The Hardest Part Of Traveling: Coming Home Again

Mount Erie Summit

Before beginning my travels, I thought the hardest part would be leaving. I’d be leaving behind the only home I’d ever known–friends and family, trading a life of familiarity for uncertainty. In those early days I had so many worrisome thoughts running through my mind. What if I don’t like living abroad? What if I can’t find a way to sustain myself? What if I get sick? What if I get robbed? What if I don’t make any friends? Everyone said the hardest part about a journey is getting out the door. Once you do that, everything just falls into place.

And it did.

I discovered I loved living abroad. I found jobs and found ways that would allow me to travel longer. I did get sick a few times and I got over it. Luckily I never got robbed. I met incredible people, saw amazing places, fell in and out of love, and made friends with people who became more like family to me.

Leaving home was difficult, but they were right: once you get out the door, it gets easier from there. What they don’t say is that the hard part is actually just the opposite: coming home again.

I’ve been back in Washington for about two weeks now and it’s been an interesting transition. After being away for over two and a half years, I thought I’d be ready to come home. Traveling does wear you down after a while and I needed a break. I wanted to see my family again. I wanted to rekindle old friendships. I missed my dog. I felt ready to get back into a routine that didn’t involve packing and unpacking a backpack nearly every day. To get back to work again and live a more settled life for a while.

But since I got off that last plane ride and began the process of readjusting to my old world of familiarity, the shock of being home again has hit me. In a way, the place I grew up in seems more unfamiliar to me than being in a foreign country. It’s not necessarily culture shock per se. Rather I’ve just become increasingly aware of how different everything seems, yet at the same time everything is still mostly the same. It’s both enlightening and underwhelming. It’s amazing how travel changes your perspective on so many different aspects of life. I notice things now that I might have overlooked before. I’m constantly amusing myself “discovering” new Americanisms that I wasn’t too aware of before I started traveling. My thoughts and opinions on certain issues have changed. Things I never used to think or care about have become more important to me, and things I used to fuss over no longer bother me.

There have been changes here and there of course–friends have gotten married, some even have kids now, others have gotten new jobs or promotions. There might have been some new developments in town, some new businesses have opened, others closed. But in general, everything still feels mostly the same. It’s almost as if time stopped back in 2013 when I left and is only now resuming again.

The other shock that has come with being home is the sudden change in pace of life. One day my life consists of constantly being on the go, being surrounded by people almost 24/7, exposing myself to new places, smells, sights, foods, and cultures on a daily basis. And with a single plane ride, it all came to an end just like that. This has been the hardest part of the transition for me so far. Sameness and familiarity has become dull and depressing. I’ve been feeling anxious and jittery. I’ve become restless (actually I think I’ve always been that way to be honest, but this has just made it worse!). Luckily I’ve managed to find ways to keep myself occupied by seeing friends, going on hikes, hunting for jobs, and going through my old stuff and purging things I realize I don’t need anymore.

Don’t get me wrong, home has been wonderful. I’m happy to be with friends and family again. But the truth is, I don’t think I’ll ever truly feel “at home” again. Physically I’m here, but my heart and mind ceaselessly wanders off, thinking about people and places afar. Back to New Zealand, back to Australia, back to Europe, among other places. Places I called home for a time. I can’t help but keep thinking of a quote I wrote down from somewhere a long time ago that describes exactly this feeling:

“You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart will always be elsewhere. That’s the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place.” – Miriam Adeny

It’s both a blessing and a curse. While I may not really feel like I have a solid place to call home, I still feel so lucky to know so many incredible people and have friends scattered across the world that I can always see again.

I know it’s only been a few weeks since I’ve returned and with time I’ll adjust back to a less nomadic lifestyle eventually. I actually am excited and looking forward to the new possibilities that come with being back in America again. But I’ll always be a traveler at heart and I know the road will continue to beckon me until I return again.

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