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One Year On: My Thoughts on Post Travel Depression

One year ago yesterday I was arriving back in my home country of New Zealand for the first time in over 2.5 years. It was the longest period I had ever been away despite living overseas in Australia, UK and Canada for nearly ten years.

I had just completed a nearly 13 month trip through North, Central and South America. It was the trip of my lifetime, so far, and it was bound to be hard to readjust from constantly being on the move, experiencing incredible new places and meeting amazing people to being broke, looking for work and sleeping on the floor of my Dad’s studio apartment.

Despite being happy to see friends and family, being back in New Zealand felt like such an anti-climax after travelling for over a year, and planning the trip the two years prior to that. With no travel plans in the pipeline other than our move to Sydney a few months later, I felt lost.

Thoughts on post travel depression and reverse culture shockIt was a strange feeling to arrive back to the place where you were born and bred, somewhere that you had been pining for for over 2 years, to then feel like you don’t belong there anymore. This is how I felt for our first month back in New Zealand. I didn’t want to be there and I felt guilt ridden for feeling like that.

What if I never loved New Zealand again? Where did I belong? Why do I feel so sad when I have just been on the most amazing trip? I was so confused.

I didn’t want to feel this way and I tried to fight it. Some days I felt a sense of joy to be back only to wake up the next morning with a feeling of hopelessness and darkness again. I hadn’t heard of post trip depression a year ago but I have subsequently read a number of posts like this one and this one by fellow travel bloggers referencing it.

I am glad to know that it is a real thing and that I wasn’t the only one to feel that way. I wasn’t alone. That gave me comfort.

We were only back in New Zealand for three months before moving to Sydney. In the last month I started to feel like myself again: real happiness was returning. But moving to Australia brought back the feelings of hopelessness, albeit on a smaller scale. It took me another couple of months to start feeling normal.

In the end it was the passage of time and establishment of a routine that helped me to start feeling truly positive again.

The experience of travelling really does change your perception of the world and the barrage of experiences and sense of freedom it gives you is like a drug. I know now that I can never give it up.

It is a part of who I am and I will not apologise for it.

Thoughts on post travel depression and reverse culture shockBut I also know that I really enjoy having a base as well, a place that I really love spending time in. A place where I can catch up with friends on a regular basis, revisit my favourite bars and restaurants time and again and live in a beautiful apartment decorated with my own stuff.

I want to really get under the skin of the place I am living, I don’t believe this can truly be done in a week, or a month or even a year. I spent 6 years in London and I still feel there was so much more to discover. I want to feel like a local and get involved with the community.

Being able to have all of these things in a place that inspires me every day with its beauty makes me feel very lucky indeed.

Thoughts on post travel depression and reverse culture shockI am so happy to be in Sydney. It is such a beautiful city, geared to people who love nature and the outdoors (i.e. me!) and although I lived here for 18 months nearly 10 years ago, there is so much I didn’t get to see that time around.

So many restaurants to eat at, so many beaches to swim at, so many trails to hike and so many festivals and activities to discover.

We plan to base ourselves here for the next 3-4 years until Trav gets his Australian passport before we move on to the next destination, we really hope that it will be Vancouver. I am certainly not done with that city yet, as living there for six months was nowhere near enough time.

But in the meantime I am going to embrace my new lifestyle by the beach. There are so many things to love about life in Sydney and I intend to enjoy every minute of it while I am here.

Thoughts on post travel depression and reverse culture shockAs much as I love my life in Australia, I also want to do another couple of long term trips in the coming years before we start a family. I am already planning and saving for my next extended trip from June next year, where I will be travelling for around 12 months. I have a loose itinerary planned and I will share this with you soon.

I am excited, but also scared. I really hope that I won’t feel the same sense of desperation again after returning back to Sydney after my next trip. But I believe that I can come through it again. If I do have those feelings, I know that I am not alone and that things will get better.

It might be hard but I know that travel is worth it for me.

36 Comments on One Year on: Thoughts on Post Travel Depression

  1. Although part of me really wants to nest again a settle down a little bit, I know that being back in my home country in a month will quickly feel depressing…
    just like you said, I assume it’s all about creating a routine that helps you to get new roots somewhere, and also : preparing and thinking about the next trip…. waiting for money to make it real…

    • Very true Sandrine and I also think a big part of it is time. A stationary life can be incredibly rewarding as well, you just need to focus on other hobbies that you enjoy – for me that’s hiking, cooking, eating out and visiting markets

      • Hey guess what people it’s a GENE… and I’ve got it too…The gene itself, which is identified as DRD4-7R, has been dubbed the “wanderlust gene,” because of its correlation with increased levels of curiosity and restlessness, for the most part.

