Dear Savvy Traveller,
Every time I get home from a trip I feel really down for a while. How can I get rid of the post-travel blues?
To some, post-travel blues may seem like a first world problem—something only very fortunate and possibly spoiled people could manage to complain about—but it has nothing to do with privilege, and much to do with fulfillment, so thanks for asking this important question.
First, let’s tell everyone else what it is, and then we’ll talk about mitigating, and eventually eliminating, this little beast.
On the first day back to work after a trip, most of us have experienced that moment when a colleague asks, “How was your trip?” and we say “Great, but exhausting! I feel like I need a holiday from my holiday!”
This is not post-travel blues (which we’ll sometimes call PTB here for purposes of brevity, and with no disrespect to the very real and debilitating Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD, that so many people, especially our veterans, suffer from horrendously). But, it’s a little hint of what it feels like for those who experience it.
PTB is that nagging sense of malaise when we return to our daily routines and leave behind the excitement and adventure of travel, and can manifest as lethargy, fatigue, or a disinterest in life that feels like depression. PTB affects people in varying degrees, and for unpredictable lengths of time, but the unifying thread is generally that irritating inner voice saying “your real life isn’t as good as that was.”
Some might tell you to ignore the voice and get back to reality—your life is fine!—but I believe if you’re experiencing post-travel blues, the voice is right. Let me be clear, though, that I don’t believe you should be lying on beaches and drinking mojitos all day, or even exploring jungles and climbing mountains all the time.
What that voice is telling you is that you’re not looking for proper fulfillment in your daily life, and no amount of additional travel can resolve that. The big, heady, difficult cure for post-travel blues is replacing the empty calories of your life with nutrition and value, and of course I’m not referring to food (but that helps, too!).
Truly tackling PTB means looking at the ways you’re engaging (or not engaging) with your community, evaluating the educational and cultural enrichment you regularly seek, assessing your use of free time, and, yes, possibly even considering what you’re putting into your stomach.
When we travel, we engage with our surroundings through physical exploration, shopping for unique items, learning local history in museums and tours, and meeting new people. Are you doing this at home? You should be.
When we travel, we are more conscious of maximizing our minutes by using time, not passing time. We look at our phones less, and don’t spend nearly as many hours watching TV or YouTube because we can do that when we get home . . . but why do we think that’s good enough for home when it’s not good enough when travelling? It isn’t!
In other countries, we hear new languages, see new art forms, learn new dances, and taste new recipes. We could be taking classes that expose us to new ideas and interests at home too, or even just exploring exotic cuisines at new restaurants on occasion.
But most of us fail to prioritize true cultural stimulation, leaving room in our minds for that little voice to creep in. Are you starting to see how the irritating little voice could be correct in some way?
Begin to prove it wrong by making some easy changes. There are more difficult changes some of us need to make, like what we do for work and the people we spend our time with. But let’s start with the small, practical things I just mentioned. Often, when we change those micro details of our lives, the macro issues follow naturally, so focus on the more approachable changes, and let the bigger picture come into focus over time.
OK, Jessica, so I’ve basically told you that if you’re feeling post-travel blues after a trip, you have some honest work to do in your daily outlook—but that takes time, and you might want tips for the PTB you’re feeling right now. Good news! While you work on considering those important changes that will “cure” it by creating a “real” life that feels as fulfilling as travel, there are some ways to alleviate the symptoms in the meantime.
Try these tips:
1) Take an extra day at home before returning to work, class, or whatever your typical routine is. If you experience PTB, you do need a holiday from your holiday, so take that extra buffer day to decompress, before diving back in. You’ll likely feel less stress and frustration.
2) Jet lag can add to discomfort and disorientation, so take precautions to reduce the physical fatigue that may exaggerate your mental fatigue. Check out my jet lag advice here.
3) Extend the experience of your trip by staying engaged in something you discovered on the road. Listen to more music like what you heard while travelling, look up recipes native to the place you visited and prepare them for yourself or friends, or dive deeper into the culture with books, documentaries, or classes related to something you learned while traveling. Don’t try to spend your way to enrichment—that will never fulfill any part of you. Success is in mental engagement, and that costs little.
4) Make a digital album of your trip and share it online, or make a scrapbook for yourself. Either way, sometimes you just need to spend time reliving your experiences and smiling over the memories before you can place them on your mental shelf and carry on. Think of it as closure for post-travel blues.
5) Plan your next trip. If you have the incessant feeling that you need to be travelling nonstop, you have the travel bug, not post-travel blues. But even if you do, you can benefit from looking forward to your next adventure. In fact, we all benefit from having plans and goals, but one way to stop dwelling on how your life compares to your last trip is to start making plans for the next one. Consider more than just location or must-see attractions. Ask yourself what are your goals for discovery and enrichment on your next trip, regardless of the destination?
When you start focusing on goals rather than checklists, you’re going to experience travel that improves your entire life—not just the holiday itself—and that will help make post-travel blues a thing of the past.