Photo Lex Weinstein
As the plane started to descend I saw my home city appear below me. After almost a year of living on the other side of the world, Adelaide looked like a toy town, like something I could cup in the palm of my hand. Small, unintimidating, malleable.
I felt bigger now than I did a year ago, and not just because I had eaten so many tacos. I felt bigger in the sense that I felt brave, and strong, and accomplished. Amplified. More awake.
On the ride home from the airport I saw my city with fresh eyes. I felt like I could walk up to any one of those strangers I saw on the street and pluck up a conversation. I didn’t give a fuck that my hair was unwashed and my tshirt was holey from too many failed attempts at hand washing in various hostel sinks over the past year. Whatever. I knew who I was.
But then I got to my old house. The place I’d lived a year ago. And that invincible feeling started to dwindle. Replaced with questions.
What now? A voice asked me as I sprawled on the bed I hadn’t slept in for a year.
What do you actually have to show for yourself from that year abroad, Caitlin? You’ve got no savings, and no plan. All you’ve got is a years worth of travel stories and you know if you start one more sentence with ‘so when I was in El Salvador…’ your family will probably kill you.
The old what-am-I-doing-with-my-life anxiety. The am-I-doing-enough? Travel had pushed all these questions away. Because when you are travelling and surrounded by other travellers, “I am on a truth seeking mission to uncover my true self” is a perfectly acceptable purpose to have and say to other travellers. Seriously. Go to any hostel in a popular tourist hotspot, or sit on any shuttle crossing international borders and count how many times you hear a variation of the world ‘finding myself’. It’s like a competition. You found yourself on that 4am climb up that active volcano in Bali? Well, I found myself three times before breakfast, so, ha!
See, perfectly acceptable. Pretentious as all hell, but people get where you’re coming from. You’re seeking something. You’re trying to find out what you like and what you want. Cool.
But try using that on your mum once you’re back on home soil.
Q: What did you do while you were away?
A: I found myself.
Q: You found yourself… a proper job?
Ya get the idea.
So when you return home, seemingly in the same position you were in when you left, it may look to others like nothing has changed. Because you’re no closer to substantial savings or a life plan or even owning a freaking pot plant than you were a year ago. So you start to doubt yourself. Start doubting wether all that stuff that happened for however long you were away really mattered at all.
Well I’m here to say, it mattered, okay? It mattered. All of it. Immeasurably. I dare say everything that happened while you were away was fucking important, and probably more closely linked to your purpose than anything you couldn’t done at home, in your same routine.
This is for anyone returning home after a life changing trip wondering if it was all just a dream.
While you were travelling, you probably encountered people and situations that completely blasted your current understanding of the world to pieces.
Maybe you were freer with your kisses, fell into love without fear, unperturbed by the impermanence as you and your lovers later parted ways.
While you were travelling, you probably learnt to have your own damn back and learnt just how capable you were at handling shit; a missed flight, a cash shortage, a language barrier.
You saw inequality firsthand and probably had to question a whole swathe of things about yourself and the world around you.
This stuff is worth its weight in gold. This is progress and immeasurably value to your life in every aspect.
The truth of returning home from travel is and always will be, while you yourself might feel like you’ve changed immeasurably, everything at home stays exactly the same. Which on one hand, is brilliant. It means that no matter where you go in the world and no matter for how long, there will always be a familiar, you-shaped mould in the family fold to sink back into and feel grounded and loved whenever you decide to return. It’s good for people to get a healthy dose of humility from the family, to be brought back to earth a little.
But it also means it’s also probably time to book another trip again.