Reverse Culture Shock

I headed straight for the women’s washroom after passing through customs off my flight from Barcelona back home to Toronto. I hadn’t flown back into Toronto in ages and was impressed by the new machines they had to scan your landing card and passport so that you moved quickly through to baggage claim. Though I really, really had to pee, I allowed a mother and her daughter to go in front of me to use the accessible washroom and she thanked me profusely. When I came out, another girl did the same thing for another set of mother-daughter who also thanked her with smiles. Suddenly, I felt at home.

A male friend, who I met while travelling and who I had spent the first half of my trip with, greeted me at the airport. He sent me a text saying he was in blue and at the left hand side of arrivals. I wondered if he said he was wearing blue in case he thought I’d forgotten what he looked like. When I saw him, it was familiarity and foreignness all at once. And that was how I felt for the proceeding 48 hours after I arrived back home.

Seven weeks is a long time to be away; I’d been away for longer, but there was something so strikingly different between the life I’d lived backpacking and the life I was coming back to at home.

We drove down the 401, slowing down as we approached the oncoming traffic. When you arrive in Toronto it hits you like a ball in the gut. One minute you’re inside the airport, then next minute you’re surrounded by skyscrapers, honking cars, advertisements, and greyness from the buildings all around you. On the one hand, it feels like home. On the other, you can’t help but feel disconnected from this kind of topography, the magnitude and multitude of it all can be overwhelming.

When you arrive home after a long trip, life feels surreal for a couple of days. You will wake up expecting to be in a hostel only to find yourself in your childhood room, in a bed you don’t quite fit into anymore, surrounded by things you used to own but that haven’t felt like yours in years. Your friends will visit and you’ll tell them stories but you won’t be able to capture what it was that made that moment so special, or that made those people so incredible. You can’t paint a picture of the person you were while travelling either. It’s a you had to be there kind of feeling, only you yourself don’t feel like you were actually there either.

I found myself questioning whether or not the past two months really had happened. Was I really just sitting on a beach in Spain? Was I just hiking mountains in Innsbruck? Walking along the Berlin Wall? Sitting in a thermal bath in Budapest?

While I was travelling I wasn’t thinking about the fact that my present moments would soon become memories that I would look back on. And now that I was back home I felt myself overwhelmed with sadness that they were the sort of memories that you couldn’t really build on. I didn’t know whether I’d ever see half the people I met ever again, and I didn’t know if I could bring back home with me the person I was around each and every one of those people. I had this conversation, drunk, with many other travelers all experiencing the same feelings. We talked about how we weren’t meeting people to create long-term friendships, or for any sort of personal gain. Instead, we were meeting people and living life right now purely to create experiences. Everything was fleeting, and I couldn’t help but feel like it was that which made it all so special.

Back at home everything is stable and more permanent. That night, the two of us watched movies with takeout pizza and wine. It was the most normal thing I had done in weeks. No, it wasn’t some crazy cool out-of-this-world moment of awe like I’d experienced while travelling, but it also didn’t make it any less significant. I realised an important part in accepting that your trip is over is learning to appreciate the small moments in your life as well as the big ones, it’s about learning to appreciate the beauty in the mundane.