Any traveler has experienced it: that spirit-sapping malaise that can so potently strike on the heels of an extended trip. While the timing and severity of this back-home depression can take you by surprise, the feeling itself isn’t so hard to diagnose. After all, the familiarity and routine of home and work life often jars in contrast to the sense of freedom, discovery, and spontaneity experienced on the road, exploring far-off places and cultures.
Fortunately, post-travel blues aren’t permanent. And even more promisingly, they can be actively countered with a wide variety of methods. Best of all, those methods become all the more second-nature over time; experienced travelers may even learn to head the blues off at the pass and gradually stop experiencing them.
Here are a few ideas for facing the post-trip melancholia—and finding ways to gain perspective on your trip in the process.
1) Document your trip impressions
This may seem an obvious activity whether or not you’re feeling low, but too many of us neglect to chronicle our travels while they’re fresh in our minds. It’s all too easy to put off sorting and captioning those photos or completing that travel journal, and then to discover—whenever we do get around to it—that our memories of those beautiful specificities we wanted to capture are failing us.
So—rather than wallow in post-travel ennui, dive into cataloguing your journey.
Even if you aren’t a scrapbook-maker or diarist, write down a stream-of-consciousness account of the trip: the sights, the sounds, the food, the people, the drama, the moods, the inspirations. You can tap that bittersweet feeling of homecoming for creative energy—and for sharper, more crystalline recall of those adventures so recently past.
Your future self will thank you for the attentiveness with which you logged your trip impressions. It’s not the exactitude of your chronicle itself that’s necessarily most valuable, but the promise that it will better spark authentic sensory memories down the road.
From some seemingly insignificant detail that you wrote down (or sketched or photographed), the mind might flash to an entire afternoon—the quality of light, the taste of an appetizer, a conversation with a cafe seatmate. Those are priceless associations, and your prompt documentation can cement them for a lifetime’s worth of enjoyment.
2) Share those travel impressions
Everyone knows the stock scene of the insufferable vacation slideshow. It takes a gifted individual—someone who really understands storytelling as well as the tolerance of an audience—to show off trip pictures successfully. Even your most loving relative or devoted friend can only take so many repetitive photos of you posed in front of indistinguishable landmarks.
That doesn’t mean that sharing your travel impressions doesn’t have a real and important place. Doing so clarifies those impressions; you start to see the narrative threads that our moment-by-moment experiences so naturally seem to compose. All of us see our lives as a story, and telling that story (even with the little gloss-overs, paraphrases, and consolidations we inevitably rely on) gives us perspective on our lives—including our travels.
Modern technology gives you new mediums with which to relay your trip adventures to as wide or narrow an audience as you wish without boring them to tears.
Translate your trip notes to a blog or website, or construct an online annotated photo album to share over email or social media.
It maybe goes without saying that assembling and shaping your travel impressions for public consumption doesn’t leave much energy for wallowing in post-trip blues.
3) Plan your next visit to the place you’ve just been
A lot of your despondency after a trip comes from missing a specific place. Turn that longing into action by planning your next visit, taking advantage of your new knowledge.
Indeed, there’s no better time to dream about a return journey than fresh on the heels of your initial one: There are undoubtedly scores of little details you want to follow up on before they’re forgotten.
Was there a cathedral you briefly visited that you’d love to explore more thoroughly? How about a food cart you glimpsed on the taxi ride to the airport? You can dismiss from future consideration those beaches or museums that weren’t worth the hype, and research those enticing recommendations you received from locals.
This planning process goes hand-in-hand with documenting your trip impressions. It’s especially good at parrying that morose worry—which can set in as early as the departure airport—that you’ll never see those beautiful sights ever again. There’s always the promise of another adventure, and you can take delight in knowing that many aspects of a locale don’t show themselves for many return visits. You’ve seen Montreal in its leafy summer guise; start planning now to someday savor its ice rinks, snowy parks, and holiday lights.
You skirted the periphery of that Himalayan spur range, and relished hearing about the tea trail into its hidden valley—now you’ve got some foundational understanding of geography and logistics to prepare for a backpacking trip.
4) Read the travel accounts of others
There’s an ever-accumulating wealth of travel literature about many destinations, and there are few deeper joys following a trip than reading others’ accounts of their journeys to the same area. Visited the Serengeti recently? Sweeten your nostalgia with the majesty of Peter Matthiessen’s The Tree Where Man Was Born.
Top off your Parisian getaway with a reading (or rereading) of Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast. There’s Rebecca West for Southeast Europe, Bruce Chatwin for Patagonia, John McPhee for Alaska, Freya Stark for the Middle East, Marco Polo for Central Asia—the list goes on and on, and soars gleefully across the centuries. And don’t forget all the glorious fiction that evokes place so piercingly, from Paul Bowles’ Morocco to Karen Russell’s South Florida outback.
Who knows? Maybe you’ll find yourself putting pen to paper after gorging on a sumptuous literary feast—the world needs to hear your impressions of Johannesburg and Bangkok, too!
5) Try making some of the dishes you relished overseas
Inevitably, some of our very strongest and most enduring recollections of a particular destination have to do with gastronomy.
