The Big Return

It’s officially been a month since I left Tanzania.

I remember that first moment of arriving home, stepping off of the plane and trying to find my family in the crowd. The car ride back was a strange mix of small talk and jetlagged delirium, as I stared out the window trying to find points of reference in a completely unfamiliar landscape. When we got to the house, I just sat there, not understanding how a mere 24 hours earlier I had been on the opposite side of the world, in a completely different life. ‘Okay,’ I remember thinking, looking around my childhood bedroom, ‘now what?’

I wanted to write this post because I’m currently surrounded by so many people who have recently come home from adventures abroad. Working for the UN in Geneva, spearheading health projects in the Galapagos, travelling around South-East Asia – it’s inspiring to be friends with so many well-travelled individuals. Hearing their stories while we all try to get back into the swing of grad school has been a motivating start to our second year. Yet this mix of stories has really left me wondering about the act of returning. How do you process the intensity of a travel experience, while simultaneously trying to settle in to everyday, ordinary life?

Returning back to the familiarity of my normal routine is both comforting and completely disorienting. Unpacking my bags after months away, curling up on my couch with tea and readings, finally getting to cuddle with my dog – these are all some of the most comforting feelings in the world (and don’t even get me started on the return of bagels). But juxtaposed to all of that is the horrible, heart squeezing ache of despair I feel whenever I think of the places, and people, and experiences that I had to leave behind. The excitement over coming home and seeing loved ones only lasts for a finite amount of time – there’s an expiration date on how often you get to consistently mention your adventures. You’ve told your stories, had the excited reunions, and gone through every photo on your camera. Once that initial “back from a trip” enthusiasm starts to fade, it all just kind of goes back to the way it was before you left.

The struggle to keep your experiences close to your heart, and have them continue to add meaning to your life, is something I’m in a constant wrestling match with myself over. I’ve hung up all my decorations, draped African fabric down my walls, and finally folded away all the grungy T-shirts I’ve been wearing non-stop for the last four months. Yet, the act of jumping back into this Toronto lifestyle is unnerving, and leaves me not knowing exactly where I stand. Trading flip flops for flats may mean that the seriously lodged-on-my-feet-travel-dirt will slowly start to fade away, but it also means that experiences get further away too. What felt piercing and real three weeks ago starts to get fuzzy around the edges, and I can feel myself trying to hold on tighter to what I know will inevitably fade into the post-travel memory bank. I don’t want to be the person who gets stuck in a cycle of idealizing their travel moments (or the person who is constantly talking about it), but I also don’t want to be the person who loses sight of all the amazing things the last four months taught her about herself.

I get that this post may kind of just feel like I’m whining over nothing (and let’s be real, you’re probably all a little sick of me constantly talking about Africa anyways). But when you fall in love with a place, and a feeling, and an experience, it leaves a hole in your heart that is not very easy to fill. I guess what I’m really trying to say is that I’m having a little bit of trouble stepping back into where life left off four months ago. And that has to be okay (or at least that’s what I’m trying to tell myself). You can never leave a place the same as when you got there, and I would rather have to deal with the post-trip blues than never have experienced those moments that made me feel so alive in the first place. When you’re as lucky as we are to get to travel this much, well then I guess return-home weirdness is just a part of the job, right?

….and if all of those justifications still just aren’t cutting it, well, there’s only a nine month count-down until we can all start travelling again folks.

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