There’s no denying it; returning home after travel is not easy. When you’ve become accustomed to life on the road, going back to a ‘normal life’ is a major change. It brings a rollercoaster of emotions, and coupled with this you’ve probably got little money left and there’s a mountain of life admin waiting for you to sort at home. But there are a lot of positives as well.
This survival guide draws on our own experience of returning home after a travel career break, and will help you navigate the practicalities and emotions of the big homecoming. We include our tips on what you can do in the weeks before your homebound flight to prepare, how to cope on the day, and an action plan for the days, weeks and months after you’re back.
In this article:
The final few weeks of travel: preparations for returning home
We know the feeling. The date is marked in your calendar like an immovable object and looms ever larger as it approaches. As the remaining weeks ebb away, that final flight home becomes a niggling presence in the back of your mind. How will you cope with readjusting when the time comes?
Here are some things you can do in the weeks and days before that homeward flight to make sure you’re ready for it.
Keep a positive outlook
As the end of our travel career break approached, I felt a mixture of dread and euphoria. I’ve heard many travellers talk about similar emotions. You don’t want the good times to stop, but at the same time you can’t wait to get back in your comfort zone, see people at home and enjoy some home comforts. There’s a nervousness about what will happen when you get back and where life will take you next, but also an excitement about the possibilities.
Focus on those positive emotions. Think about how it will feel to give your loved ones a big hug, and dream about what you can do with your life in the future. Know that travel doesn’t have to end when this trip does. It’s amazing that you’ve had the opportunity to take a long-term trip, and you can still make travel a big part of your life in the future if you want.
Embrace the looming homeward journey – there’s plenty you can look forward to.
Sort temporary living arrangements
This will require different actions depending on your circumstances, but take whatever steps necessary to make sure that you will have somewhere to stay when you return home. It’s most likely you will need some temporary accommodation at first.
See if any friends or family can accommodate you for a while, or find somewhere suitable on Airbnb. If you get this sorted a few weeks before you return home, it’s one less thing to worry about as the day approaches.
Start looking out for jobs
If you are not returning to a job that has been kept open for you, then finding work is likely to be your biggest immediate concern about life after travel. First of all, don’t worry – it won’t be as hard as you think. Read our guide to finding a job after travelling for a complete winning strategy. We also take a look at how you can make your career gap a positive on your resume.
It’s a good idea to begin the lookout a few weeks before your flight home. Browse some job ad sites and save descriptions of the vacancies that appeal to you.
Unless you’re in a difficult financial situation, I wouldn’t advise actually applying for anything until you get back. It’s very time-consuming and would get in the way of enjoying the rest of your trip. If your dream job comes up and the deadline is before you fly home, then maybe use a long bus journey or other idle time to fill out the application.
Write down what you’ve learned
Take some time while you’re travelling to write down what you have learned and how you have developed. It’s best to do this while you’re still in the moment, as you’re more likely to capture it accurately. Update your resume with anything that’s relevant and can be applied to your work.
Arrange the logistics for your arrival home
Your flight home is booked, but are you sorted for when the plane touches down? Making these arrangements ahead of time will save you any stress later.
Is there someone who can pick you up from the airport? If not, then book any transfers you need to get smoothly to where you’ll be staying.
Enjoy the final moments of your trip
While you are worrying about your impending return home, it’s easy to forget that you’re actually still travelling. It would be a shame to overshadow the final stages of your trip with anxieties about what’s coming next.
Try to savour every moment of your journey right up until the flight home. Maybe plan some special activities or treats for the final few days. We saved some spare budget to take a Halong Bay cruise in Vietnam and go to a top local restaurant in Hanoi on our last few days. It’s nice to end on a high if you can, but whatever you do – don’t forget to keep enjoying it.
How to get through the homecoming day
So, the big day has arrived. It’s time to fly home. If you’re anything like us, it will be a rollercoaster of emotions. You will also be exhausted, both mentally and physically.
It’s completely natural to feel overwhelmed at the end of a long-term trip. As always, stay positive. It’s going to be amazing to be reunited with the people you care about at home. Focus on that and enjoy it.
