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!

Be sociable

- 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:

Y Travel Blog: Dealing with Reverse Culture Shock
Not A Ballerina: Reverse Culture Shock
What’s Dave Doing: Resisting the changes

Author: Aisleen

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15 Comments

  1. Hi Ciaran, Thanks for sharing your experiences – as you know, you are certainly not alone in your fears of being able to re-integrate once you get back ‘home’. It’s something I think all travellers should be aware of, but also it’s encouraging to know that these feelings CAN be managed through a few simple changes but most of all by changing your mindset and holding on to that ‘traveller spirit’!

    Thanks for adding the couch surfing tip – I think that’s a great idea for people who have returned home from their travels and is a brilliant way to keep meeting new and interesting people whilst, as you say, living vicariously through them!! Until you can go off on another adventure that is!! :)

  2. Hey there. I am heading home after a year world trip. Consiting of volunteering with street kids. I am terrified that I have become so jaded with the world and my peers lack of understanding. I really hope I can handle thetransition. How am I suppossed to talk to my friends about my life abroad, when all they want to do is go to the club and watch reality TV.? I am glad I came across this though. It helps to know there are others out there. I remember meeting a peace corp volunteer a few years back, before I left on my travels, and something he said still rings in my head , he told me he was depressed for so long after he came home, he became introverted, lost a lot of meaning, he said he was so used to see his work actually make an impact in the worl while he did the peace corp in africa for two years, now he is just a job monkey for a coorporation.

    Anyway, these tips will help me I am sure of it, I also wanted to add one I plan on doing, is being a CouchSurfing host! I think I will live vicuriously through the travelers that stay with me!

    I dont know how long,I will last in the 9-5 before I am packibg my bahs for my next adventure! Once a traveller always a travellera!

    Cheers.

  3. Thanks so much for your help! Really appreciate the imput, excellent blog. This is a huge help to me. Thank you!!

  4. The earth is our home…i like that! Feeling like this is really common but it’s so difficult to explain to people who haven’t experienced it themselves! Hopefully in time you will be able to ‘reconnect’ with Tunisia and be able to make the most of living there again without feeling strange! Thanks so much for your comment :)

  5. Thanks for sharing this!
    I lived in US for over 7 years and spent most of my time in San Francisco and New York City and came back to my “home” country, Tunisia and I felt so disconnected until I read this article and made me feel I am not alone. It also helps to read other comments and we should all remember that we live in global world where boarders doesn’t belong to our vocabulary! Earth is our home!

  6. Hi Donna,

    I’m glad the article resonated with you! It’s great to know that we’re not alone too!! It’s a strange transistion isn’t it but sounds like you’re definitely doing the right thing to ease the homesickness. Hope the volunteering goes well, what a great idea! :)

  7. Great article. We have been back in the States for 5 months after living in Japan for 3 years. I was nodding my head over many of the experiences in this article. About 1 month after being “home”, I was ready to go overseas again. I find myself bored, sad and lonely. I miss the excitement of overseas travel and love to talk to people I meet here who have lived in Japan so we can talk about common experiences. I am planning to volunteer with a adult literary center and tutor Japanese ESL students so I can keep in touch with my host nation culture and help someone else adjust to my culture. I think it will help my “homesickness” :)

  8. Aw Rachel I’m sorry to hear that! But yes, you are certainly NOT alone! It’ll take some time but you really can help yourself by trying to look at your home town through different eyes, and there are usually things to do that you never knew about, which will cost little or nothing! Good luck with the job hunt – as soon as the money starts coming back in again you can begin to plot your next adventure! :)

  9. Got home last week after travelling America for 3 months, feel rubbish, can’t stop crying and just don’t feel like doing anything. Thanks for this post though it’s nice to know I’m not alone! I just need a job now so I have money to get out and start doing things.

  10. Thanks Andrew, yes definitely- coming ‘home’ can feel very alien!

  11. A nice well thought through post. It occurs to me that a lot of the advice we get for culture shock can be applied to reverse homesickness as well. Like being away from a culture for long enough it is a shock to go back to the “home” one even.

  12. Thanks Christy, It’s always interesting how the word ‘home’ takes on a different meaning when you’ve been travelling. In fact, it’s taken us a while to refer to ourselves as ‘being home’ at all! I think the main thing is to be prepared for how you might feel – otherwise these feelings will come out of the blue and you’ll wonder what the heck is going on!

  13. Really great advice. We just started talking about heading ‘home’ (still don’t know where that will be) this summer, and I’m already a little worried about how we’ll cope. I guess we’ll just have to see! :)

  14. Thanks so much Caz, I’m glad that you nodded instead of shaking your head! Writing this post has made us realise just how many other people out there suffer from this very problem! It’s always good to know that you’re not alone! :)

  15. Great post guys! I nodded the whole way through. Excellent advice on how to deal with this horrible condition. Every traveller needs to know more about it as it can really mess you up and make you feel so low and disconnected. REally these are normal feelings to have

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