loved ones. It was the opposite of registering how much I’ve missed someone when I am in their presence again. It was arriving back to my Korean reality that made me realize how much I had missed and will miss the loved ones inhabiting the other reality I had left so short ago.
The dissonance was too strong to tolerate, and the feelings of nostalgia and melancholia pleaded to be let out. Crying on that cab home was the only way to process and cope.
Then I arrived to my apartment and it didn’t feel like the cozy home I’ve created for myself. The lighting was overly bright and harsh. Everything seemed ugly for a moment too – unfamiliar and uninviting.
The following morning I awoke to a cold, still dull-looking apartment, without the chatter of my mother and grandmother, with no possibility of having a delicious Mexican breakfast cooked for me by mom or dad. I was fully back to my Korean reality. I spent all day in bed, partly because I was jet lagged and exhausted, but also because I was so down.
Then I had to go to work and get on with my daily habits and routine. As I settled in, the heavy mood seemed to pass without my knowing. During these days, I tried to remember that I became even more certain about my decision to spend this time in Asia while visiting home. And that I’m also quite satisfied with who I’m becoming in Korea.