        In reality, however, those who carry this genetic information typically share one common theme, a history of traveling.

        The gene is not all too common; in fact, it’s only possessed by about 20 percent of the population. Having said that, there is a much higher prevalence of this gene in regions of the globe where travel has been encouraged in its past.

        Assuming that all forms of human life originated in Africa, Chaunsheng Chen, who conducted a study in 1999, supported the premise that “the DRD4-7r form of the gene [is] more likely to occur in modern day societies where people migrated longer differences from where we first originated in Africa many thousands of years ago.”

        In short, here, Chen implies that civilizations that have diverged further from Africa, the theoretical origin of mankind, are allegedly more susceptible to being carriers of this mutant DRD4-7r gene that is linked to “curiosity and restless.”

        A separate study done by David Dobbs of National Geographic supported these findings – and provided reason not to just draw the link to curiosity and restlessness, but specifically a passion for travel.

        According to Dobbs, the mutant form of the DRD4 gene, 7r, results in people who are “more likely to take risks; explore new places, ideas, foods, relationships, drugs, or sexual opportunities,” he went on to say that bearers of this gene, “generally embrace movement, change, and adventure.”

        In line with Chan, Dobbs also linked the 7r mutation of the DRD4 gene to human migration.

        When compared to sedentary populations, or those who have stayed in the same region for most of their existence, members of present day migratory populations – those with a history of relocating, over time – tend to carry the 7r gene much more commonly.

        Dobbs goes on to highlight a more statistically sound study, conducted a little over a decade later, which supports the notion that 7r, in conjunction with a second genetic variant (2r), “tends to be found more frequently than you would expect by chance in populations whose ancestors migrated longer distances after they moved out of Africa.”

  2. I totally understand that feeling, I felt like you did when I got home from my 18 months overseas in Korea and Sydney. I thought I’d be so happy to be back around family and friends but I was so depressed and moody. I felt like I was grieving! It did get better in a few months but now I’ve been home for over 3 years and I’m dying to move abroad again!

  3. Funny to stumble across this today – we’ve been back in NZ just over a year now. I have to say I was prepared to feel this way, all the RTW bloggers I read described the struggle to readjust, but amazingly we settled right back in. But there are a ton of foods I miss something chronic.

    • It’s funny, I don’t think I have been effected like this before. When I have been living overseas then moved to another country I was fine but after continuous travel for 13 months that is when it hit me. I really hope I never have to go through it again as it’s a horrible feeling. I am glad that you didn’t have to experience it

  4. I remember clearly returning home to NZ after being away for 5 years; seeing the world and just enjoying every second. When I touched down in Auckland I thought to myself this is the end. I lasted 5 days at home before jumping on a plane and heading to Sumatra..I was that freaked out. I spent the next 6 weeks traveling through Indonesia and had an amazing time. It calmed my nerves and when I did go home to NZ I was feeling good. Life has a way of changing things up for you and before long I was on the road again and haven’t really looked back since. NZ will always be home and I do love it there…how could you not 🙂

    • Yea it’s been over 10 years since I have lived back in NZ for more than a couple of months but I can definitely see myself living back there in the future, somewhere with like minded souls like Waiheke Island or Wanaka would be great 🙂

  5. Boy, can I relate to this post and commiserate with you on this.
    Your travelling/drugs analogy was spot on! A single week away from Portugal is enough for me to experience PTSD (as in Posttravel Stress Disorder) when I come back. I love Lisbon but never in my entire life have I felt that I belong here, and visiting new countries exacerbates this every time by reminding me of all the options I have out there and I’m missing out on. I need that sort of adrenaline that comes only with feeling kinda lost somewhere completely new.
    Conversely, I also want to feel like a local everywhere I go. It’s so damn convoluted! 😀

    • I know what you mean, I love discovering new places but also love feeling like a local. I have found the one place that I feel I fit better than anywhere else – Vancouver – but will have to immigrate to live there (which we plan on doing in a couple of years, fingers crossed!). In the meantime Sydney is a great place to base myself and be a local while still exploring between contracts – trying to live the best of both worlds!