Here are some tips for getting through your arrival home in one piece.
Get to the airport early
The final flight of your trip is not the time for last-minute dramas. Aim to get to the airport a bit earlier than you usually would, and book any transfers in advance.
Get some rest
By the time the flight arrives, the chances are you will feel worn out and a little fragile. It’s important to look after yourself. Have a satisfying meal before the flight and keep yourself hydrated. Maybe buy something in duty-free to take home or give to someone. If it’s a long-haul flight, try and get some sleep.
Don’t plan too much for the first 24 hours of being home. It will be tempting to try and see all the people in your life as soon as you can, but there will be plenty of time to catch up with everyone. It can wait. Give yourself some space to come down, process being home and rest off the journey.
Enjoy your own bed!
There’s nothing like the feeling of a comfortable, familiar bed in your own space after spending months staying in hostel dormitories. The first night’s sleep when you get back home from long-term travel is the best. Stretch it out and have a lie-in the next day.
The first few days: getting back on your feet
Once you’ve had a good night’s sleep or two, there’s no more putting it off – it’s time to come back down to earth. Hopefully you will have at least a couple of weeks’ breathing space before you need to start work again. Use this time to clear through the niggling admin tasks that are clouding the horizon.
Write yourself a to-do list. Maybe plan a mini-schedule of when you’ll get things done. Take it at a steady pace, and build in plenty of rest time to ease yourself into it.
Post-travel depression is a real thing. This article by Nomadic Matt is well worth a read for some insight into it. The best way to stave off the post-travel blues is to get active.
Rest is vital in the first day or two after you return, but after that it can be toxic to keep lounging around the house. You’ll get restless and start feeling down. It’s also pretty common to come down with illness if you suddenly slow down to a halt.
Keep yourself busy. Get on with admin tasks, and get outdoors in between if you can. Go for a run. Offer to walk someone’s dog. It’ll make you feel a lot better.
Do the little jobs
First things first – you’ll need to unpack your backpack and wash your stuff. It’s nice to have a cupboard and drawers to put things away!
Once you’re settled and freshened up, think about any admin that needs to be done. Do you have an insurance claim to make, or do you need to get some medication? Maybe you’ve got some mail to check through?
If you’re a driver, it’s a liberating feeling to get back behind the wheel at home. We bought a second-hand car a couple of days after we got back home, and it felt great – like our feet were back on the ground.
Organise your email inbox
I’m not great at staying on top of my emails at the quietest of times, let alone when I’m travelling. If that sounds familiar, there’s a high chance that your email inbox will be majorly cluttered after returning from a long-term trip.
Make yourself a coffee and get onto it. Checking through your emails and organising your inbox is a nice, gentle task to ease yourself back into life at home.
Get on top of your finances
Money will probably be tight after a long-term trip. In our long-term travel checklist, we recommend setting aside some money in a savings account before your trip begins to make sure you’ll have enough when you return. Nevertheless, even if you do have a buffer to tide you over, it can still be stressful.
Go through statements for the cards you used while travelling and check that everything is correct. If you spot any double charges or anything that looks dodgy, then you can raise it with your bank.
It may help to draw up a basic budget for what you’ll need to cover during the first few weeks until you have a regular paycheck again. Rent contributions, living costs, any new clothes you need to buy (for job interviews, for example). Compiling everything together into a spreadsheet will make it easier to manage.
Enjoy some home comforts
This is one of the best parts about being back home. You get to indulge in all the local-to-home things you missed while travelling. The first thing we did after arriving home was eat a traditional roast dinner cooked by Lisa’s parents. It was incredible!
Over the first few days, allow yourself to enjoy some of your greatest home comforts. Have a beer in your local bar. Eat the home food that you like best. Go to your favourite hangouts. It’ll make you feel a lot better about the trip being over. People talk about ‘reverse culture shock’ after travel, but it’s not nearly as bad if you focus on the things you love about home.
Things to get done in the first few weeks
Now that you’re on top of your general life admin and you’ve found your footing again, the next few weeks are likely to be focused on the fundamentals. Things like getting back into work and building a home again.
