One thing all trips have in common, no matter how big or small, is that at some point, you have to go home.
For some, going home is fantastic. Everyone speaks your language, you know where to go if you need to buy a small everyday item (how difficult would it be for Beijing shop owners to stock deodorant?), the food won’t necessarily put you in hospital and you can safely wander anywhere without the fear of coming into contact with deadly local wildlife (or deadly locals for that matter).
For others, going home is a traumatic rollercoaster of emotions. There are highs of seeing friendly faces again, but lows of feeling disconnected. When returning home people often feel they have grown as a person whilst travelling and that their life has moved forward. As a result it feels as though the friends and family you have returned to see don’t really understand you as fully anymore. They didn’t share that amazing mountaintop view or the curry with meat of questionable origin or the encounters with local characters that shaped you into the person you are upon going home.
I, unfortunately, fall into the latter category. After sixteen months on the road I was looking forward to seeing the friendly faces but after two days I was desperate to leave. When you live a life whereby everyday is new and challenging it becomes very difficult to look at the mundane routines of daily life with any enthusiasm. Where is the fun in going to buy something for breakfast when you know; firstly how to ask for it, secondly what it is you’re buying and thirdly that it won’t necessarily put you in hospital? It’s no fun at all! Travelling, I’ve realised since coming home, challenges you every day and forces you to continuously learn new things. It becomes a way of living your life and not just a trip that you’re making. One of the most difficult questions I’ve been asked since being home is did I enjoy my trip? How do I answer that? How do you sum up a chunk of your life in a small, polite response? It’s impossible. As a result, the conversation quickly turns to what happened at work on Thursday or the questionable sausage roll that was bought for lunch yesterday etc. All no doubt very interesting in their own right but quite difficult to take in when your thoughts are somewhere on the other side of the planet.
On the other hand, an interesting aspect of going home is that, for a short while at least, you are able to see your own country from a tourists perspective. If you’ve been on the road for a significant amount of time then everything seems new and novel when you go home. For example, after becoming accustomed to the erratic, crazy and chaotic streets and drivers of Southeast Asia and China, it was amazing to see a road sign in the UK that politely asked, “please be a courteous driver.” How very British! Although even if there weren’t a sign asking drivers to be nice it wouldn’t matter. Cars often stop voluntarily in order to let pedestrians cross the road, I was amazed! You mean I don’t actually have to walk into a throng of oncoming traffic and risk my life in order to cross the road? A novel experience.
In addition, is there a nation better placed in the world to describe their weather as “blustery?” On my trip I think I may have seen the entire weather spectrum, from central Australia in summer to Siberia in winter and everything in between. Yet nowhere has a weather forecast where for 365 days of the year the word “blustery” (i.e. a combination of whipping winds and drizzly rain) is likely to feature. In my mind, Britain has communist weather i.e. it’s grey and oppressive. But it seems to add to the national character. Because of the grey downbeat nature the population have grown to greatly appreciate small pleasures. Bill Bryson in his book “Notes From a Small Island” quite accurately describes how the British seem to feel guilty in enjoying the pleasures of life and as a result derive immense satisfaction from small luxuries, such as a cup of tea and if you’re a devil then maybe even a biscuit!
Unfortunately though, the tourist phase of going home only lasts for a week or two. After that you have to start dealing with the travel bug. Common signs of having contracted the bug are: prolonged time being spent in the travel section of book shops, the desire to buy a new, smaller backpack, spending time on the internet looking for cheap flights or trains to various locations etc… The only known cure for the travel bug is to hit the road again. However, at some point you have to once more face up to going home. It’s a vicious circle…