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The Hardest Part Of Traveling No One Talks About

You see the world, try new things, meet new people, fall in love, visit amazing places, learn about other cultures – then it’s all over. People always talk about leaving, but what about coming home?

We talk about the hard parts while we’re away – finding jobs, making real friends, staying safe, learning social norms, misreading people you think you can trust – but these are all parts you get through. All of these lows are erased by the complete highs you experience. The goodbyes are difficult but you know they are coming, especially when you take the final step of purchasing your plane ticket home. All of these sad goodbyes are bolstered by the reunion with your family and friends you have pictured in your head since leaving in the first place.

Then you return home, have your reunions, spend your first two weeks meeting with family and friends, catch up, tell stories, reminisce, etc. You’re Hollywood for the first few weeks back and it’s all new and exciting. And then it all just…goes away. Everyone gets used to you being home, you’re not the new shiny object anymore and the questions start coming: So do you have a job yet? What’s your plan? Are you dating anyone? How does your 401k look for retirement? (Ok, a little dramatic on my part.)

But the sad part is once you’ve done your obligatory visits for being away for a year; you’re sitting in your childhood bedroom and realize nothing has changed. You’re glad everyone is happy and healthy and yes, people have gotten new jobs, boyfriends, engagements, etc., but part of you is screaming don’t you understand how much I have changed? And I don’t mean hair, weight, dress or anything else that has to do with appearance. I mean what’s going on inside of your head. The way your dreams have changed, they way you perceive people differently, the habits you’re happy you lost, the new things that are important to you. You want everyone to recognize this and you want to share and discuss it, but there’s no way to describe the way your spirit evolves when you leave everything you know behind and force yourself to use your brain in a real capacity, not on a written test in school. You know you’re thinking differently because you experience it every second of every day inside your head, but how do you communicate that to others?

You feel angry. You feel lost. You have moments where you feel like it wasn’t worth it because nothing has changed but then you feel like it’s the only thing you’ve done that is important because it changed everything. What is the solution to this side of traveling? It’s like learning a foreign language that no one around you speaks so there is no way to communicate to them how you really feel.

This is why once you’ve traveled for the first time all you want to do is leave again. They call it the travel bug, but really it’s the effort to return to a place where you are surrounded by people who speak the same language as you. Not English or Spanish or Mandarin or Portuguese, but that language where others know what it’s like to leave, change, grow, experience, learn, then go home again and feel more lost in your hometown then you did in the most foreign place you visited.

This is the hardest part about traveling, and it’s the very reason why we all run away again.16

Author Kellie Donnelly is a PR girl living in Indiana and navigating the awkward post-college years. Read more of her pieces on Thought Catalog.



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  • Debbie Sakson May 23, 2015 at 10:19 am

    That was excellent article about travelling and I agree with the fact that people only talk about charm and there are number of other aspects of travelling that most of the time goes wrong.

  • Jenny September 14, 2015 at 11:45 pm

    Wow… just how i feel. Thank u for making me understand that im not alone feeling like this. Its horrible.

    Thank you for awesome reading,

    Cheers Jenny from Sweden

  • Caitlin September 15, 2015 at 4:34 am

    This is really resonating with me right now. I’m not technically taking off on my “year abroad” for another two weeks, but I’ve spent the majority of the last two months away, with the last week in NZ. It’s a shorter timeframe, but similar principles. I got back home yesterday and my sister was the first person I saw. She said hello, and went straight into talking work. It kind of killed the buzz of having just returned. It’s almost a feeling of just not being “home” anymore. It’s like you don’t quite belong there anymore.

  • Annemarie September 15, 2015 at 10:01 pm

    Very true! Thanks for writing this, it speaks to me so much. I am currently in this situation and nothing is working out at the momet, it’s frustrating and even though I am told that I am understood, it doesn’t actually seem to be the case. It’s hard for non-travellers to understand travellers, I know but still…

  • Desire bellomi September 16, 2015 at 8:51 pm

    Fantastic… and absolutely true… what a great write… I’m sharing. Thank you

  • Sange September 17, 2015 at 6:51 am

    Amazing way to put into words what so many of us feel. That by travelling literally changes the make up of every cell in your body and there is no way to express that to those who never leave home to explore the world, but more importantly, explore themselves!

  • Tom September 17, 2015 at 12:39 pm

    Really nice to read. Thought it was really weird to feel like shit when you come back from travelling. Thanks!

    The Netherlands

  • Maz September 17, 2015 at 8:54 pm

    I’ve felt this too – but where’s the acknowledgement that the people who weren’t travelling at the same time might just also have changed habits, dreams, opinions. It’s life. For everyone. Everyone has their own stuff going on and just because last year I traveled, I think my habits and dreams changed more in the years before I left than they did while I was traveling. And boy oh boy the changes that have happened within in the time since I have been back a also hugely significant…

  • Jules September 18, 2015 at 3:26 am

    You do write beautifully and put in words very well the feeling of distance there is between traveller and non-travellers upon returning. However, it does feel like you’re describing precisely a real problem but that advices (the helpful part for your readers) are missing.

    I’d be very curious to hear about different tips and tricks to cope with that emotional distance. It would also be interesting that you share with us some way to reconnect with those friends and family members that were part of our family eversince we were born until we left abroad. After all, they contributed to make us the intelligent and couragous person that was ready to take a leap and be out of our comfort zone for a long journey and they are likely to be part of our future. Should we didtch them every time we get the blues, in order to get high on new friends, culture, beauties and new experiences? Or is there something we can bring back from our travels ans apply in our life at home that will improve our life and the one of those around us? Keep up the good work.

  • Valentina September 21, 2015 at 9:42 am

    That was quite profound. As sad as it is, it is at least nice to realize such a feeling is shared by other travellers…
    Btw excellent writing!

  • Arthur September 21, 2015 at 8:38 pm

    Sounds like you have a severe case of Reverse Culture Shock.
    I hope it comforts you and others to know that many of us experience this sometime or another 😉

  • Sara Kjeldsen September 24, 2015 at 1:45 am

    This spoke very deeply to me. It’s always necessary to see family and friends at home, but I can never stay for long. One month is too long to not go somewhere new. Permanent wanderlust! <3

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  • Jeremy September 27, 2015 at 4:35 pm

    So wonderfully, wonderfully said. And observed. Thank you very much for posting this.

  • Tess September 28, 2015 at 3:23 pm

    My goodness, I know the feeling. I think the worst part is feeling like you’ll forget it – forget all the changes you’ve made and things you’ve been through. Gotta just book more travel to make up for it 😉

  • Marie September 29, 2015 at 11:35 am

    Yes, sure, but since when did it become the responsibility of others to recognize the change within you? I’ve spent several years abroad, so understand the profound transformation travel can have on your spirit, perspective, and life goals; however, if you come home and suddenly don’t feel special because you’re no longer “Hollywood,” then you haven’t changed enough. I guess I’m just tired of listening to the social media-driven representation that those who travel live, while others (many who cannot leave their homes for financial, physical, etc. reasons) do not. Yes, travel is important and a great time, but let’s not forget the importance of recognizing and appreciating our roots–even if these roots don’t always acknowledge the growth we undergo.

    • Erika October 28, 2015 at 3:59 am

      Yes!! Real truth here. Traveling is great, but theres more to life then that. Many people do live and they don’t travel. Many people are working on their own community and many people just have lives that they are living at home.
      I love traveling! But I also love seeing my friends and having my hobbies.

  • Avva October 1, 2015 at 9:47 pm

    Thanks for putting my feelings in words… Already back from oz for a month and I sometimes have those moments of deep sadness when I’m really about to cry ! When you’re used to be surrounded by open-minded, easy going, positive and smiley mates, to be back in France with narrow-minded, complaining, negative and angry people it’s killing me !

  • Andre October 23, 2015 at 10:14 pm

    I couldn’t agree more with this. You always feel you’re the only one who’s having these thoughts. But this story proves otherwise.

  • Amy October 25, 2015 at 6:16 pm

    You don’t understand how perfect this was to me exactly now. I’m sat in my childhood room thinking of what the life I literally just came back from and feeling so lost, like did it even happen? I’ve visited everyone I missed here, that excitement is over. I have my mum constantly on my back about my future. I have no motivation to try and get a job. All I want to do is set off again. Thank you for making me feel less alone.

  • Lisa October 27, 2015 at 3:09 am

    When you can be still and sit comfortably with those uncomfortable “feeling” the ability to communicate your emotions may flow more easily. from a place of wonder, joy, honor, serenity and grace.
    No one is ever alone or lost…not as long as the heart is beating, brave, bold and full of beauty.
    Love is abounding , abundant, growing…within.xo

  • Luisa October 27, 2015 at 8:22 pm

    I am going through this right now, but I am doing my best to stay on the bright side. While people don’t change while you are away, you change and you bring that change back with you and that is a great and beautiful thing because you can also transfer that change on to others in a positive way. I’ve been pretty lucky because coming home has made me realise how much I still want to do and how much I need to stay on track to make sure I don’t return to old habits. To me that is a great motivation to keep going on a life project of self-discovery. So what I am trying to say is that I totally agree with you, but that we should see this situation as an opportunity, you can have moments of grief and melancholy but also use it to power your next move. Or at least, the idea of doing so makes me feel better about what I am going through right now. 🙂

  • Claus November 22, 2015 at 1:31 am

    I have just returned to Vancouver two days ago, after over two years abroad, and although right now the excitement of seeing friends and family is high, I have been feeling quite anxious about my return for the reasons mentioned in this post.

    I have lived in Vancouver for half my life, but having experienced the “coming back blues” after a year away in the past, I’m worried about how I’ll feel this time around. It’s weird because even though this is the city where I’ve spent the largest part of my life in, and even though I’ve met many people over the years, I feel out of place right now!

  • Sarah December 9, 2015 at 3:14 am

    I just moved home 2.5 months ago after 8 years abroad. I couldn’t have said it any better. This is how I have felt for the last month, so thank you for putting it into words. Just..thanks.

  • Adrienne January 5, 2016 at 11:01 am

    I’m currently away from home, traveling for the last 11 months. I still have a couple months to go before heading back… I’m terrified about the idea of going back to face reality.

  • Judy January 7, 2016 at 6:51 am

    This is so true! I just went from Japan to Tunisia by myself for 3 weeks! It was the trip of a lifetime! Sure it was a bit dangerous but so is driving down the street in your hometown! Friends tried to talk me out of it, but I did it and had the time of my life! First time to Africa too!

  • Tonya February 3, 2016 at 3:30 pm

    I hear this quite often from young travelers. The beauty is you don’t have to make a living to make a life and you can work while traveling.

  • Lindsay February 3, 2016 at 4:07 pm

    Absolutely amazing and so well written. I’ve lost a lot of friendships because of this, but the ones that have held on are the ones that understand even a sliver of what this turmoil feels like. Thank you for sharing this, it’s a fabulous piece.

  • Jennifer St Louis February 3, 2016 at 4:33 pm

    Wow, this hits so close to home. This is why I never want to stop traveling. Thank you!

  • Christina Wagar February 3, 2016 at 5:43 pm

    Thought provoking piece! I have never embarked on a very long adventure but this gives a good insight.

  • Michaela February 3, 2016 at 7:30 pm

    I had exactly the same feeling after coming back home from Erasmus (only 5 months!), and guess what… 1 year later I left my family and boyfriend (the second for good!) and moved to the European capital… I still remember the feeling and its graduation just few months after being home…

  • Tania Mukherjee February 4, 2016 at 3:59 am

    Yes, it is such an odd feeling, expressing it in words becomes difficult. Infact I myself sometimes fail to understand what is it that I am feeling, is it sorrow, is it homesickness but then I remember I am at home surrounded by people I love, people who loves me, then the explanation don’t make much sense!

  • Sarah Harding February 4, 2016 at 5:24 am

    This is such a great post! I went away in 2013 and got home and felt exactly the same. It took a few days for the happiness to wear off so I immediately started saving and am now on another trip!

  • Simona February 4, 2016 at 11:31 am

    I have a list of things I miss when I am not at home also! I miss family, routine and my country! 🙂

  • Neusa February 4, 2016 at 5:42 pm

    I also live abroad since 16 months now and I totally agree with you. Nice post! 🙂

  • Becca February 5, 2016 at 5:45 am

    I am trying to pretend this part of traveling doesn’t exist… It might make me change my mind about leaving in the first place

  • Anne June 8, 2017 at 4:25 am

    8th of June 2017, and this post is so well written!

    I can honestly say that I am both eager and sad for going home in three weeks. But I also agree with MARIE @
    September 29, 2015 at 11:35 am. Its not other people’s responsibility to see the the change within you. I’d rather learn how to appreciate the experiences made during my year abroad and how to make the life at home even better!

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  • mexicotravelmall October 6, 2017 at 7:20 am

    Thank you for information.

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  • Monica Sharma March 19, 2018 at 4:51 am

    Beautiful post, After reading this articles recognized all those memories of missing my home and friends while traveling.Great share and thank you for sharing and making us recollecting those moments.I have already shared this post and bookmarked you for looking for such kind of experienced and touching articles from you.

  • Pamela Foester January 20, 2021 at 12:51 am

    It’s something new to hear. thanks for letting us know.

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