One of the biggest surprises I had when coming home after travelling was how long it took me to adjust back to ‘real life’.
Before I left on my grown-up gap year I had prepared myself for the culture shock of being away. I understood that I’d have to adapt to different cultures and that I’d miss my friends and family. I even accounted for the weird food cravings you get when you’re away (hence why I always travel with Yorkshire Tea and Marmite!) But what I didn’t spend much time thinking about was what life would be like when I returned home.
I’d had the time of my life and honestly couldn’t have asked for a better trip. But I also knew that I felt ready to move onto the next phase of life.
However, the first thing I did when I got home after travelling was go to the London Olympics. That was such an amazing, special event. The sun shone, London was the friendliest I’ve ever known it and we had a fantastic time.
So I was somewhat sheltered from reality, until I moved back in with my parents in my hometown. At first I embraced all of the advantages of being back. Hot baths, endless cups of tea, being able to easily navigate the world around me, all definitely had an appeal.
But once I started applying for jobs reality suddenly hit.
The reality of coming home after travelling
Looking back now, I think my biggest advice to someone coming home after travelling would be to go easy on yourself. I think I expected that things would quickly fall into place. I thought I’d land my dream job and fit easily back into the life I had left behind.
But in reality, that’s not what happened. I really struggled to get a job and applied for countless positions. Although I was incredibly lucky to be able to move in with my parents, I felt isolated from my friends who lived hours away and I only saw Mr A (who I’d met just before my grown-up gap year) once a month.
It was definitely a time of soul-searching where I veered between desperately missing the freedom I had experienced on my travels and trying to quell the rising panic that I was getting left behind.
However, slowly but surely things began to fall into place. My first year back at home was actually nothing like I’d imagined, but somehow everything worked out in the end.
So for anyone coming home after travelling, who is wondering how it’s going to go, here’s my advice:
Accept that it will take time to adjust
While it may feel like you’re going to be able to jump straight back into the life you left behind, that probably isn’t going to be the case. Take some time to figure out what’s changed while you’re away. Also think carefully about what your priorities in life are now. Don’t make the mistake of jumping straight into what you left behind if you weren’t happy with it before you went away.
Also, reverse culture shock is really a thing! You will baulk at the price of a takeaway coffee and feel awkward when friends invite you out for lunch and you desperately try to search for the cheapest thing on the menu.
Suddenly you’ll start to question things that you’ve always taken for granted. “That’s weird, why do we do that?” To begin with you’ll look at everything through a traveller’s eye. But then one day, things will suddenly snap back into place and you won’t question why Brits love to queue for everything or why we’re ultra-polite to each other, even when we’re raging inside.
You may not find the perfect job immediately
Like it or not, the job market is a competitive field. Firstly you need to update your CV. When explaining about your career break or sabbatical, find ways to make it attractive to future employers. Did you learn any new skills while you were away? What qualities did you develop as a result of your travelling?
If money is an immediate issue, accept that you may have to take on a job that isn’t your dream one to start off with. I spent almost a year working night shifts in London (which wasn’t ideal, but was reasonably well-paid and gave me something to put on my CV) until something more suitable came along.
And the big thing is not to beat yourself up about this. If you get a rejection from a job or you hear nothing back, it’s probably nothing to do with you.
Maybe the 100% perfect candidate applied, maybe the job was already ear-marked for someone in the office or maybe the interviewer just skimmed through your CV. Try not to take rejections personally and just keep going onwards and upwards.
Some people will have moved on, some won’t – both will feel weird
I think this is one of the main differences about doing a grown-up gap year, rather than one when you’re 18. If you’re taking a career break or sabbatical, you’re more likely to be older and friends will be at a different stage in their lives. That means people may very well get married or have babies when you are away and when you return home, you’ll be in a totally different place to them. It’s sometimes hard to relate and find the common ground you once had.
On the other hand, some people will not have changed at all. This will also feel weird, as after coming home after travelling you’ll probably feel as though you’ve changed massively. It’s then strange to ask friends what they’ve been up to for the last year and have them say “not much”.
Work to reconnect with friends. Ask them about their lives too, rather than just regale them with travel stories. Chances are the things that cemented your friendships in the first place will still be there.
People will not be that interested in your trip!
This is a hard thing to come to terms with, but most people will not be that interested in your travels. After the initial “how was your trip?” they will not want to know about every tiny detail of what you did and who you met.
At the end of the day, travelling to most of us is a hobby. And in the same way that you probably don’t want to hear someone go on and on about their love of fishing or talk incessantly about the best game of darts they ever played, they might just not have the same interest in travel as you.
This is why it’s important to join communities on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram where people are obsessed with travel and talk about it all the time. These people are your tribe and they’re the only ones you are not going to annoy with your stories that begin “this one time, in Australia…”
Take risks and embrace change
So you probably took one of the biggest risks of your life by going travelling. But that doesn’t mean that when you get home you have to go straight back to the life you lived before. One of the great things about taking a long break is that it gives you time to reassess your life and what you want/don’t want.
I have never seen myself as a ‘one job for life’ kind of person and my grown-up gap year reinforced that for me. I knew that I wanted to take risks and throw myself into new opportunities.
So while my first year back at home wasn’t exactly what I imagined, I embraced the change and had some great experiences. From working in Qatar for a month, to travelling to Zambia to report on HIV, TB and malaria. I took advantage of every opportunity that came along.
Find new adventures wherever you are
This is one of my biggest pieces of advice to anyone coming home after travelling. Get out there and find new adventures! And that doesn’t mean that you have to instantly book another holiday. (Because, let’s face it, you’re probably skint right now!) But get out and explore the area you live in.
After such a crazy, hectic last year of my twenties, the first year of my thirties was actually relatively quiet. I spent it exploring the place I lived and embracing my new-found love of the outdoors. I also fell in love with the concept of microadventures and basically just forced myself to get out and about whenever I could.
Because, who knows, that new adventure could be just around the corner!