Those who went back, most of them at least, feel uncomfortable, empty, foreigners in their own country, outsiders in their group of friends, without inspirations or motivations, without the same will of living that they had when they were sleeping in a van in Australia or in a hostel in front of the sea in Bali.
Most of the people I meet backpacking can’t help but ask themselves the questions: What will happen when I get back? How will I feel?
Maybe it’s because the nomadic life has ups and downs, or simply because the journey is coming to an end, but that questions pops up at one point or the other. And the worst nightmare is to go back home and feel like the others: that things aren’t the same anymore.
Whilst traveling you feel that your life is in your hands and you can do whatever you want whenever you want, but when you go back home is not like that. In your home country or city there are social dynamics that you feel compelled to readapt to, and your life goes from being in your own hands, to be in everyone else’s hands or mouths.
I’ve personally had the experience of going back. I had to go back home to Costa Rica for six months after having lived abroad for four years. I went straight to a job, reintegrated quickly in the Costa Rican routine and society, only to realize that nothing was the same anymore and I wanted to leave again.
People always say that at home things never change: “When you get back you’ll see everything will be the same”. Really? That’s what those who live there say because they do similar things everyday and mix themselves with the same social circles, it’s part of their routine, so they don’t really notice the changes, but when you get back you do notice. After one year of traveling you might find out that a friend is now dating a new person, another friend switched jobs, or that there are friends whom you haven’t seen for such a long time that they now treat you differently. Those changes might not seem big, but they surprise you and you don’t know how to react.
Add to that the fact that you have changed, a lot. Some of us realize we have changed, so it becomes harder to “fit” back into the mold of what we were, of what our social circles remember or expect from us, but we simply aren’t like that anymore and we don’t want to fit in but not knowing how to react we get uncomfortable or feel judged. Others might not notice they changed because they live with themselves every second of their lives, hence not noticing the evolution in their beings, but those who receive them at home do notice. The friends you haven’t seen in a while might notice in a couple of minutes and that’s why they act bizarrely around you.
Things change, period. Maybe there aren’t any new buildings, presidents, or people didn’t move houses, but things change a lot. And it’s not easy to absorb all the information abruptly. Familiarizing with the environment becomes a challenge, you feel like an outsider, watching the social interactions take place but not being involved in them. It’s as if you were watching the scene of a movie, you understand it, but you know you can’t get inside the TV. There is your friend talking about what happened a month ago at a party, everyone laughs and there’s nothing you can say or do but smile awkwardly.
It’s completely natural to ask yourself: “What else have I missed?” and you feel left out. Even though no one is doing it on purpose, or they didn’t want to tell you. No, no. You simply left and aren’t part of that reality anymore, everyone’s life moved on, including yours, and when you try to go back into that life there are certain mental processes you have to go through to be able to gear back in. The truth is sometimes you changed so drastically that it will take a long time do adapt.
It becomes easier to start from scratch at a hostel or in a new city, talking without judging or feeling judged because nobody is expecting anything from you and you’re not expecting anything from him or her. It’s even more amusing to hear new refreshing stories from new people, instead of stories with characters you’ve always known but now play a different part you just can’t get.
The moment you discover that your life and that of those surrounding you moved on with parallel trajectories rather than on the same straight line is when you nail the point. As Borges says: “Every destiny, for how long and complicated it is, consists only of one moment: the moment a man recognizes forever who he is”. In this case, life for how long and complicated it is, changes perspective forever the moment we realize who we are not anymore: the same as before we left.
Unfortunately I don’t hold the remedy for the “back-home disease”, but I’ve learnt to minimize the effects it has on me every time I go back for holidays.
I’ve learnt to go with the flow. I open my mind, if I’ve been away for one year it’s obvious I must have changed and so have the people at home, things must have happened that I don’t know of, therefore, when someone will tell me something new I just process it quickly and accept it, I don’t think about it that much, I only ask what’s necessary to understand the context and then I just store it as a normal piece of information. That’s how I have achieved integrating myself quickly in the social dynamics without feeling weird or excluded. Yes, I wasn’t there for many events or changes, but I can’t let that get on the way of having fun or chilling with my family and friends. I accept without judging much, without internalizing emotionally; as I said, I process, accept and store everything quickly. Events happen, they are part of the common nature of societies, and unless they are offensive towards me in any way, I don’t have to give them weight they don’t deserve.
I still have hopes of going back and feeling at home. Maybe it’s a matter of time, I’ll find something whilst traveling that will make me want to go back.
The other idea I’ve been having is that even though my home doesn’t seem to offer the challenges and motivations I’d like to have at the moment, actually one of the biggest challenges would be to go back and be happy, serene and satisfied. I left, I changed, but I can come back and do things differently too, make my surroundings evolve too. Maybe, the remedy to the back-home disease is grabbing my life from everyone else’s hands and mouths that never saw me change, and putting it back in mine.