Have you ever felt bummed after a trip? The first time I felt the pang of sadness that comes at the end of a trip I thought something must be wrong with me. How could I be so selfish? How could I possibly be sad after coming home from a wonderful (and privileged) trip? My logical brain knows that I’m fortunate to be able to travel the way I do, but my emotional brain falls into a funk at the end of a trip. Naturally, I did a little investigating and learned that post-travel depression is a real thing!
Not only do most people feel that heaviness around the end of a trip, but we also have a weird sense of guilt for feeling that way – so we don’t talk about it.
So hear me – post-travel blues and post-travel depression are common and it’s OK to talk about them. It’s also OK to feel those feelings. And it’s definitely OK to learn strategies to beat those blues.
What is Post-Travel Depression?
It’s exactly as it sounds. Post-travel depression is a feeling of depression or sadness directly following a trip. It can also start to set in during the days leading up to the end of a trip. Typically, the bigger (and better) the trip – the worse the post-travel depression can be.
Why? Because travel is transformative.
Yes, taking a break from your day to day life and having time to relax only to be thrown back into your mountain high to-do list can hit you hard. But what tends to be more difficult is the transformation you experience. When you explore the world, meet new people and learn new things you change. Each time you travel, you evolve as a person. When you return home, however, all of the people and things in your life have probably stayed the same. Nothing has changed for them – but a lot has changed for you. That can be difficult.
Many travelers who’ve been away for longer periods of time (like months or years) report still feeling “not back to normal” after a year or more of returning home. The same is true for any kind of transformation.
Think about this. I used to work in the fitness industry and I’ve seen this story play out more times than I can count.
A person goes through a massive transformation of weight loss, lifestyle, and fitness. They’re a brand new person with brand new values and brand new habits. Their friends and families didn’t go through the same transformation. They can’t understand this “new version” of the person they love. I’ve seen friendships and even marriages dissolve because one person transformed and the other didn’t.
There’s a reason travelers tend to surround themselves with other travelers – like attracts like. I’m not saying that if you travel you’ll lose all of your friends but you can definitely cut yourself some slack if you feel a little down after a trip.
All that to say, there are some ways to combat post-travel depression and mitigate those feelings. So, let’s focus on that!
Practical Ways to Beat the Post-Travel Blues
Start Planning Your Next Trip
Travel is a drug (the best kind) and the best way to get your next fix is to start planning your next adventure. Even if your next trip is a year away, start the planning process now. Research where you’ll stay, where you’ll eat, what you want to see, and the local culture. It can be really helpful to have another trip in the back (or front) of your mind.
Keep Busy During the Final Days of Your Trip
It’s not uncommon for post-travel depression to start setting in days before your trip is even over! The last thing we need is to waste the final days of a vacation worrying about going home so stay busy. It might seem counterintuitive but rather than front-loading your trip with day trips, tours, and excursions – save some of that for the final days.
Take Care of Yourself
We tend to eat well, hydrate, get lots of sleep and pamper ourselves before a trip but consider flipping this. Once we get home, it’s important to do all of those things tenfold! Jump right back into your healthy eating plan and exercise routine. Drink lots of water. And treat yourself to a massage or spa day.
Take an Extra Day Off
There’s nothing like coming home from a trip and diving right back into work to give you a giant reality slap in the face. If it’s possible, book yourself an extra day off to rest, reset, and get yourself organized before returning to work. Take this time to relax because let’s be honest, there are plenty of times you come home from a trip exhausted!
Write About Your Trip
Does it surprise you that I’m advocating writing? I didn’t think so! It’s incredibly therapeutic to write about your experiences. Whether you start a personal travel blog or use a physical journal, spend some time writing down your favorite memories, insights and ah-ha moments you had during your travels. This will serve two purposes:
- It allows stream of consciousness writing. Getting things out of your head and onto paper can work wonders for your mindset. Use this writing time to unload everything from your trip. What did you love and not love? Which moments made you laugh? What didn’t go as planned? Anything and anything that comes up for you, write it down.
- It keeps your memories intact. Our brains aren’t made to store information and they’re incredibly unreliable. Memories fade and we forget wonderful moments! Writing them down creates a keepsake for you to revisit later. I love journaling during and after my trips!
Become a Tourist in Your Hometown
Travelers have a certain kind of mindset. Not to toot our own horns, but we (travelers) are awesome humans! Think about it. When you’re in a new place you notice every little shop, you visit museums, you try new foods, you go exploring…right? Maintaining that kind of tourist mindset in your hometown can seriously enrich your life!
I love this one, so here are some ideas to get you started:
- Visit your local museums (many also offer virtual tours)
- Try a new restaurant once a month (or explore a new cuisine at home)
- Check out the trails in your local area
- Look for community events to take in
- Pop in to little boutiques and shops when you’re out and about
Book Staycations, Day Trips & Road Trips
Pack your carry-on and become a weekend warrior. There are all kinds of amazing day trips to be had in your local area. If you’re a fellow Maritimer, check out these 7 Nova Scotia road trips you should take. It’s also fun to book a weekend (or even just a single night) in some of your local accommodations, cottages or airbnbs.
Take a Class
Another great way to keep your mind moving forward and avoid post-travel depression is to sign up for a class. As I’m writing this blog post, I’ve just enrolled in a Yale University online program called “The Psychology of Well-Being” and I’m loving it.
There are a ton of courses & classes that are really useful for travelers but here are a few I’d recommend:
Photography – we all want to take great photos while we’re traveling, right? You wouldn’t believe how many people I meet who have a fancy DSLR camera but are still shooting in automatic mode!
Language – having a second or third language is one of the most useful skills you can develop as a traveler. This is my single biggest academic regret. I wish I’d taken languages more seriously but as an adult, I’m committed to learning!
Spend Time with Friends
How often have you said “Let’s meet for drinks soon” and then weeks or months go by before you actually make it happen? As I mentioned in my intro to this article, it can be difficult to adjust to life at home after you’ve been away but it’s still important to connect. Make plans with friends (even if it’s just a video chat) and LISTEN more than talk.
Get away from media! We’re big advocates for stepping away from social media on a regular basis. That doesn’t mean you have to do a full-blown social media detox (although it’s a great idea), but setting some boundaries around how much screen time you allow can have a seriously miraculous impact on your mental health.
If you take one thing away from this blog, I hope it's this: The post-travel blues are totally normal and very common! It's completely natural to feel a little “off” after an amazing trip somewhere but you don't have to suffer. I truly hope you found this helpful and I'd love to hear about your own experiences.