I was recently catching up with an old colleague turned long lost friend.
“How does it feel to be back?” she asked.
“So amazing, so awful” I replied. “It’s just a string of insane highs and insane lows.”
“That” she said, “is what they call ‘being an adult’”.
And I realized this was equally funny and equally true. Like sure – ending the travel high is tough. The term ‘reverse culture shock’ is very real and super emotional and a really fucking weird thing to go through.But at the same time, so much of this post-travel state is synonymous with the simple emotions of being a living human being.
Because the thing is, life is very real and super emotional and a really fucking weird thing to go through.
For every promotion you get there’s another day of negative feedback and people hating your ideas. For every magical first kiss there’s a desperate final one. For every sweater that looks so damn CUTE on you there’s probably ten that don’t.
Life itself is a string of insane highs and insane lows. And this will be the case until basically forever, in my opinion.
But I think this is why coming home can be so hard, because now you have this bizarre, self-imposed expectation that you’re going to approach life with this newfound zen attitude and have everything figured out. You think you’re going to be better at it. But you won’t be (or at least I’m definitely not). You’re still going to experience highs and lows, only now they’re like, real life highs and lows instead of these travel/sunset/sunrise/#VanLife experiences.
I mean, for example. Having a plan. The travelers without plans are admired; celebrated. What an inspiring way to live! In real life, a lack of plans is associated with a lack of direction; a lack of trying; a sign that you need to get your shit together. You need to do something.
So you desperately grasp at things and fill your calendar because suddenly you need a plan to feel worthwhile. Suddenly you need to do something to feel satisfied with who you are.
But that’s the other thing – nobody gave an actual fuck what you were doing when you were backpacking. They cared about who you were; how comfortable you made them feel and what conversation you were able to have over a pint of Tui. And as someone who’s fallen victim to the busy trap ever since my 2011 graduation – who has defined herself by a schedule and checklist – this whole positivity > productivity was a struggle I [slowly] started to overcome on the road.
Fill your day with happiness. That’s all anyone was trying to do. And obviously you had days that sucked and days where you didn’t care about anything or anyone. It wasn’t this fantasy dreamland 24/7. Not even close. But it was a world that I approached very differently. It was entirely about appreciating my time; never about utilizing it. And I loved this mentality and got a little scared of losing it when I got home. And now that I am home and constantly flip flopping between happy and sad and chilled out and stressed, I often feel like perhaps I already did. And that makes me feel like I’ve failed somehow.
But this is kind of what’s fucked up about the idea of travelling – about the idea of being a lost soul and having all these experiences and ultimately changing and “finding yourself” (something I myself claimed to have done on a few separate occasions). Look at me! I learned the meaning of life! I learned to appreciate those damn ‘little things’ everyone keeps talking about! I FOUND MYSELF!
But like, no. I didn’t fucking find myself. How do you even do that?? It’s not like humans are these fully developed things that are physically able to be lost and/or found. I’m just a person with a lot of hair who had/ is having a lot of experiences and feeling a lot of things from them and morphing in and out of certain qualities, And this will continue to happen whether I’m travelling or not.
I mean, would I describe myself as generally more confident post-travel? Absolutely. But today do I feel confident? Absolutely not. And that’s fine, but sometimes during these off-days where all these positive traits we supposedly just “found” aren’t fully shining through, we feel the need to justify this. To over-compensate.
“Sorry I’m being such a whiny little baby” I’ll text my friend. “I’m just feeling insecure and coming down from this life high.”
But like, duh. Obviously we are going to be insecure sometimes and that doesn’t make you an insecure person, it just means today you feel shitty and need a bit more of an ego boost than usual. And that’s life, baby. Life = feeling things and changing because of them literally every single day.
And this, for some reason, is so hard to understand. Because after you travel and return to civilization, you expect yourself to be all changed and better. But we’re still allowed to be fucked. Because literally everyone is.
So let’s absolutely cherish whatever experiences we just had and what that helped us become – but let’s not desperately hold onto this in fear of losing it. Because ultimately? No – I didn’t find myself. I grew and I changed and I loved how it all made me feel – but fuck man. I loved how I felt before too, and now these different outlooks are meeting and it’s really strange, and sometimes it’s fun and sometimes it sucks. And I would call this reverse culture shock, sure. But I would also call it simply being a person. Being an adult. Doing life.
Because life is very real and super emotional and a really fucking weird thing to go through. And this doesn’t change after you step out of your comfort zone and fly across the world. You might come back different, and you might feel changed, but no one’s expecting you to be better. You’re still gonna struggle because that’s what being alive entails. So let’s all (and by all, I mean myself) relax. I didn’t fucking find myself. I don’t know how to do that. Instead, I found a ton of wonderfully awesome things and it made (and makes) me really, really happy even though sometimes I still suck as a human, because that’s what being a human is.