Every time I return from traveling, I fall into a mild depression.
The worst case happened when I was 18, after returning from a glorious month in Taiwan (hello Loveboat ’07!)
It’s a mix of insomnia, coming down from constant stimulation and a heavy dose of escapism. #Takemeback
After a decade of traveling, I picked up some tricks that help manage and prevent post travel depression.
It’s my hope that this will help you if you’ve just returned from a glorious trip abroad and you don’t know how to deal.
1. Protect your health
Travel – even when it’s returning back home – can wreak havoc on your sleep and health.
The first thing I do upon returning home is eat a meal rich in proteins & fats (KBBQ, anyone?) paired with melatonin to make sure I knock out and sleep deeply.
Then I try to eat as clean as I can the my first week back. Lots of greens (Souplantation, anyone?), no alcohol and little carbs.
Whenever life gets messy, my fastest path to recovery involves taking care of my body through diet, sleep and exercise. These all have a disproportionate effect on how I feel.
2. Mentally unpack through writing
To manage the cognitive dissonance of being abroad and (suddenly) back home, I like to mentally unpack by documenting my experiences.
As part of this documentation process, I also go through photos. Using Google Photos, it’s super easy to automatically create albums based on location and/or date. (Perfect for the use case of quickly sharing a custom album with friends met in different cities.)
Whether you choose to do a daily journal or share quick thoughts with Facebook friends, writing helps process, relive and sunset the amazing experiences you’ve had.
3. Smooth out the stimulation curve
Returning from travel can be the emotional equivalent of a sugar crash.
This is because we come back from stimulating peak experiences: moving around and seeing-eating-hearing-feeling-smelling new things.
I find it helpful to make a gradual transition from a high stimulation environment back to routine, rather than a sharp drop off. Read: don’t do nothing upon going home.
To smooth out the stimulation curve, I schedule things in advance:
- Friends to see
- Classes to take, events to attend
- More travel (though usually these are smaller, local weekend trips)
Scheduling things to look forward to is the easiest happiness hack I’ve ever come across. Not only do I get to enjoy the experience itself, but also benefit from anticipation.
To prevent post travel depression, schedule fun things to do when you come back, especially within the first week or two of your return.
4. Relish in routines
Ever feel like you need a vacation from your vacation?
Traveling can be tiring, and while it’s easy to focus on the negative of being back home, reframe this into an opportunity to enjoy routines that are harder to maintain on the road.
I’m a creature of habit and actually love routines, many of which were hard to keep up with during travel. Here are some of the daily rituals I look forward to:
- Cooking healthy meals (fun fact: vegetables don’t exist in Spain)
- Going to weekly meetups and local events
- Having dinner with strangers again
- Returning to a more structured workday
Regularly seeing friends is a cornerstone to my happiness. Social communities are built on consistency, so I prioritize hangouts with old friends upon returning from travel.
After smoothing out the stimulation curve (by continuing to do stimulating things), I rediscover the joy of simple everyday routines.
5. Get a haircut.
I always feel like a new person after getting a haircut. It’s literally shedding older parts of myself.
New ‘do, new you.
On one hand, there’s the familiarity of my barber, whose skills are hard to match when traveling.
On the other hand, the change in appearance mentally refreshes me to being back home. Plus I always look like a haggard mofo by the time I come back home.
It doesn’t have to be a haircut, it could be buying some new clothes or changing up your personal style.
Either way, use the subtle-yet-significant psychological impact of altering your appearance to start afresh back home.
Post Travel Depression: Preempted?
Transitions of any kind can be tough. It doesn’t have to be travel.
Just like a healthy breakup, I’ve found solace in allowing myself to be a bit sad after the first few days back from travel.
I hope this 5 step recipe helps you re-orient back home.
If it doesn’t, there is a secret step 6:
Be a digital nomad and continue traveling.
Also published on Medium.