It’s possible that your career break will have changed your perspective on these things, and you will want to try a new direction entirely. Or maybe you want to settle back into something familiar, incorporating a few new ideas and approaches you’ve learned from travelling. Whatever you want to do next, the following steps will help you find your beat.
Find a job (or return to your old one)
If you are on sabbatical leave, then this process should be fairly straightforward. You will already have a date set for when you will return to work.
Maybe you will have had a few check-ins with your workplace while you’ve been away. At the very least, it’s a good idea to arrange a meeting or online check-in a few days before you return. This will enable you to get up to speed with any changes in the office and what’s currently on. At the same time, you can talk about any outcomes of your travels that are relevant to your job. For example, how you can apply any new skills you have developed to upcoming projects.
If you are looking for a new job, then the world is your oyster. This could be your chance to try something completely different and follow a new passion, or maybe you could use the opportunity to move somewhere new. The search doesn’t have to be stressful. Our guide to finding a job after travelling includes a detailed section on the steps to take once you’re back home.
When the time comes to head back into the workplace, ease yourself into it and don’t put pressure on yourself. It will take a while to find a routine and rhythm again, and your colleagues should be understanding about that. Talk to your boss regularly as you settle in.
Find a place to live
This step is simple if you’re moving back into your own property after travelling. If not, then you can sort permanent living arrangements once your job situation is clear. If you are only looking for jobs in one location, then you can begin to scout the property market before you have secured a position.
Whether you are buying or renting (if you’re in a position to buy a home after a travel career break then I’m jealous!), a short-term rental contract may be the best option to begin with. It will allow you to settle in and get used to the area before finding something permanent.
Collect your stuff and unpack
After returning from long-term travel, you will probably have boxes full of belongings packed away in long-term storage or in a friend’s loft. If possible, it’s best to wait until after you’ve moved into a permanent living space before picking it all up.
In our guide to what to do with your stuff before long-term travel, we recommend creating an inventory in a spreadsheet to record what’s in each box. If you’ve done this, sorting through it will be much easier when you get back. Fully unpacking your boxes might take weeks or even months, and so it’s helpful to know where to find something when you need it.
It’s actually quite fun to sort through your boxes. You’ll find things you forgot you owned. We ended up getting rid of a lot, as we realised after travelling that we really didn’t need so much.
Catch up with friends and family
The heartwarming part about being back in your home country is that you get to see all of the people in your life. It might take a while to see everyone, and that’s ok. In fact, it may be better to spread your reunions out over time, as it gives you lots to look forward to – and doing it all at once can get overwhelming.
Be prepared to answer questions like “what was your favourite place” many, many times! However, don’t expect everyone to be wildly engaged in hearing all about your travels. The truth is that not everybody will be that interested, and you’ll probably get bored of talking about it soon. It will always be a part of you, and will come up in anecdotes and memories. But these reunions are about spending quality time with the people you love once again.
You might be surprised by how little has changed at home while you were away. We were taken aback by this – it was like we’d never left. There’d been a couple of weddings and some friends had moved jobs, but everyone was living the same lives. And it wasn’t that difficult for us to find a routine again – we just had a whole world of new experiences from travelling to bring back into it.
Sort through your travel photos
If you’re anything like us, you will arrive back home with a massive backlog of photos. Sorting through them during the first few weeks back home is a great way to relive your travels while you’re still getting used to being home again.
Think about what you can do with your favourite photos to turn them into keepsakes. Compile an album, or have some blown up and hung on your wall. Lisa has taken up painting our travel photos as a new hobby.
Book a short trip away
If you’re feeling like there’s a hole in your life where travel used to be, one easy remedy is to book a short trip away somewhere. We booked a couple of short weekend breaks in Europe after arriving home, and I found it helped me to get past the post-travel blues.
Even if it’s just a camping trip somewhere close to home, it will be nice to have something to plan and look forward to while you’re still settling back in. Unsure about taking time off work so soon after a long break? Then maybe you could plan a workcation instead.
