Coming Home: Life Lessons from a Year Spent Backpacking Round the World
Naturally, all the anticipation and excitement about your round the world trip is about the “going away” bit. The unknown adventures, the freedom (good riddance, morning alarm!) and all those fascinating people you'll meet as you navigate the globe with your backpack as your newfound bestie. The world is your oyster. Quite literally. And, if you're going about it in true free-spirited fashion, you probably don't even know which countries you'll end up travelling to, let alone the ones you're going to fall madly in love with. (Mexico and The Philippines, I'm coming back for you, ok?)
But because all of your focus is on leaving, coming back from your trip around the world seems impossibly far away. Non-existent even. I mean, you might not even come back at all, right? Because we all know so much can change in one year.
But then, suddenly, it's over.
Perhaps you're out of funds, tired of moving or simply ready to head home.
The next thing you know, your plane is landing on familiar soil.
And the moment you finally step through those airport doors, you just know you're back home as a waft of all those familiar scents floods your nose. (Why hello there, pollution. You have not been missed. And London! I had no idea you had such a distinct scent. I should have bottled it up to use on days when I was feeling really homesick.)
When this moment finally does arrive, it’s such an odd thing. It’s as if you’ve suddenly blinked, and a movie reel of every sunset, snorkel, mountain view, dodgy bit of street food (and the inevitable sickness that followed), late night party and starlit sky flashes before your eyes. And you think, "Um, did I just do that?!" And then it really hits you - like a tonne of bricks. You're back, and you've got to figure out what to do with your no-longer-a-backpacker self.
Now, I'll be honest, I'm still processing. But before all these odd out-of-body sensations fade away, and routine life starts to feel, well, routine again, I thought it'd be nice to capture (and share) what it feels like to come home, in its raw state, as well as all the life lessons that seem to come with it. If you've just got back from long-term travels, I really do hope you find this relatable, and take some solace in knowing that what you’re feeling is completely normal. I also hope my scribbles help make your transition that much easier, because there is, in fact, someone out there who totally gets it. If only there were a Meet up Group for Backpackers Transitioning Back to Normal Life, hey? Wait, is there one?!
So, let's do this. Here are all the feelings / thoughts / sensations that have occurred since landing back on home turf:
1. Feeling like a tourist in your own backyard: This is probably the most surreal part about coming home. Suddenly, everything that was once so familiar feels, well, odd. It's all still very much instinctual (remember to tap my Oyster card when I get on the bus, always keep an umbrella in my bag because it's probably going to rain) but still feels so alien. You're suddenly at outsider looking in, much like you've just arrived from another planet. I spent my very first weekend in East London (which if you don't know, is where the hipsters like to hang out) and I truly felt like a spectator. Still in my backpacker clothes, oblivious and not yet interested in the latest coffee craze, I truly felt like the odd man out. London suddenly felt so very London. So uniform within its confines and yet so unlike anywhere else. Sidenote: can we please abolish man buns?!
2. An appreciation for things that used to irritate the hell out of you: Now, I don't know how long this one will last. I give it a few more weeks, max. But for now, even the things that used to annoy or stress me, are suddenly rather charming. A 20-minute wait for the bus in a light drizzle, you say? Not a problem. An hour-long queue for the cool new rooftop bar in Hackney because it's sunny and the whole city's decided that this is the place to be? I'm game. Awkward silences with strangers until they've downed a few pints. No worries. I'll use my traveller social skills to break the ice.
3. An appreciation for routine: With the above, I've also discovered that routine really isn't so bad after all. After moving from hostel to hostel, trying to nod off on sleeper buses and living in wrinkled clothing that needs repacking every few days, even the simplest of life habits and life admin suddenly feel SO good. I now have a flat that will soon feel like "home" with a bed I can call my own, a laundry machine that will spit out clothes that are actually clean and a wardrobe to permanently hang my things in. I sincerely burst into tears the day I hung up my things for good. In my OWN wardrobe. It's funny how the simplest things suddenly feel so wonderful: putting my headphones on as I board that big red bus, picking up a takeaway coffee from my favourite neighbourhood coffee shop or waking up to the exact same park views from my new bedroom window. There's suddenly so much pleasure in such simple things. This is one change I'd like to hold onto for as long as I can.
