A Stranger at Home: On Reverse Culture Shock | Imagine somebody sneaks into your house and—unbeknown to you—deviously shifts all of your possessions six inches to the right.
By Sue Bedford
You may not be able to pinpoint precisely what’s askew, yet something is undoubtedly and jarringly “off.” This is akin to the sensation of returning home after an extended trip abroad.
The feeling is the result of two factors. First of all, when novelty becomes the norm, routine becomes its exception. After x-many months of sensory overload during which every moment is infused with vibrancy and texture, coming back is like screeching to a halt with windmilling arms and a reeling mind.
The first two weeks of reuniting with your old friends and sleeping in your own bed are fantastic—especially since hostels often have an avant-garde interpretation of cleanliness. However, the sudden lack of stimulation associated with domesticity can occasionally lead to boredom and listlessness. That which previously thrilled you no longer delivers the sensational kick it once did; your favourite Netflix series is significantly less captivating now that you’ve crept through an ancient temple in Bali and snorkeled on a sunken ship in the Philippines.
To avoid such post-vacay blues, make a plan for when you return that includes activities or events to which you can look forward. If you’re stuck for ideas, Groupon is a great starter. By navigating your regular life with the same hunger and curiosity that guided you whilst traveling, you will avoid tumbling into a disenchanted rut.
The second sense in which your home life may feel “same-same but different” (as the Thai-English colloquialism goes) is in regards to your interactions with friends and family. I’ll save you the anguish of learning the hard way and put it bluntly: in any given social situation, you get 10 minutes to talk about your trip. Pick your best story (crowd-pleasers tend to be the most ridiculous and/or embarrassing tales) and relish its delivery because, after that, conversation with undoubtedly swing back to blockbuster remakes and Reddit memes.
This is because, while travel talk is the default icebreaker within hostels, most people simply cannot relate to anecdotes concerning overnight buses blasting Bolivian folk music or jungle treks through howler monkey territory. This can be frustrating at best and isolating at worst—you’re bursting to share everything you’ve done and thought, and yet nobody cares. One method of maintaining your connection to the traveler community and therefore engaging with likeminded individuals is by becoming a Couch Surfing or Air BnB host (Couch Surfing also has backpacker events you can attend). Alternatively, check MeetUp.com for travel enthusiast groups in your area.
Congruently, you may find yourself less engrossed in what your friends want to talk about, be it pop culture or clique gossip. This might be a passing phase or it might be because your values, interests and goals have dramatically shifted. Before you resort to sulky, teenage-esque “nobody understands me” angst, remember that you once shared their philosophies, and may have also responded with a slow blink if someone began a sentence with, “It’s just like that time I was in the Dayak longhouse in Borneo…” If you are struggling to rekindle the connection, invite your mates along on your Groupon excursions for a re-bonding session.
For those of you still traveling and dreading your impending return: the journey’s end isn’t as melancholy as it may seem. The luxury of sleeping without the vague fear of the drunken backpacker in the top bunk puking onto your backpack is one you will never again take for granted, and it’ll be weeks before the convenience of a fridge full of food becomes redundant. Plus, there is little that compares with your friends’ shrieks of surprised elation when you casually saunter into the local hangout.
Most importantly, while your regular life may appear (underwhelmingly) unchanged, your travel experiences have bequeathed you with a fresh perspective—and that bears the potential to alter everything. In any event, for the true traveler, coming home merely gives you a spot from which to launch yourself once again.