  6. I can definitely relate. I’ve never traveled long term, but even when I go on a trip for a couple weeks I get sad being back home. There’s just so much to the world and being home kind of makes me feel like I’m missing out.

  7. Great post, love to read about peoples insight behind their love of travelling and the trials and tribulations that go hand in hand with it. I have never had a long term trip so I can’t fully relate, but I know that even after a few weeks away, returning to England is both a happy and sad time for me – I am happy to see my family and friends, but I also get so depressed that I am back to normality!

  8. Post-travel depression sucks and the worst thing is it hits everyone in a slightly different way so you can never quite be fully prepared for it. Mine snuck up on me slowly and I was still processing my experiences a good six months after I got home. There are so many bloggers I know who gave up everything for their one or two year long trips, and whilst I definitely advocate that people do that it was very painful for me reading their stuff when they were coming to the end of their travels and knowing that post-trip letdown was going to hit them like a tonne of bricks. 🙁

    I’m glad to hear that yours wore off and after 12 months you can have some perspective, but I definitely think that this kind of thing is unavoidable. Fingers crossed it gets easier and next time won’t be so hard.

    • It’s funny because I had thought that it was the first time I had experienced it after this last trip but looking back I realise that I also experienced it after moving back to London after an amazing year travelling and living in Vancouver and Auckland short term. I just didn’t realise it at the time, I just thought that I hated London and didn’t want to be back there

  9. Thank you for writing this—you know that what you’ve described here is something that I’ve been struggling with lately, so it’s always nice to be reminded that I’m no alone in feeling unhappy now that I’m “home”. I’m glad to hear that you’re loving life in Sydney but that you still are able to pursue traveling while also feeling fulfilled when you’re at home.

    • You are definitely not alone Steph. I still have down days but I had those before I went travelling too so I am pretty much back to normal. The road is always calling me but I do appreciate where I live greatly to.

  10. It is great to read your perspective. The idea of long-term travel is so enticing, although not something we are prepared to do at this stage in our lives. It is fabulous that not only have you done it, but are planning to continue. I can only imagine how odd it must be to stop traveling and return and see where everyone else is in their lives and how you have changed and how they have or haven’t.

  11. I haven’t been gone from home for that long, but I totally know what you mean. Recently, I went back home for 3 weeks to plan for our next trip (a one way ticket this time!) and I was really really nervous. I was scared that some people couldn’t relate anymore, and that it wouldn’t feel like home anymore. It did feel incredibly boring, but I knew I was leaving soon again so it was easy to deal with. Now, I can’t even imagine being back permanently! I do crave some stability and just living somewhere instead of being constantly on the move, so we are “shopping” for new places to live in other countries/cities we like! I think your plan sounds wonderful… mixing settling down somewhere with extended travel!

  12. We head back to Canada in less than three weeks and on one hand I am very much looking forward to having a base, a routine, and reconnecting with friends and the city we love, but I am also very curious to see how I fare post-trip. I take comfort in hearing about the readjustment from other bloggers…I know I will have a community of understanding, even if it isn’t in person!

    • You definitely won’t be alone Emily. You may be fine, I always was before but this was my longest trip away and I was moving countries too. Just keep yourself busy if you do feel depressed and know that it gets better 🙂

  13. Beautifully written and I can completely relate… every time I come back from another trip, whether they’re big or small, I feel a little less interested in “normal” life and a little more detached from it all… that’s why it’s always good to have the next adventure on the radar 😉

  14. I can definitely relate to this, at least on a much small scale. I’ve never been able to travel for that length of time, but I feel like the longer I’m gone, the harder it is to readjust to life back home. Travel really does change you, but you come back to a place that’s stayed the same. I can only imagine how much more difficult it must be to return after long term travel. Luckily you have more in your future to look forward to!

    • I have also felt it to an extent after shorter trips. It always feels like a bit of an anti-climax. Having more travel to look forward to now definitely helps! I am also really looking forward to summer in Sydney and all the awesome things I am going to do here too 🙂

  15. This is such a good post. I remember when I studied abroad in college. I was a mess the next semester when I had gone from eastern Europe to plain old ohio. Its so hard to adjust from adventure to normal life, especially when normal life is just about scrambling to find a job and do other un-fun things.

  16. I can definitely relate to your feelings of detachment when you return home after a long time away, but I’m happy to see you’re facing the next stage in your travels with optimism 🙂 Good luck!

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