The longer term: channelling your passion
People often talk about returning to a ‘normal life’, but the truth is that life after travel doesn’t have to be the same. It can be whatever you want it to be.
Having that time out to reflect and evaluate your life is a really powerful thing, but you won’t necessarily come back home with all the answers. It might still take time to figure things out, and to shape your life and career in a way that makes you happy.
Here are some ideas on how you can approach the bigger picture after returning home from a travel career break.
Travel might not be your big passion
Some people will get back home from a long-term trip itching to get back on the road, and wanting to plan another big trip straight away. But this will not be the case for everyone.
I have read many articles by travellers who return home and find that their worldview has changed to the point where they don’t fit in at home any more. They now see travel as an intrinsic part of their identity, and find it hard to be rooted in one place. While this may be the experience for a few people, it only reflects a small proportion of people who take long-term trips.
Most career break travellers we meet end up returning home, resuming a career, and building a stable life at home. The people who do this are less likely to write about it, and it makes less of a story – so you won’t hear about it as much. Magazines and news websites are more interested in the rarer cases of people who go on to ‘live the dream’ of a full-time travel lifestyle.
Travel is wonderful and eye-opening, and it can be life-changing. It was for us. But it’s not easy. For many people it means being constantly out of your comfort zone. That’s a great challenge and an experience that will help you in many ways for years to come, but the chances are that you don’t want it to be a permanent thing.
If you arrive home and you do want to make travel a definitive part of your life, that’s awesome. Channel that passion. But if you don’t, that’s just fine too. Draw from the experience in the way that suits you best.
Find a new community
If you want to stay in touch with the world of travel, or build on another new passion you have discovered, try connecting with likeminded people in the area where you live. Perhaps there is a relevant Meetup group or local Couchsurfing hangout.
Finding a community at home will help you to keep your new passions alive and allow them to grow. It could also be a pathway into new opportunities and generate ideas for your career.
Don’t forget to stay in touch with the people you met while travelling too. When you’ve built such an inspiring network, it would be a shame to let it drift apart.
Bring your travel experiences home
There’s nothing to stop you from building elements of your travels into your life at home. You can cook dishes you tasted in different places around the world, volunteer for local causes, read stories about adventure.
Make time to explore the place you live in depth. Travel made me realise that I had barely seen any of my own city. Become a traveller at home and visit museums, shop at local markets, try different bars and take a walking tour.
Read our article on 18 ways to keep the travel bug alive when you’re at home for more ideas.
Remember the lessons from your career break
Travel will undoubtedly change your perspective on many things, and make you question aspects of your approach to life. This is healthy. However, it’s quite easy to slip back into old habits and forget the lessons you learned.
Remember the simple things, and what is important to you. For example, if your job becomes increasingly stressful, how will you respond to that? What can you do to improve the situation? If you can’t, is it worth it?
Are you spending enough time with the people you love, and doing the things that make you happy?
Don’t forget the lessons you learned on the road. Whether it’s striving for a minimalist life, taking more time to look after yourself or creating space for a new passion in life – you can make real, impactful changes as a result of your travel experiences.
We find it helpful to give this some structure. Keep a journal or planner, and set aside regular time to assess honestly how you’re getting on.
Why not plan a day once every year to revisit your travel experiences? You can use it to look through photos and videos, contact the friends you made, and evaluate how taking a travel career break has helped you to make positive changes in life.
Start planning your next big life goal
After returning home, it won’t be too long before you’re ready for another big challenge in life. That might be planning another travel career break, but it might not. Perhaps you want to have children, buy a house, move to a different location, try a career change, aim for a promotion in your current job, or even start your own business. Maybe you’re getting married and you want to plan a big wedding with all the wider family, or a smaller wedding so you can still keep money aside for travelling and other life goals.
Check out our interviews with career gappers to discover a variety of paths that different people have taken after travelling.
You’ve got this. Planning and taking a career break shows that you’ve been able to achieve a major life goal. Now you’re better equipped than ever to build towards the next one, whatever it might be. Set your goal, and put the steps in place to start making it happen.
You have every reason to be excited about the future. Go get it!
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