Sampling local cuisine gets you inside a place like nothing else, and often enough we’re salivating over remembered flavors by the time we return home. Why not to recreate those flavors in your home kitchen?
Between plentiful online resources and international cookbooks, you’re likely to be able to find some starting points fairly easily—and hopefully some edifying background on the cultural (and ecological) context of a given dish. You may not be able to track down every single ingredient in its most authentic form, but you can always substitute with something analogous and ready to hand.
If you’re satisfied with the results, you might even throw a dinner party to introduce friends to the gustatory pleasures you enjoyed on your recent vacation. Is there a better opportunity, meanwhile, for sharing some trip stories and pictures (judiciously, of course)?
6) Learn a language
Perhaps you learned some fundamentals of the native language ahead or during your trip, or maybe you coasted by with one or two choice phrases. Either way, you can always dig deeper: Mastering a second language is a lifelong process, and an unparalleled way to broaden cultural awareness and your worldview.
It’s also yet another remedy for those post-travel blues. You can relive your trip, and set yourself up powerfully for the next, by immersing yourself in the nuances of tongue that surrounded you.
These days, you’ve got loads of options for tackling another language, from community-college classes to fantastic print- and web-based tutorials. Look back through your travel pictures or logbook and try identifying names and phrases you re-encounter there; this is a nice way to firmly link your new linguistic explorations with your journey.
Be prepared for mind-numbing frustration—learning a language can be enormously challenging, especially as we age—but think of all the good you’re doing for your gray matter. Meanwhile you’re exposing yourself to words and expressions that sometimes have little analogue in your native tongue, and thereby seeing the world afresh—something you can’t put a price on.
7) Take a weekend trip somewhere nearby
You’re still in travel mode, adept at planning routes, negotiating public transportation, reading maps, and living out of a suitcase or backpack. Why not take advantage of your travel-readiness—and ease yourself more gently into the normal routine—by dashing off on a weekend trip soon after coming home?
It’s a chance to explore nearby territory—new or familiar—through especially receptive eyes. It can also be an excellent way to find a suitably reflective place to capture those trip memories. Ensconce yourself in a little bed-and-breakfast or motel within a few hours of home, and intermix small-scale sightseeing with leisurely writing or scrapbooking.
This way you create a sort of magical transition time between the excitement of your big journey and the everyday routine of home. It can’t always work logistically, but this might be the ideal approach every time you embark on or return from an extended getaway: a practice to usher yourself into and out of the specialized mindset of the journey.
Anything you can do to soften the dissonance of that threshold between travel and home/work life will likely mitigate some of those post-travel woes.
8) Walk your neighborhood with the attitude and openness you employed overseas
Even when you can’t afford a weekend getaway, you can still reap the rewards of your travel-primed self on home territory. Instead of grumbling about the humdrum-ness of your backyard in comparison with the elegance and exoticism of where you were, approach that backyard—your neighborhood, your city, your region—like a tourist (a respectful and engaged tourist, that is).
Wander the streets with as few preconceptions as you can; discard your normal habits for a day and let your feet lead you to new side streets, restaurants, shops, and vantages.
Such an approach is bound to result in new discoveries and deeper appreciations. At the broadest level, it’s also a way to practice bringing an open-minded, open-hearted, and adventurous spirit, characteristic of so many world-trotting journeys, into your day-to-day life.
9) Make a list of your dream travel destinations
So you’re feeling sullen and restless within the too-familiar realm of home. Why not start or update a list of dream trips?
As anyone with a travel bug knows, the affliction only becomes more infectious as it’s indulged. Even on the flight home, your brain may be spinning with images of tropical hideaways and vintage castles—you might as well scratch that itch a bit as you come down from your travel highs.
Sit yourself down with a mug of coffee and a world map and start bucket-listing. Dream big and dream wide—you’ll never get everywhere, but that’s not ultimately the point. You may never be as creative and motivated in your travel ambitions as fresh off the road, so (and here we echo a prevailing theme) take advantage of that unique frame of mind and start sketching out some possibilities.
In the daydreaming and research process you’ll end up doing a bit of armchair traveling, as you do when cracking open a classic account of world exploration or listening to music made on the other side of the planet.
10) When all else fails—embrace those blues!
Sometimes fighting against a feeling only makes it worse, or keeps you from fully experiencing all of its nuances. Maybe try opening yourself up to the post-travel blues, just as you opened yourself up to your destination. You might find your mind wandering deeply into freshly minted memories, reliving your experiences abroad and already warping them slightly into the self-mythologizing versions we all naturally stockpile.
There’s a beauty in sadness; some mighty fine art, after all, has come from that wellspring. Compose a poem, write a song, paint a watercolor expressing what you’re feeling: that longing for a particular place and particular sensations, both; that deep-rooted envy the homebound feel for the light-footed traveler.
Who knows? You may even be compelled to start jotting down those recollections that are haunting you, and all of a sudden you’re at the top of this list and dissipating the post-travel blues with the creation of a good old-fashioned travel chronicle.
And then—before you know it—that next vacation is looming on the horizon, and you start feeling that familiar anticipation as you stop the mail, wrap up work demands for the time being, and start devouring guidebooks. Your next journey is about to begin—and the cycle continues.