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Returning home after a year of travel: what now?

The big homecoming brings a mixture of dread and euphoria for long-term travellers. For us, returning home marks the start of a new adventure.

The date is marked in your calendar like an immovable object and looms ever larger as it approaches. As the remaining months and weeks turn into days, that final flight becomes a niggling presence in the back of your mind, an itch that won’t go away.

How will you readjust to ‘the real world’? How will you cope if things have changed at home? When people ask “what was your favourite bit”, how will you possibly condense the huge rollercoaster of experiences into anything resembling an intelligible answer?

It is impossible not to be overwhelmed by the return home after a year on the road. When we were halfway through our trip, I wrote about how the first few weeks felt like unbridled freedom, with nothing but oceans of fun and exploration ahead. Then, as the big milestones came – two months, three months, halfway – the reality that it couldn’t last forever slowly emerged.

There came a point when we were constantly counting the days left. “Four weeks until we go home… yikes!” As the end neared, the passing experiences took on a fledgling nostalgia as we began to reminisce. “Can you believe it’s only six weeks since we were in Chiang Mai?” And so on.

Reflecting on the highs and lows of travel

We did have great experiences. The best. We visited 20 countries and travelled over a hundred thousand kilometres. We saw four of the seven new natural wonders of the world. We hiked through Peru, Patagonia, New Zealand, Thailand and northern Vietnam. I got my first tattoo. We hopped beautiful islands and beaches in Fiji and Thailand. We visited amazing cities like Miami, Rio de Janeiro, Melbourne, Singapore and Bangkok. We went from novice to qualified advanced scuba divers. We ate all the food. In short, we had an absolute blast.

Alex and Lisa at Macchu Picchu
Returning home: hiking the Inca trail to Machu Picchu last June is one of many amazing memories we take away from travelling

Long-term travel inevitably involves a hitch or two, and we had our fair share of mishaps. Being robbed in Buenos Aires nearly cut our trip short, but in the end it made us stronger and more appreciative. There have been plenty of other minor setbacks along the way, but that’s travel life, and you learn to take it in your stride.

Then, of course, there are the amazing people we have met everywhere we’ve been. Our crews for the Inca Trail, Bolivian Salt Flats, the Fijian islands, trekking in Chiang Mai and Sapa, and all the other folks we’ve shared drinks and good times with along the way – they made the experience, and many will be lifelong friends. I can’t lie, though – it will be nice to have our own space again after sharing ten-bed dorms for so long! (Check out Lisa’s article here on dormlife.)

It’s tough to say goodbye to a wandering lifestyle that has become the norm. But among all the anxiety about reverse culture shock, one aspect of homecoming was undeniably exciting: we couldn’t wait to see our friends and family.

The long journey home

On the eve of our flight home from Hanoi, a tumult of Britishness was already upon us. My football team lost in the FA Cup Final. News abounded with the latest calamities of Brexit. The tabloid overstatement of England’s football World Cup chances simmered up ahead of the inevitable failure. And even on the other side of the planet, it was almost impossible to escape the Royal Wedding.

Returning home after a year of travel
Returning home: boarding our flight to Miami a year ago (left), and boarding our flight home in Hanoi this week (right)

Our homeward journey was a grueling one of over 24 hours, broken up by a layover in Singapore (spent mostly in duty-free shops). I couldn’t sleep on the final 13-hour flight so I resorted to binge-watching Breaking Bad. At 5:30am on a Monday morning we finally touched down at Heathrow, and London was beginning to stir.

It took a psychological eternity for our luggage to come through, and we feared our rucksacks lost. When they finally popped onto the conveyor belt we strapped up and walked out into Blighty. There, waiting for us, were Lisa’s parents with a huge sign saying “welcome home Lisa and Alex”, and our exhausted faces broke out into smiles.

(I should add here that my Dad had also kindly offered to collect us on arrival, and we’ve been inundated with offers from siblings and friends to let us stay with them for a while. How lucky we are, yet again, to have such supportive family and friends.)

In the 24 hours that followed we basked in the solace of familiarity and gorged on all things British: a roast beef dinner with Yorkshire pudding, a cheese board, bacon sarnies for breakfast, prawn cocktails, corned beef and pickle, and a pint of ale down the pub. We were home.

Heathrow Airport homecoming
Returning home: Lisa’s parents were waiting to greet us at Heathrow Airport at 5:30am

What next?

At the outset of this trip I looked upon it as some kind of final hurrah before returning permanently to a ‘proper’ career. It was already a bit outlandish to be travelling long-term in my mid-30s, and anything beyond that would surely be a step too far.

This assumption has been blown to pieces. Firstly, I’ve discovered that people of all ages are travelling these days – check out my article about why travelling in your 30s is awesome. But more importantly, it has dawned on me that travel is not just something you do for a few months and tick off the list. It’s an addiction: no matter how far we go, we want to go further. And there’s no reason why we can’t.

Travel has become one of my life’s biggest passions, and I am a firm believer that you should chase your biggest passions. The happiest people are often those who make a living from whatever they love doing. Two months ago I wrote about my decision to go professional as a travel blogger, and now I’m home it’s time to put that into action.

So over the next few weeks I will be laying the foundations to make the dream happen. That means writing a business strategy, taking some courses, investing in tools and resources, and doing a lot of writing.

I also have some trips lined up. In July I’m heading to the Czech Republic to attend the Travel Blogger Exchange, one of the biggest conferences in the sector. Then in September, thanks to a birthday present from Lisa, I am going to Slovakia for a few days. On top of the backlog of stories from our year away, this will give me some fresh material for the blog.

Furthermore, and inevitably, Lisa and I have been thinking about what our next trip together might look like. Another long-term break may not be feasible in the near future – Lisa’s career is based in the UK – but we can take advantage of the Christmas break, public holidays, annual leave and long weekends. Canada, Japan, Colombia, Ecuador, Central America, Croatia, Norway, Egypt and Myanmar are jostling for position at the top of our list.

One door closes, many more open

I began the very first article of this blog with a lyric from a 90s British indie song. I’ll end this one with another: “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end”.

Because that’s what the end of our travel year represents; a transition from one major life phase into another. There will be many more great times to come. I couldn’t be more excited about the future.

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At the end of a one-year career break travelling the world, this is the story of how we faced returning home, the emotions surrounding it, and exciting new plans for the future.

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