Reverse Culture Shock – How to Cope with Coming ‘Home’
Ten months after returning home from a year long trip across the globe, I’m still not sure that we’re qualified to give advice on this subject. To be honest, whenever I pause to think about it, I’m sure that Richard and I are still suffering from what is often called ‘reverse home-sickness’ or ‘reverse culture shock’.
I remember writing our first blog post after we’d touched back down on English soil and talking about how we felt that something was instantly missing in our lives. Re-adjusting to normal life was a lot more difficult than we’d first imagined and not a day goes by without one of our hearts skipping at a flashback to one of our many memorable moments.
One thing that made the initial feeling of isolation harder upon our return, was that no-one seemed particularly interested in our stories or photos – we had visions of arriving home to a rapturous welcome and putting together a slide show for all of our friends and family to watch. But in reality, any conversation about our trip seemed to last around 5 seconds before the normal routine of their everyday lives took back over.
We found that the experiences we had whilst travelling had completely changed many aspects of our personality; in particular our attitudes towards life and the thoughts, values and feelings we had about the world. Fitting the ‘new us’ back into our ‘old’ lives wasn’t easy (and is still an ongoing process!) but we have found that the best way to deal with this is to make sure our lives are never ‘normal’ again! We want to use our travel experiences to change our old lives for the better and made a promise to ourselves not to let the humdrum of daily chores dilute the amazing things we have seen and done over the last year.
We wanted to put together some practical ‘tips’ for coping with reverse homesickness – some of these we’ve done; some we still intend to do and some have been recommended by friends and other travellers. We hope that whatever you are feeling and wherever you are in the world, these will help to fill that gaping hole that appeared in your life since you arrived home…
Dealing with Reverse Culture Shock
See your home town through new eyes
- You know those ‘Advertiser’ type newsletters that always clutter up your letter box? Don’t just throw them in the bin – give them a read! Look at the What’s On section to see what’s happening in your home town. You probably never knew about half the things that happen every week such as special events, beer festivals, farmers markets or comedy nights. Put back on your traveller’s hat and pick something random to do once in a while!
- Make an effort to go to stores, bars or restaurants you have never been to before. When you were travelling, this was something you did by default, so why should you be scared of trying out something new back home? This also helps to bring back that unique “feeling of the unknown” that you thrive off as a traveller.
Approach any trips you take as an adventure
- When visiting another town or city (whether for business or for pleasure), we’ve found that choosing to stay in a hostel rather than a hotel is a great way of keeping the traveller inside you alive. Arm yourselves with travel pillows and ear plugs, just like the old days!
- Take the ‘long way round’ on any journey and stop to see the sights, whether this means stopping simply to read an information board you’ve never noticed before or something more substantial, the point is to approach it as an adventure.
Get active & discover your surroundings
- Even if you live in a city, there’s a lot more countryside around you than you think. You really don’t have to go far (particularly if you live in the UK) to find a patch of woodland, forest or countryside where you can indulge in a bit of spontaneous camping. If by some miracle the sun shows it’s face over a weekend, grab yourself a cheap tent from Argos; dig out your trusty camping stove and set off! Stop at a garage for a few tins of sausages and a bottle of wine and you’re sorted for the next 24 hours!
- Take a hike. We don’t mean ‘get lost’ we mean literally. Walking and hiking was something we never knew we liked until we went travelling, but we ended up doing so much of it that we quickly learnt that it’s the best way to get to know your surroundings close up. For example; we always knew that a river ran through our home town but had thought nothing of it until one day (when we were feeling the effects of reverse homesickness) we decided to explore the riverbank. Our walk took us past info boards about the local wildlife, showed us the town from a new perspective and allowed us to stumble across some really cool street art that we never knew existed! Just a simple thing like this was enough to make us feel like travellers again and allowed those old feelings of excitement to come flooding back!
Indulge your memories
- Far from being an excuse to stare at the wall and wish for times gone by, sticking your travel photos up around the house will actually help to keep you motivated and serve as constant inspiration for your next adventure. A lot of reverse homesickness is mixed up with worries of ‘forgetting’ your travel experiences – you may think that the longer you are at home, the more your memories fade away. This can leave you feeling depressed and unmotivated which will affect every other part of your life. So make sure you remind yourself of all the things you love about this crazy world!
- Remember all those new, random and tasty dishes you tried on your travels? Make an effort to introduce the flavours of your trip into your weekly cooking repertoire. We live in such a multicultural society that it’s really not difficult to get your hands on exotic ingredients from around the world. Even most supermarkets now have a World Foods section where you can pick up Persian, Thai, Vietnamese or Malaysian ingredients along with your usual bread and milk. Our home town in particular has a lot of specialised food stores dotted around selling Polish or Asian foodstuffs, for example. This makes it really easy to ‘transport’ yourself back to that place where you tasted nasi goreng or Cao Lau for the first time! Mmmmmm.
- Do something different. Again, doing something that you have never done before is a big part of travelling and there’s no reason why you have to slip back into old routines just because you have returned home. Join a photography club, take up indoor rock-climbing or enrol in a foreign language evening course….there are loads of activities that can help to enhance your lifestyle, you just have to find them!
- Make more of an effort to see your friends. It can feel a bit strange meeting up with old friends after you return from an extended trip as so much will have happened since the last time you saw them. You may feel like you don’t really know them anymore or that you now don’t have anything in common but often it just takes a little bit of effort to get to know each other again and remember why you are friends in the first place.
- Sometimes however, you may find that you don’t have anything in common with your old friends anymore. If this happens, don’t panic – you’ve just gotta get out there and find some new ones! Joining a new club or trying out new activities as we mentioned above, can really help with this. Choosing to socialise with new people you know you have things in common with is one of the quickest ways to relieving some of the symptoms of reverse-culture shock.
- Keep in touch with the people you met on your travels. As you will probably find, it’s almost impossible to explain your travel experiences to anyone who wasn’t there and this can lead to feelings of frustration when you just can’t make them understand what all those amazing moments meant to you! Reminiscing with your travel buddies can be really cathartic and will leave you with warm fuzzy feelings rather than feelings of gloom and despair!
We would love to hear about your own reverse-homesickness stories and how long it took you to ‘get over it’. Do you have any tips of your own that you’d like to share?
A big thanks to Caroline Makepeace, Amanda Kendle Augustin, Dave Dean and Barbara Adams for sharing their own stories and helping us put together this post. You can read up on some of their own experiences on their blogs: