Sure, it was difficult to plan an entire trip, save money, and sell all my things over the course of a year. It was really tough to quit my successful corporate job and move across an ocean. And yeah, it was tricky to adapt to new cultures, and be in countries where I don't speak the language, and visit cities where I didn't know a single soul. But really, the worst part was coming home.
These were my top five struggles that hit me like a bug on a windshield after I walked out of the airport in muggy Kansas City to an apartment I could no longer call home and a my own cat hid under the bed from me.
1. No one can really comprehend your experience.
All of your friends want to know about your trip, or ask you what your favorite place was. You start out by going into the long version of your trip. All the details and crazy stories. After about the 7th time, you start to just give the highlights.
It's almost like a performance, where you stand up and do the same show every night. But really, it's impossible for anyone, but you to understand what happened. Only you can truly cherish and treasure your experience.
2. You are no longer the same person.
Even though I was gone just less than six months, I feel like a completely different person. I've been challenged and pushed in so many incomprehensible ways. I no longer have the desire to spend $40 on brunch. I think about how those two twenties could last me two days in Budapest, or a flight to the coast of Italy. I feel like I have different interests and different goals than the person I was half a year ago.
Another misconception people have is they think I'm going to go back to my old life. This of course may change, but I couldn't imagine spending 40+ hours a week staring at the three walls of a cubicle. I'm a different person who wants different things. I want to start my own business and have dreams and aspirations I would have never thought of!
3. Say goodbye to new experiences.
After life on the road, you get used to trying to navigate your way around a new city, constantly meeting new faces and seeing new things. When you come home your brain struggles to wrap itself around this old pace of life.
I felt bored out of my mind and still found ways to screw things up, like ruining an entire dinner for my sister and her boyfriend, getting a stupidly, ridiculous speeding ticket, and locking my keys in the car. It feels like you can't get out of the slump.
4. Say hello to adult problems.
Selling all my belongings and moving out of my apartment was great when I left. It meant that I had no responsibilities and extra cash lining my wallet. Well, that is until I came back. After six months gallivanting around Europe, I found myself living with my parents in Iowa sleeping in my childhood bedroom. This was something to conquer in itself.
I knew that I didn't want to commit to working a full time job. I want to keep traveling! So, I picked up odd jobs, like laying hardwood floor with my dad! This was actually a great experience, because I was able to learn a craft, spend time with my father, and make some extra money. The downside was I could blow my nose and see sawdust...
5. It's going to take time.
Reverse culture shock comes in waves. You come home and you feel like a celebrity, because everyone wants to see you and hear about your trip. That starts to wear off and you realize that people have already heard your stories, or you feel like you're constantly trying to re-live the past.
Reverse culture shock is different for everyone and affects everyone differently. For me, it came in waves. I would be going about my life normally, then I would fail to think things through, or screw some minor detail up. My emotions hit more highs and lows than a heart monitor.
How to Move on and Embrace Your New/Old Life
I had to find different ways to continue to push myself past the slump and move forward. One thing I wish I would have known was to plan for reverse culture shock. Maybe an entire week with no plans, just parking my rear on the couch and catching up on Netflix.
To get back to my old self, I had to be patient. I set goals and timelines for myself. I made a vision board of what I wanted to focus on for the next several months while I was back in the U.S. I set a date to by my next ticket out of the States by ($150 from DC to London end of January)!
I also planned trips with friends around the U.S. like road tripping to Antelope Canyon in Arizona and hiking in Moab, Utah. It helped to have something to look forward to other than all the weddings I had to go to (I had one every weekend for six weekends in a row, yeeesh!).
I even made a deal with a friend to housesit in San Diego for her while she's in Korea. It was cheaper for her to buy me a flight to California than it would have been to board her two dogs!
Fortunately, I was able to strike a deal with my parents. They were nice enough to let me squat in their vacation cabin in Breckenridge. I'm using the time and space to reflect on my life changes and figure out my next move.
If you're having a rough time coming home, one of the best things I could do was talk to other people that had experienced the same thing. You aren't the first person to say goodbye to what seems like the perfect lifestyle. Sharing what you're going through over a bottle of wine is one of the best medicines.