PTB or Post-travel Blues can afflict anyone. I am always glad to be back home, safely, and badly in need of rest and home cooked food. This was true even when I had to go to work the next day. Then I learned to have a “buffer” day to recover before heading back to work after my longer trips. Now that I am retired, I regret to inform you that I have never come close to having PTB.
I found this article on Thanksgiving morning. If you have ever contracted it, please let me know. I would be interested in knowing what it feels like.
Post-travel blues is the form of sadness that some travelers can experience once they return from a trip. This can range from being disappointed that you’re not sitting atop Table Mountain anymore to becoming seriously confused, frustrated and miserable that your home life pales in comparison to the freedom you experienced on your adventures.
“I call it a vacation hangover,” says Karen Schaler, host of American series Travel Therapy TV. “You come back from a great trip and then you are depressed because it’s now back to reality.”
Why do we experience it?
In a nutshell, we get the blues because we start comparing our life at home to the trip we’ve just come back from. The spontaneity we revel in while traveling and the liberty of having no fixed plan is part of what makes the experience so enjoyable. Back home, the usual rituals of regular life can appear almost mind-numbing at first. Perhaps I visit too many third and fourth world countries to ever get PTB.
You find yourself comparing details – the culture, the society, the people – even if it’s subconsciously; more often than not these contrasts can enhance your anxieties.
“Traveling naturally causes you to re-evaluate your own life and environment, which can bring dissatisfactions to the surface,” explains Dr. Alice Boyes, author of The Anxiety Toolkit.
For those people who do experience this, there are ways to maximize the positives of a trip to stop that feeling from setting in.
One way to navigate the perceived gap between your thrilling adventures and your everyday life is to try to incorporate the best bits of your trip into your life back home. For example, if you’re a bit of a foodie, relive some of your trip’s best meals by cooking them, visiting ethnic supermarkets to pick up the ingredients. Play the music of the country you miss or delve deeper into its history by visiting any museums with displays or exhibitions on its culture.
Travel psychologist Michael Brein says merging experiences from our travels with our regular lives should start to happen naturally: “Once we begin to appreciate what made us happiest on our travels, we should soon begin to carry that over at home. We see the sights and museums overseas, and after traveling we start to realize we can still explore that country at home.”
Embrace your own backyard
Being back home doesn’t have to mean settling into the same old routine. Have a look around: there might be a secret wilderness you’ve never unearthed, a prime landmark you’ve never properly visited, a wealth of fascinating local history you can delve into. You can have a great travel experience on your doorstep.
“Even if it’s just a quick day trip somewhere to try a new restaurant, knowing you have another adventure looming, no matter how small, will keep you inspired,” adds Karen.
It’s not just what you can see on your return that matters, but also who you can see. “I make sure I see one of my friends the day I get home, even if it’s just for a cup of coffee,” explains travel blogger Robert Schrader. “Reminding yourself of the treasures of being home is one of the easiest ways to manifest thankfulness.”
Remember the good times
While it’s not necessarily good to dwell on a trip for too long, that’s not to say you shouldn’t remember it. Keeping a diary throughout your adventure is a simple but effective way of reminiscing over the good times – add some of your best photos to it as well.
“Some people make a scrapbook, or blow up photos and hang them on the wall, not only as beautiful reminders for themselves, but as a delightful escape for everyone who comes into the home,” says Robert. Looking at a map of the route you followed, as well as photos you took along the way, will also help you re-engage with that sense of excitement.
Keep on traveling!
Probably the best antidote to the post-travel blues – and something Wanderlust heartily recommends – is to start planning your next trip. Get out the guidebooks, pore over the atlas, stick pins in the map – all of these things will help you stay focused on the future rather than stuck in the past. It always helps to have a positive goal to focus on.
“Even if it’s months down the road, just the planning will help keep your spirits up because you’ll then have something to look forward to,” says Karen. Also, the more travel you do, the better you’ll become at coping with the coming home.
So, if you find yourself staring longingly at the suitcase in the hall after returning home, get out and explore what’s outside your front door – inject some of that adventurous spirit into your immediate environment. And, while you’re at it, start jotting down an itinerary for your next big adventure.
When did you first experience ‘post-travel blues’?
When I backpacked around West Africa as a 19 year-old. I spent three months drifting aimlessly through lesser-visited areas where everyone chatted and looked after one another despite being strangers. Suddenly I found myself on the London Underground where nobody even caught each other’s eyes.
Why do people get post-travel blues?
When travelling, we spend a lot of time outside our comfort zones. This can be exhausting. However, travelers are constantly challenged, seeing and learning new things. The return to familiarity and routine can be jolting as the brain has become acclimatized to a different way of thinking. I’ve experienced a sense of boredom upon homecoming, as ‘normal life’ simply doesn’t seem exciting enough.
How did you treat your blues?
I make resolutions for life after my return – to read a book each week or develop new skills. Getting home and seeing friends can be so cozy that those aspirations evaporate, so I try to write down my goals while still on the road and then work on them when I get home, with a monthly progress assessment. Also, planning another trip is always a reliable antidote. Looking back can be enjoyable but looking forward is healthier.
Is there anything to avoid?
When I returned from my 4.5-year bike expedition, I rushed into a job that my heart wasn’t in. I was desperate for a half-decent income and a semblance of normality. It felt good at first but I soon realized I should have spent more time considering my options. I would have been better served accepting more time on a shoestring and picking up part-time work to allow longer to settle back in and gain my bearings.
At this point in my life, I found that nearly 3 weeks in SE Asia (last October) was too long to be on the road, and away from the comforts of home. My longest trip, nearly a month on the Trans Siberian Railway (with several stops) was a little easier, since I did not have as many airports and flights to deal with. And a single language that I did not understand! The train (or for you cruise ship types) is the least stressful way to travel, provided you don’t miss your train (I missed two trains, with much anxiety).
I have yet to take a long car trip as an adult. It should prove to be interesting, as long as I don’t over plan it. Spending two weeks driving across Montana and Wyoming was a glimpse into life on the road. It wasn’t bad, and it left a desire to try something a little longer, and a bit more adventurous.