Vagabonding book club: chapter 11: coming home

wolfe island

“Of all the adventures and challenges that wait on the vagabonding road, the most difficult can be the act of coming home. On a certain level, coming home will be a drag because it signals the end of all the fun, freedom and serendipity that you enjoyed on the road. But on a less tangible level, returning home after a vivd experience overseas can be just plain weird and unsettling. Every aspect of home will look more or less like it did when you left, but it will feel completely different.”

Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel, Chapter 11 by Rolf Potts

Of all of the journeys we make the journey home is often the most displacing. 

When we take off from everything we know and dive, head long, into the great and glorious unknown, we do so knowing that there will be discomforts, things will shock us and we’ll be confused. We are mentally and emotionally prepared for the culture shock and the disparity between everything we are, everything we know, and the new realities that will engulf us.

In coming home, we often don’t take into account that, after an extended time away, living in an entirely different reality, we’re doing the very same thing in reverse. We hit the ground taking for granted that everything will be the same, assuming that we know what to expect, feeling as if it should all be easy. Except it’s not.

For me, the hard things aren’t what one would expect to be difficult: Big box stores completely overwhelm me, after a year of shopping in markets and corner stores. The onslaught of language on my senses: In my second and subsequent languages, I can choose what to make the effort to read and filter what I don’t want to bother with. In English, I can’t help but read every single word. I can listen to one conversation at a time, and let the background chatter in a foreign language rush by me. In English, I hear the guy three rows behind me in the bus complaining about his girlfriend’s mother and it drives me batty. It’s having to make a choice between twenty brands of ketchup. It’s Fox New’s trite treatment of a country no one can find on a map. It’s the sudden lack of Kinder Eggs.

It never fails, I hit the ground expecting “home” in all of it’s warm and comforting glory, and instead I find that I’m once again an alien in a strange land. It only helps marginally to remember that it’s me, not “them.” On seven levels, re-entry is wonderful. On seven more, it’s unsettling, and hard to navigate without weirding out the people who love us most. I’ve learned three things that seem to help somewhat:

  1. Talk less. (I love Walt Whitman’s admonition to, “leave the best untold.”)
  2. Listen more. (This is our approach abroad, when we’re trying to learn, why not at home?)
  3. Give it time. (In time you’ll find the ways in which the you you’ve become will integrate and enrich everything you rediscover at home.)

What about you? What are your experiences with re-entry and coming home? What have you learned? How has it changed you?

Posted by | Comments (2)  | July 29, 2014
Category: Travel Writing

2 Responses to “Vagabonding book club: chapter 11: coming home”

  1. Ric Moore Says:

    Coming home after 4 months, I was in a bit of a funk. ‘Nothing’ had changed, people were polite and asked how my trip went but I could tell they were just being polite. On occasion I would deliberately not say too much to see if they would keep on asking questions – most of them didn’t.
    Work was the same old, same old; news in the newspaper and television was the same old stuff.
    I finally shook the ‘blues’ – I am planning my next trip, fully engrossed in planning and loving it! And the world around me now? The same but now I have a bigger smile on my face.

  2. Roger Says:

    My family and I recently returned from a three week trip to Europe (Germany, England, and Netherlands). At least we came back on a Friday, and had the weekend to adjust before going back to work. Many times, in the past, I’ve come home from a trip overseas and gone to work the next day. That is really hard, with no time to decompress, before slamming back into reality. Still, it’s very hard to come back to earth when you’ve been enjoying yourself in another land among different people and customs. Experiencing both realities “like an alien” is pretty amazing.