With current events keeping me inside my home I’m finding I’m doing a fair bit of thinking and reflection lately! I wrote a post shortly after I returned from my long-term trip in Asia, Australia and New Zealand, reflecting on how my trip had actually helped my career when I came home, and another post last year reflecting on some of the things that long-term travel taught me, but now that it’s been 18 months on from coming home, I wanted to reflect again and share some more thoughts, which might be helpful for anyone who has just returned from a long trip and is wondering what happens next!
A lot of people who undertake a period of long-term travel eventually fall into one of two camps; they come home and feel ready to “settle down”, having had that opportunity to explore, or they never really come home, embarking on a nomadic life of constant travel. I was pretty sure I wouldn’t fall into the former category, but I wondered if I might become the latter type of traveller. In reality, I have found myself somewhere in the middle; I most definitely still have the travel bug, and have been making the most of the UK’s proximity to so many different countries to see as much of Europe as I can during my annual leave from my job, but I have also begun to think about the future, realising that I need to give old age some consideration. I want to be able to retire, I do not want to be poor, and I want to still be travelling once I don’t have work getting in the way! This means that I have to give serious thought to some of the boring/scary adult stuff, like pensions and trying to get on the property ladder. This doesn’t mean I’m necessarily going to stay in my home country of the UK to do all of this, but I have definitely reached a point where I feel I need to find a bit of long-term stability for myself.
People LOVE to hear your travel stories. No, really, they do. I’m always conscious of trying to not be that person who is constantly contributing anecdotes of “when I was backpacking in Indonesia…” to the conversation, but inevitably sometimes your previous life experience will come up when talking to friends or colleagues, and I find that, whenever this does happen, they want to hear all about that time I grabbed manky onions in rural South Australia for three months, or climbed an erupting volcano in East Java. If it’s someone you’ve only met since returning from your travels, they are often fascinated to know all about this side of you. I’ve also found it to be a great ice-breaking or bonding experience with new people who have also travelled, and have even used a discovered common interest in solo travel to build relationships with good contacts in my career (which is totally unrelated to travel).
The current situation with the spread of COVID-19 and the need for social distancing and isolation has had me thinking about how, as rubbish as the situation is, it could have been SO MUCH worse for me if it had happened at a different stage of my life, when I didn’t have a little studio flat to hide away in, or a job which would continue to pay me as I work from home…and then I start wondering how I managed to survive some of the situations I found myself in during my travels anyway, even without a pandemic, like living in a cold, damp working hostel with 75 other backpackers sharing a tiny kitchen and all working in the same miserable onion factory! Past Rachel surprises present Rachel sometimes, but also reminds her that she has been in tough situations before and has come through them (relatively) unscathed.
At various points during a long-term trip, and especially towards the end, you may wonder how you are ever going to manage to return to “normal life” after this experience. The thought of returning to your home country (especially if it’s cold and wet like mine!), getting a full-time job, and falling into a regular routine can be anxiety-inducing, overwhelming or a bit depressing, even if you are keen to see friends and family again. The answer is that you take it one day and one task at a time; first you need to get the essentials like a phone and bank account sorted if you’ve closed them down whilst away, then find a job, then you need to find somewhere to live, then you need to start said job and settle into it, then you need to catch up with friends, and then you’ll gradually find a routine, and time will fly by as it always does, and before you know it you’ve been home 18 months like I have! It took me a good few months to get used to being back in the UK and back in my previous career – at first it felt like I was just visiting – but eventually things started to feel a bit more normal. You will find a way to settle back in, even if it takes a while.
Above all, I think the time between returning home and now has really allowed me to look back on my long-term trip and reflect upon what I learnt and discovered about the world and also about myself, which in turn has really helped me to figure out what I want from life, how I’m going to go about getting it, and how I’m going to strike the balance between stability and travel. Having that own insight into yourself is a valuable thing, and I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to step out of “normal life” for nearly three years, so as to gain that knowledge.
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