Here I am, back at home in California for a few weeks after a long stretch of traveling. And I can not say this has been an easy transition or that I am enjoying my time here to the fullest. Reverse culture shock is rougher for me than culture shock of new places (hell, I welcome that kind of culture shock and embrace it). Often I find myself dreaming of being back in the hills of Sri Lanka, or a peaceful day on Myanmar’s Lake Inle, or working from a beautiful beach in Thailand fully enjoying my digital nomad life. Thankfully, I am hitting the road again in a few weeks, so my time here is very limited. I do remember when I would return back after a holiday or shorter travels abroad and feel the same way, so I am truly thankful to have a light at the end of a shorter tunnel this time.
But the truth is, the time eventually comes when all nomads, travelers, and globe wanders need to check in at their home base. Family members aren’t getting any younger, and it is important not to lose touch with your friends and other connections at home. There are certain things that can only be taken care of in person, at home, so a trip back every so often is essential. The length of this check in can vary. I know nomads who go “home” for a few months at a time. For me, a few weeks is usually perfectly fine. I can get everything done that needs to be handled, still have ample time to see my family and friends, and even relax a bit. But no matter how short (or long), for us nomads and world travelers, a visit back to the home base can sometimes present challenges.
Here are a few things to remember, which can initially bum you out. I’ve faced all of these after traveling abroad for over half my life and digital nomading (to some extent) for several years now:
- Most of your friends, family, and co-workers won’t really care about your adventures. At first, this kind of hurt my feelings. But the truth is, your family and friends back home have been doing their thing. Many have 9-5 jobs, families, kids, responsibilities, etc that will not allow them to lead a nomadic lifestyle like yours. In my country of origin, many people do not travel abroad, period, and do not even take vacations to other countries. So as interesting as your travels were to you, many can not relate. Unfortunately, some family and friends probably can’t find half the countries you visited on a map anyway (that is the sad truth about geography education in American schools). Furthermore, as travelers, we tend to only highlight the best aspects of travel on our social media, so surely there is some envy and jealousy. Let’s face it, as a digital nomad, my life on Instagram is pretty awesome. Not everyone understands that travel comes with its trials and downsides too. As much as you want to talk about your travels, only a few of your network will actually want to hear your stories. But the good news is, you will have those friends or family who do, so share away with them! You might find that the person you least expected will be super curious about your time abroad and will want to learn more. Educate and explain (and see below for more on that).
- Nothing at “home” has really changed. This can be comforting or annoying at the same time. You will see mostly the same people, the same businesses, and the same streets. It is not the exciting adventure of traveling. But embrace the familiar, because it’s good for all of us from time to time.
- Depending on the situation at home, the politics will infuriate you. It’s much easier to ignore abroad as not everyone is talking about it. Tune it out as much as you possibly can. Or, use the time to take proactive action for any positive change you can make while you are in your country.
- Yes, you will experience reverse culture shock in some way or another. For me, big box stores like Target and the grocery stores in the U.S. are major triggers. I simply try to avoid being in these types of places as much as I can. And when I absolutely have to, I use my time there to reflect on the cultural differences.
Here are a few additional tips and tricks that I learned to make the best of the time at your home base, and to soften some of the blow:
- Try to plan your visits around something you enjoy. Every year, there is a big, free music festival in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. This is by far my favorite San Francisco tradition, so I built this particular San Francisco pop in around that. Being able to attend one of my favorite events in my hometown took some of the sting out of being back.
- Eat your favorite foods. No matter where you are from and where you have traveled, you will always have specific favorite foods that you can only get at home. Indulge in them.
- Your time is limited. Do not feel pressured to see everyone. For some, it is fine. But for me, having a social date every day I am back (especially if it is for a short period of time) is exhausting. You do not have to see every friend from the past or every distant family member. Make a list of the people you really want to see and reach out to them to plan dates well in advance, which is really important if you have limited time. Everyone is busy. You can also see several friends at once by planning small get togethers. Take the initiative to organize these, and invite everyone you want to see, but might not be able to dedicate one on one time for.
- Relax. Really, after years, months, or even weeks of nomading and traveling, your body clock is way off. You will most likely arrive jet lagged, exhausted, and sometimes slightly ill. Take some time to just chill out in your home space. There is nothing like being able to sleep for 12-14 hours at a time in a familiar bed. Use this time to recharge your batteries for your next adventure.
- Keep your connections abroad alive. Reach out to your friends that you met on the road, the locals who made your time in their countries enjoyable, your new business contacts, etc. Keeping in touch with your new global network is so important, especially when you are away from them, and will absolutely help your future travels.
- Being at home with reliable WiFi is a great time to catch up on all of that work! I am actively taking on new clients for my travel planning services, working on piecing together my first tour for people who want to travel with me (more on that coming soon!), and of course, working on this travel blog.
- Even though some may not want to hear about it (see above), talk about your adventures and the places you visited. Have conversations about the people you met. Describe the sounds, smells, and colors from your travels. As much as discussing it takes you back to these places, there is a great need for this too. The world is becoming more and more isolationist. Many people are choosing to not only put their home country first, but to only care about their home country. There is also a lot of fear in the world now, people are terrified of the other. By bringing your journey to light through conversations and photos, you are making an impact on trying to spread love, peace, and unity. And in these times, that is incredibly important.
As I unpack, repack, and regroup for my next adventure abroad, I am trying to embrace my time in San Francisco as much as possible. But always looking forward to the next epic journey. Because I am a nomad at heart and that is where my passion is.
My name is Karen & travel is not only my passion but also my profession.