Surviving Post-Travel Depression

Surviving Post-Travel Depression

“I’m cutting my trip short,” I said to a new friend in Laos, “because my cat’s sick and is going through an operation. That also means I’m out of money.”

“I don’t understand. It’s an animal. Animals die,” she replied.

“I’m American. Americans tend to value animal lives over humans,” I joked.

It’s been almost two weeks since I’ve traded in my backpack for a bed. Someone had warned me that it would be natural to feel sad after experiencing such an epic trip, but I wasn’t quite prepared to tackle the reverse culture shock. Disinterest in the things I used to enjoy. The fear of reverting back to the 9-to-5 office grind. Forgetting the lessons I’ve learned from being abroad.

I want to remember the best moments of this trip. I’ve gotten more out of it than I hoped for, and I’m at peace for ending it earlier than anticipated.

Favorite Memories in Southeast Asia

My spirit is more Filipino than I could have ever imagined. There are so many facets of my attitude and behavior that are so purely Filipino, and coming to my family’s homeland and experiencing all of that firsthand has been one of the most spiritual encounters I’ve ever had. For once, I felt like a whole person, a sense of belonging. I felt at home.

I ran away with a boy on a motorbike. I wanted to avoid tourist traps. I wanted to camp on a deserted beach. I wanted to say yes to adventure. And this cute island guy with dreadlocks, who sang reggae songs and played the guitar, appeared in front of me and asked me what else I wanted. “To visit a waterfall. To explore the island. To go on an adventure.” The next day, he showed up with a motorbike and a tent, packed a lunch and made sure I stayed hydrated, and drove me through villages and waterfalls and beaches. He played music for me on the beach as we watched the sunset together. I can’t make any of this up. We said goodbye a day later, and I actually cried on the van ride to the airport. It was the perfect fling.

I fell in love with Indonesia. The people, the land, the ocean. The craziness of haggling and trying to make my way across the country using only public transportation. Being laughed out of a pharmacy. Making friends with taxi drivers. The trekking. The diving. Lazy evenings to the beach listening to a live acoustic cover of “Wonderwall” for the thirteenth time. Indonesia will always have a special place in my heart, and I will be back one day.

Meeting my tribe. I don’t need to repeat how I felt about Bangkok. Or really, just the other nomads I met in Bangkok. The teachers, the artists, the perpetual students. All with a craving for curiosity. I need to live abroad. I will regret it for the rest of my life if I don’t live abroad before settling down. Also, I met an Argentinian who fed me chocolate when I was sick and watched weird silent films with me.

Seeing larger-than-life animals. Have you ever been to a place where you felt absolutely dwarfed by your surroundings? Your existence is just a blip in a universe of beauty and wonder, and that knowledge gives you freedom? In the three months I was abroad, I swam with whalesharks, sea turtles, and white tip sharks. I spied on a family of gibbons in the rainforest, blew into an elephants’ trunk, and got chased by a macaque in Singapore. Next to these animals I felt truly insignificant, and I was fine with it.

There’s more to life than working for a living, or living for work. In America, work ethic is rewarded with respect and money. The busier you are, the more interesting your cache seems. Making time for friends and family becomes a challenge. In some places around the world, work is hard to come by. Friends and family are all you have. Sometimes work is just work, and that’s okay.

Readjusting to being home

I’ve always been a goal-oriented person, and traveling abroad really forced me to live in the present in a way that I have never done before. Now that I’m back home, I’m faced with new challenges:

  • How do I live the life I want to lead while still being able to support myself?
  • The most valuable commodity I have is my time. How will I spend it?
  • How do I stay connected to the spirituality I found while in the Philippines?
  • How in the world will I afford to dive in the United States?
  • When is my next trip?

The biggest challenge of all, though, is still appreciating the present. I made great memories in Asia, but I can’t be stuck in the past. And I can’t spend my time daydreaming about the next trip. I need to build a life where I’m happy, or at the very least, content.

There really isn’t any way to fight the post-travel depression except to just live in it. Appreciate the experiences and lessons learned from your trip, and build from there.

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