The other night, I cooked a big bowl of pasta, poured a glass of wine, and put on Woody Allen’s To Rome With Love. Around me are multiple boxes in various stages of disarray, as I’m unpacking everything I packed last spring to reorganize it all and figure out what I’m taking to London. There are souvenirs from past travels scattered everywhere, a painting from Lithuania, masks from Japan, a really, really weird puppet from Nicaragua that I must have purchased while I was half-delirious with heat and humidity. I’ve been around the world and I’ve done a lot of amazing things. I have an incredible year ahead of me, one with a new city to call my home, with lots of adventures, and with lots of friend and family time.
Then why the hell do I feel so sad??
Sad isn’t really the word for it – I feel low, I have no energy, I can’t sleep. I don’t have the motivation to organize, to see friends, to write. And last night at 2am I totally cried at the end of Revenge of the Nerds.
It could be the fact that it’s January, or that it’s freezing cold outside. It could be because I have an unbelievable amount of things to do in the next few weeks before hopefully moving to London. Or it could be because I just finished an incredible adventure, one which was basically a massive mind-blowing high for a solid eight months and now I have the post-vacation blues. (It’s probably a combination of all of these things, but for the sake of this post, let’s just stick with the last point.)
The post-vacation blues, or post-holiday blues as my soon-to-be countrymen would say, are very real. Also called post-trip depression, it is the sort of ailment that will often elicit very little sympathy from other people. “Oh boo-boo,” they might say. “You just got back from an a-maz-ing holiday. Poor you.” But I implore you to find a traveller who (as long as he or she had a good time) doesn’t feel a little bit bummed, if not a lot bummed, upon returning home. It doesn’t matter if it was a week holiday to the Bahamas or a two-year round-the-world stint, post-trip depression can hit, and can hit hard.
There are never going to be any cure-all, guaranteed tips that will help get over the post-travel blues, but here are a few things I’ve done in the past (and should be doing right this very moment):
1. “Don’t be sad that it’s over, smile because it happened.” Yuck. I’m pretty sure I had that on a fridge magnet in 1998. Although this ridiculously trite saying makes me cringe, I have to admit that the sentiment is totally true. Sure, I can lament that I’d rather be in Colombia right now, and that I had the best time of my life and now that time is over, but that would be a waste of my focus. Instead, I should look back on those times, be thankful that I experienced them, and reflect on why exactly they were the best of my life. Was it because I was doing new things every day, meeting new people, learning and laughing and living? Well, that leads me to my next point.
2. Get out there. Although the thought of staying home and being a hermit and wearing my new flannel shirt from Canadian Superstore for a week straight is beyond tempting (seriously, it’s so comfortable), I know that doing that will only bring me down even more. I also know that, just because I’m in Canada, it doesn’t mean that I can’t go out and do exactly the things I loved the most about being in South America; I can still learn, I can still laugh, I can still make new friends and do things I’ve never done before. Get out and explore, be a tourist in your hometown. Talk to people. Go to the museum. Try a new restaurant.
3. Organize your memories, whatever they may be. Edit photos and videos, make a scrapbook, write in a blog or a journal, or even just share your stories with friends. I find I can watch videos I took during my past travels and still howl with laughter, or look at photos from places I’ve been and still have to pinch myself to believe I was really there. It reminds you of all the good times, and smiling really does make you feel better.
4. Recreate your holiday at home. You know, minus the cockroaches and the man with B.O. who fell asleep on your shoulder for the entire bus ride through Northern Chile. Try to cook the food you enjoyed, listen to the country’s music on YouTube, join a language group, watch movies from that part of the world. If you really loved a place, pay it back by appreciating its culture even when you’ve long returned to your native country.
5. Talk to the people who were there with you. Even if you were a solo traveller, odds are you met a few people along the way. I’ve met dozens of friends throughout my years on the road, and I absolutely love reminiscing about our time together in foreign lands. I Skyped with my friend Mark a few nights ago for over two hours, and we talked for no more than ten minutes about our current lives. The rest of it was all about the hilarious things that happened in Argentina and Uruguay. It felt so good to share those things with someone who had actually been there with me, and who understood my feelings of travel withdrawal.
6. Start planning the next holiday. I know it will be a while before I do another huge adventure like the ones I did in 2006, 2011, or 2012. That’s not going to stop me from planning them anyway, thinking of travelling the Silk Road, volunteering in Uganda, or of visiting Antarctica. Even more realistic, I’m planning the shorter trips I’ll take this year: seeing my sister in Israel, visiting friends in Holland, and attending TBEX in Ireland. I’m already drafting up a plan on how to save money, and already buying guidebooks. Even if it’s just a weekend at the cottage, start planning your next little adventure and how you can make it the best it can be.
At the end of the day, I have to remind myself that it’s totally natural to feel blue sometimes, especially after coming down off a fantastic holiday (another sad fact, I also cried when hearing this song on the radio recently. What do those lyrics even mean??). I’m constantly talking to my friends and family about it all, and I’m so lucky to have a strong network of people in my life. Yesterday I went out for lunch with my dad to a South American restaurant; I ordered a Uruguayan chivito sandwich and a Quilmes beer, and we laughed over stories I told him about Argentina. There was a large photograph of the Obelisco de Buenos Aires hanging on the wall, and I excitedly told him about the time Mark and I drunkenly ran across the huge boulevards just south of it, in search of steak and (more) wine at midnight. My cheeks hurt from smiling so much.