4. The sudden urge to convert to minimalism: After living with so little on the road, you suddenly realise how much $hit you own. I've only picked up half of my things out of storage and there's already so much I want to toss out. Seriously, why do I own five running tops and three neon-coloured water bottles? Suddenly, all this stuff feels so extravagant - and honestly, rather wasteful. With regards to both my money and the planet. So I spent my very first weekend watching the "Minimalism" documentary on Netflix and figuring out how to apply some of these principles to my post-backpacker life. I've filled multiple bags with things I plan to donate and I've already made big plans to take a "capsule wardrobe" approach to my future fashion choices.
5. A craving for continued flexible living: After living without an alarm for nearly a year, and designing a schedule suited to me every single day of the week, I'm certainly struggling with the prospect of a more traditional 9-5 lifestyle. I met so many interesting digital nomads on my travels, all working online and designing their work around a travel lifestyle they love. And the truth is, the shape of work is fundamentally changing thanks to so much digital disruption. So I'm really starting to think about how to make work / life balance a real thing in my life. Flexibility feels so good, and so healthy. So it's time to explore the possibility of really designing a lifestyle that's perfectly suited to me. Wish me luck, hey!
6. A newfound confidence / trust in myself: Having survived countless months on the road as a solo female traveller, as well as countless travel mishaps (e.g. dealing with a drunk driver on my tour through Uyuni, surviving a stomach bug in the middle of nowhere, having my funds stolen in Brazil, avoiding taxi scams in Hanoi, shall I go on?) you start to realise that you really are capable of surviving anything. And suddenly all the things you doubted about yourself in the past seem rather insignificant. Nerves ahead of a client meeting with senior level employees? Pfff. I've just kept myself alive in the middle of the Amazon, folks. I've got this.
7. A new lease on (London) life: My newfound confidence sat alongside new feelings of wonder about home have translated into what feels like the opportunity for a real fresh start. Despite the fact that I've been in London for 12+ years (I can hardly believe it sometimes), I feel like I'm returning to a new place, as version 2.0 of me. And the opportunities suddenly seem limitless. That jaded "tired of London, tired of life" Yari feels long gone. At least for now. Instead, I have the chance to grow this blog baby, the choice to change the way I work (see #5 above) and, probably most importantly - the opportunity to shape the look and feel of my London life in a way that suits exactly where I am right now.
8. A passion for new pet projects: My pet project being this very website. It's funny how things go. Because I first started this blog as a way to heal after 2017's painful heartbreak. But it soon became my favourite way to spend my evenings, and before I knew it, I was dedicating a significant chunk of my travel time to design the site, write, vlog, learn photoshop and more. Now I'm committed more than ever to growing The Beauty Backpacker and getting one step closer to my passions possibly paying the bills.
9. A realisation that now is a good time to pat yourself on the back: It’s not often that I stop and reflect on where I’m at or how far I’ve come. Normally it's just onto the next goal. But something about coming home, and looking back on quite possibly the most intense year of my life, has forced me to get a bit reflective. And the truth is, you can’t help but suddenly feel a swell of pride. Around the fact that you’ve been brave enough to quit your job and go on this crazy adventure. Or that you’ve managed to country hop and survive new language barriers, borders and scams time and time again. Or truly bond with people who barely speak your own language. Or conquer countless fears: of heights (or should I say cliff jumps), jaguars, jungle spirits and more. This is HUGE. Really huge. So seriously, raise a glass to you, for your fearlessness, strength and truly making the most of your brief time on this beautiful planet.
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