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How to deal with reverse culture shock after an amazing year abroad

“You’re so brave” was the most common response when I announced that I was going to be travelling the globe for a year. Making the decision to explore the world for a year wasn’t a difficult decision for me, and I most certainly didn’t associate it with bravery. The decision that took reserves of bravery only came, 13 months later, when I decided to hang up my travelling boots and return home to Australia. To the uninitiated, this would seem like a simple move. I was returning home to Melbourne, the city I had grown up in, to a solid support network of family and friends. Where life was familiar because I spoke the language, knew where to get the best coffee and how to get around on public transport. But in reality, this was the most challenging trip of all. The hardest part of travelling for a long time overseas is the reverse culture shock of coming home.

I had never heard of reverse culture shock before now. In fact, it’s diametrically opposite experience, 'culture shock', is the reason I love travelling so much. While reverse culture shock is new to me, it is something that I have definitely experienced since my return.

I was really excited about returning home to my family and friends, but after spending so much time in different cultures, countries and being stimulated on a daily basis with the wonders of the world, if felt weird being back in my familiar Melbourne stomping ground. Returning home was like going through adventure detox. Yes, getting around was easy but the trade-off is a loss of adrenalin and sense of adventure that comes with the challenges of making a foreign city home, even if it only temporarily. I still loved my friends, family, and city, but I realised that I had outgrown living here. I had this lens on life that I couldn’t express to anyone, and it frustrated me. Combine this with the post-holiday blues and I was feeling a little lost and without direction.

I had grown. I had changed. And I wasn't sure that I fit in here anymore.

When everyone talks about travel, they talk about the rush of excitement. The adrenaline packed experiences and awe-inspiring sights. Everything is shiny and new. The foods, the people, the languages are all different, making those simple seemingly boring daily events, such as going to the supermarket, an exciting adventure. Grounding yourself from that kind of high can be a challenge if you do not prepare yourself. So, how do you adjust to life back home after have a life-changing time travelling the world?

Think positive

“Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it’s happened!” – Dr. Seuss

Start with a new approach as soon as you land at the airport. Sliding into a workday rut can be really easy, so maintain your position as the driver of your life and steer it in the direction that inspires you. Travelling overseas you have been in control of where your life is going. Don’t lose that momentum. It is relevant at home too.

Set aside some cash

“What you do today can improve all of your tomorrows” – Ralph Marston

You know how to manage your cash. You have been navigating your currencies, credit cards, bills and payments all around the world. You also know that when you get home those bills don’t just disappear. So protect ‘future you’ and set aside some cash to set you up on your return. It is tempting to forget about these things you’ll need to pay for when you are living it up on an island in the Pacific.

Try to hit the ground running

“Don’t count the days, make the days count” – Muhammad Ali

I returned home in the middle of winter, and after chasing the summer sun for the previous 13 months, I found it difficult to venture outside. I found myself wasting the days, hiding under a blanket on my mothers couch. It was neither productive, nor supporting my being and was gradually slipping me into an existential crisis.

Avoid this by making sure you get enough sleep, eat and drinking well, exercise regularly and do activities that keep your mind focused on the positives. Incorporating one enjoyable activity into your week will go a long way towards alleviating any post-holiday blues. Try arranging catch-ups with friends, or inspections of houses for future flat mates to get you out and about.

Get back into the work force

“If you can’t stop thinking about it, don’t stop working for it” – Michael Jordan

From backpacking the world and trekking mountains to sitting back in a cubicle. It’s depressing. Hearing the alarm go off in the wee hours of the morning did hurt for the first couple of days. But that hurt didn't last for long. It was a bit like the psychological wall a long distance runner experiences. When you push through it, the reward is victory.

In fact, the skills and perspectives that I had gained through my travels abroad had even helped me have the confidence to go after my dream job. Having the time away allowed me to gain some clarity around what inspires me, and really defines what I want to do with my career. And getting that first payslip was a great feeling because I could start saving for my next adventure.

Be a tourist at home

“The most effective way to do it, is to do it” – Amelia Earhart

So you love being a traveler. You love searching alleyways and markets, and finding weird and wonderful things to eat. Well you know what? You can also do that at home. I mean seriously! I live in Melbourne. A tourist hot-spot. But having grown up here, I sometimes forget that. Rekindling my love of my home city by wandering the streets, participating in events and taking photos of iconic locations has helped me retain that sense of adventure that I loved about being on the road.

Don’t shy away from your next adventure

“Set a goal that makes you jump out of bed in the morning” – Anonymous

After travelling for a year, I began feeling as though talking about my ‘next’ trip might not be well received. But the fact of the matter is, planning my next trip helps give me a goal to work towards. It motivates me and keeps me focused. Allow yourself to make plans.

On the road, with a backpack on our back, is where we belong. We are a special breed of traveller. We will always be looking and dreaming about the next adventure. Doing what we do best.

This adventure is over, but you know what? That means your next one is inevitably getting closer this very moment!

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