Most travelers who have been away for a time experience reverse culture shock once they get home.
After more than three years on the road I know I did.
Nothing felt right. Traffic lights scared me. I couldn't understand why anyone would take an elevator for only four or five floors. Everything seemed wasteful and superficial. The food was awful.
Eventually I started fitting in again, got a job, acquired more possessions, and life went on. I had changed inside, but I slowly fell back into life as it once was - even though it wasn't altogether comfortable.
This kind of estrangement is a real feeling for many of us after a spell traveling or living abroad.
The best preparation is... preparation! Be ready for it, because it'll probably strike, even if you've been on the road for just a few months.
The best defense against reverse culture shock is to plan your return home before you leave.
Had I realized this sooner I might have saved myself some grief and bewilderment, but there are some things you can keep in mind about your touchdown:
On the practical side, you can avoid reverse culture shock by putting some of the following arrangements in place before you go:
You're home now, and many things don't feel right. How can you ease back into a life that no longer seems to belong to you?
Here are a few ideas.
Have a big party
Invite all your friends over - and don't talk about your trip. That's right. Talk about them and their lives instead. Find out what you've missed and what's changed, who is married and who is divorced, who changed jobs or had children. It'll help you rebuild your community.
Keep in touch with your foreign friends
Just because you're returning home doesn't mean you've disappeared off the planet. Email the many friends you've made on the road. Invite some of them to stay with you when they travel your way. Share your return trip impressions with them. Find out where they're headed to (although beware, it might be too much to take if you've got itchy feet!)
Capture your memories
You can do that in many ways. You can print out your blog and put it in a binder with photos of your trip. You can write a final wrap-up blog post. You can put your souvenirs on a special shelf or wall. Or make a scrapbook. Don't be depressed, you're not saying goodbye to travel. You're only filing things away for future contemplation. And if the travel muse pursues you, you can always pull everything out, and reminisce.
Go to a restaurant that reminds you of your trip
Did you just spend a year in Southeast Asia? Find a great and authentic Thai or Vietnamese restaurant. Just back from South America? Time for a Brazilian rodizio.
Join a language or cultural group
If you were in one place long enough to learn a new language or get to know the culture, don't lose that when you get home. Join a language group or a cultural group from the country you lived in. Make the Alliance Française or British Council your second home. Or why not the China Cooking Club or the Argentinian Tango Association?
Help others on a travel forum
Don't let all that great experience go to waste. Plenty of traveling or expat women out there need your help. This may be their first solo trip or posting abroad. They could be uncertain or scared or first-timers looking for more confidence. You can pay it forward by passing on some of your special knowledge.
Be grateful to be home
Enjoy your family and friends. Remember how fortunate you are to have a place to return to. Think of what you've missed, and try to catch up.
Plan your next trip
If you're part of the diehard breed of nomadic can't-sit-still women, start planning. There's nothing to lift those post-travel blues like planning for your next grand tour.
This may surprise you but it is a bit like a death: the death of your old life and like its counterpart, there are several stages through which you'll have to pass through.
When you first get home you'll be happy, your family will be happy, your dog will be thrilled, and many people will want to know what it was like (at least those with an interest in travel). But the novelty will soon wear out and you may begin to remember why you left.
You may feel confused, as in "What do I do now?" Traveling was so intense but these days, you're sleeping late, lazing in front of the television, catching up with friends... whatever you're doing, it may be less exciting that zipping across international borders or sipping coffee in some strange land.
Eventually the pendulum will swing and what's here and now will become more real than what was there and then. In other words, you'll get used to your life and learn to change what you need to change and keep the rest. In time your travels may become a distant memory, to be cherished, but not to be hugged until the breath goes out of them.
Then you may have no choice but to try some of the following last-ditch tactics once you're back home:
Joking apart, reverse culture shock does have its positive sides and one of the most wonderful things about long-term travel or living abroad is the wealth of experience and understanding you bring back with you when you return home.
Hang on to that open-mindedness, and share what you've learned. You'll make your world a better place because of your travels.
And you'll soon appreciate what you left behind.
Have you had any good (or bad) experiences returning home? Please do share them in the comments below!