Reentry After a Long Time Away

First, we’re back in Boston! We got back in early May and slowly readjusted (and continue to readjust) back to ours lives in the U.S. We were gone for almost exactly 3 months – about 13 weeks total. This is my 4th re-entry after a multi-month trip, yet the feelings of the transition still catch me by surprise every time. Reading my blog entries from after we got back from South America and the reverse culture shock I felt after our trip to Europe help remind me that it’s a transition to be recognized.

For David, the transition home always seems easy – hooray! We have a full kitchen! I can go to the gym! We’re home – yay! 

David got some working out in while on the road but is happy to be back at his gym

For me, it always feels more complicated. First, I am happy to be home – in my home, seeing my family and friends. But at the same time, I have a rush of less pleasant emotions. I’m overwhelmed by the sheer amount of (physical) stuff to deal with. Finding and reorganizing all of the stuff I packed away so that someone else could live in our house is no small feat. I also got very used to only having 2 pairs of shoes, 6 shirts, and a backpack full of stuff – now there is so much to choose from – it feels overly complicated. In general, I felt a sense of being overwhelmed.

This visual from Small Planet Studio very well depicts my reentry experience. The tip of the iceberg is the very obvious and clear things that happen; the bottom of the iceberg is all the stuff that stewing below the surface that you hardly even recognize is there.

I got very used to the rhythm of our days while traveling. Being home, I feel lost on how to structure my day and what to do with myself – again, so many options. While traveling, I felt almost no guilt in just enjoying myself (though occasionally stressing over the need to plan the next leg of the trip). Here, I feel this constant guilt hanging over me that I should be doing something productive/off a to do list all the time. I’ve found myself more moody and reactionary than usual.

There is a certain sadness of going from doing this awesome thing being a traveler meeting all these people, being abroad, and having all these experiences, to being home, semi-employed, and trying to figure out what’s next. There is both a feeling of loss/mourning and a feeling of being lost.

These books are no longer guiding the planning of my week

When I confided in a well-traveled friend about feeling overwhelmed during my reentry, she very wisely said “Give it time, honor it, respect it”. That’s some good advice! She also said that during each of her reentries, she builds in a kind of retreat for herself on the way home to reflect and begin the transition, saying “it’s just too weird for me to go from everything different and new to everything the same as always and familiar”.

Some travel bloggers I follow recently posted the link to a webinar titled How to Find Your Spark After Living Abroad from Small Planet Studio. I thought that sounded like me,  attended the live version, and really enjoyed it. I’m not 100% sure that I now know how to find my spark/my plan from here, but it was so reassuring to hear how normal and common it is for people to have the same feelings. If you’re struggling with re-entry, Small Planet Studio seems like a great resource. I’m trying to evaluate what I really liked about/while traveling and seeing what I can integrate into my life at home.

We spent 13 weeks together 24 hours a day with no more than a few hours apart at a time. It felt weird to be away from each other for 5 hours straight when we came home!

I decided to write this blog entry as a means of reflection and processing, not because I have the answers for how to smoothly transition home after time abroad. I do hope that it is helpful for other people transitioning through reentry, even if in no other way but as a way to say “you’re not alone, this is normal!” – and to reread myself when I have my next reentry!

[David’s note: Maybe I just make everything look easy 😉 but coming home does trigger an existential crisis for me as well. Though I enjoy taking the time to drift and try to find the next project that interests me. At the end of the day I know that I’ll be working in software again, so maybe that’s why I don’t feel as overwhelmed as Jenny does.]

4 thoughts on “Reentry After a Long Time Away

  1. This is a fascinating concept I had not even considered as we prepare for a long trip to Mexico and Europe. Prior to our upcoming travel, the longest trip we’ve taken was 3 weeks, and I felt downright anxious about coming home. Of course, at that time, I was working full time so coming home also meant returning to the daily grind of my job. My husband and I just recently retired and are looking forward to next month when we start our 5 month travel adventure. I anticipated having mixed emotions at the end of the trip: excitement to be home and sleeping in my bed and cooking in my kitchen, as well as missing the excitement of travel and new experiences. But, I assumed it would be a fleeting emotion felt on our plane ride home. I will be following your blog for tips and be more prepared for this aspect of our trip!

    1. You’d be surprised how sleeping in someone else’s bed and using someone else’s kitchen gets familiar really quickly – constant change is what becomes normal and ‘home’. But it also feels good to be back in your own home! Best of luck on your 5 month journey.

  2. Jenny, we have been back in the US for a year after traveling for our year around the world and we are still trying to “repatriate”. I totally can relate to all the mixed emotions you are having and appreciate how well you articulated what you are going through. Maybe we need to start a “Traveler’s Anonymous” group: Hi, my name is Karen, it has been 60 days since I have travelled. . . “

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