The Travel Hangover: Dealing with Coming Home

After months on the road savouring the high of long term travel, how does one begin to treat the hangover that ensues post-adventure? It’s the ugly side of long term travel, the comedown…

Feature by Kate Morling | 02 Sep 2015
  • The Travel Hangover

I see her. She’s laying under my bed. Dusty. Dormant. Depressed. In my 6am haze I dress for work, desperately trying to look anywhere but directly at her. If she catches me looking, she’ll know. She’ll know I feel it too. Dusty. Dormant. Depressed. I throw the bedcover strategically across the mattress, so it drapes down and hinders Backpack's view of me from beneath the bed; out of sight, out of mind.

At least, for the next hour…

I wait for the bus, busily checking my emails to start the working day. I skim through on autopilot, answering client demands and quickly deleting enticing promotions from EasyJet; Fly London to Istanbul from just £49. If only I still lived in London at the centre of the backpacker world, where far off exotic destinations were just £49 away. And buses ran on time.

I’ve been back in Sydney, trudging through reality with a full time job and a rental agreement, for 15 months now; my world adventure sitting starkly in the past. I should have been satisfied with the 10 months I spent drinking and partying my way across the European continent with my significant other. I should have been grateful for the 16 months we spent enjoying tea and scones in my adopted English home, while we worked to squirrel away our pounds. The following 6 months we spent trekking through the Middle East and Asia certainly should have sated my appetite for travel. But alas, standing at the bus stop on a humid Friday morning, I couldn’t help but sympathise with starving Oliver asking, ‘Please Sir, I want some more’.

As my bus approaches, I reach into my pocket in search of money. I pull out an old Air Asia boarding pass and I sigh heavily. Wanderlust has gripped me again.

Being on the road is like a drug. It gives you a high that only others who have been there can relate to. The freedom of snubbing societal expectations of settling down, progressing financially and joining the rat race, is empowering. You find your senses sharpen and intensify and you are intoxicated by the full spectrum of the world you now experience.

The saris that surround you display colours no H&M store can rival. The Chinese silk scarf you drape gently around your shoulders is so soft you can’t stop rubbing it repetitively like a Glastonbury pill-popper. And the smell emanating from that pile of camel shit is so intense it's distracting you from the Great Pyramid. Who needs acid when you can travel?

You have switched off the autopilot and are in full manual control of your life; every moment is a soul changing one. Your memories are sharp. Hell, you can describe the taste of every meal you’ve eaten since you hit the road, in poetic detail.

As I ride the bus to work, I can’t remember what I had for breakfast.

I sigh heavily again.

If travel is a drug, I’m on a comedown desperately seeking my next hit to stave off the full effects of approaching reality. Or maybe it’s too late. Maybe I’ve already entered withdrawals.

I struggle through the final workday of the week, thankful for the weekend that approaches. I sit at my desk between clients scrolling through Pinterest and adding to my ever growing Pinboard ‘Travel Wish List’. This isn’t a new pastime. It’s an obsession which developed on my last trip and highlights the depth of my addiction; I was already planning my next trip before the high of the last had begun to subside.

I scroll through the pictures of faraway lands, mentally taking note of how many of the destinations I have already visited, as if they were Pokemon and my task is to catch them all.

Mt Fitzroy, Argentina – pin.

Samarkand, Uzbekistan – pin.

Seljalandsfoss waterfall, Iceland – pin.

What’s missing in my life that makes me want to run from it? I have everything I could need here in Australia; family, friends, wealth, sun, a bed without bugs. What drives me to leave it all behind to sleep on the floor of a Kashmiri family who speak no English, vomiting rice for three days straight because my stomach has higher expectations of hygiene than perhaps they are accustomed to?

Maybe I’m not running away from anything. Maybe I’m running to something. Myself? Or someone I want to be. I’ve played lots of characters in my 28 years; ballerina, straight A student, head banging metal head, sporty spice. But I always felt I was pretending. None of those characters are really who I want to be. Of all of them, traveller is the first costume that feels like it might actually fit, and yet is baggy enough under the arms to allow for growth.

Or maybe it’s less romanticised than that. Maybe I’m just running to authentic homemade curries and an endless holiday where Monday-itis doesn’t exist.

My screensaver begins to scroll and pulls me from my daydream. As I watch my beloved travel photos roll gently across the screen, I realise over an hour of the day has escaped me. Another hour of reality lost to dreams of being elsewhere.

On the road, time slows down. There is no work week to race through, or term time spent knuckling down. The hours are spent creating vivid memories of back alleyway falafel houses, full of the smell of mint tea, incense, and dust.

Looking back, every experience I have collected has taught me something. The Jordanian taxi driver who drove us free of charge to our hostel when our airport pick-up didn’t show, despite my skepticism and reluctance to accept his genuine offer for fear of being ripped off, taught me that I’m too cynical. I always assume the worst. Not only did he follow through without asking for a penny, but he did it with a ‘welcome to Jordan’ smile and an offer to buy us a traditional cardamom infused coffee on the way.

I want to be trusting.

Eating sandwiches at a Chinese bus stop, next to a girl eating chicken feet, taught me what it’s like to feel different; to be separated by language, appearance and choice of dietary staples.

I want to be accepting.

The Aussie filled pubs of Thailand taught me that at 2am after eight beers, four shots and a box of Cheezles, I’m really not as worldly and sophisticated as I sometimes think I am. I’m just another drunk Australian with cheese powder on my fingers. Also, I suck at Connect Four drinking games. The Ladyboys working Thailand’s bars do not suck at Connect Four drinking games.

I want to be sober.

The work week ends and I feel inexplicably unfulfilled and unchallenged. My heart isn’t in this life I have created here, it’s far too busy being gripped by wanderlust and a dream that I could be someone better. I want to understand the world outside of my own. I want to keep exploring my flaws and building new strengths. I want to experience all the smells and tastes and sounds the world has to offer. I want to not have to go to work on Monday.

I scroll through Pinterest as I ride the bus home to my dusty old pal, Backpack, when I stumble across a poignant meme; ‘You don’t hate Mondays, you hate your life.’ Point taken Pintrest. So I decide to change it.

Google search: Expedia.