As the saying goes, the grass is always greener on the other side…
One of the things we surprisingly missed on the road was a routine. Of course, when you have a routine, you typically want anything but one. I think what we truly missed was the ease of everyday life and taking care of basic needs at home. You don’t have to worry about where you’re going to sleep at night. For meals, you eat what’s at home, go to the grocery store, or go out to eat. You have your go-to restaurant options where you know what you like. You can go most places on auto pilot. Easy-peasy.
Constantly finding a place to sleep and eat (especially at a good value, for us budget travelers), figuring out how to get from point A to point B, and communicating what you want in the language du jour can get exhausting. That’s not to say it wasn’t exciting and we didn’t love it, but some days we would dream of our local Thai takeout and sitting on the couch in our home, not having to plan a thing.
We are now back in Chicago, have eaten our favorite Thai takeout dishes, sat on our couch, slept in our own bed and were reunited with plenty of other belongings (some of which we honestly forgot we owned). We reveled in our new found appreciation for American comforts like these:
Giant washing machines that only take 30-40 minutes to do a load
Dryers and dryer sheets
Free water and drink refills with plenty of ice at restaurants
Being able to use a credit card for anything
Enormous grocery stores with anything you could possibly want and tons of fresh produce
Cheap gas…yes, it’s SO much cheaper (by about half) than the 7 other countries we drove in
It was bliss…for about a week. Then I found myself searching for flights for the next vacation. That definitely won’t be for a while, but I can dream. My wanderlust didn’t, and likely won’t ever, stop.
But how was the adjustment back to “the real world,” you ask?
Overall, not that difficult. It was nothing close to what could be described as reverse culture shock. However, I had several split-second thoughts go through my head that I have never had after previous trips abroad:
- Do I have money to use the public toilet? Oh wait, I don’t need any…and it’s called a restroom or bathroom, not a toilet here.
- Where can I meet Jan? Oh yeah, we both have phones now, so we don’t need a meeting place if we go our separate ways.
- How do you say excuse me (I thought as I got out of the crowded train station on our first day in Chicago)? Um, it’s excuse me.
And there were a few other strange experiences that we’re not strange before we left:
- Talking to Jan on the phone
- Using a digital display to sign for a credit card…I forgot the first couple times and was waiting for a paper receipt to sign
- Showing ID when entering a bar (I thankfully had it on me!)
Those were all minor blips in my brain, but by far the hardest thing about coming back to reality is getting into the business mindset. I’m a week in and it has been much more difficult than expected. I didn’t forget how to do my job, but in learning other languages, perhaps I replaced some of the space in my brain that was previously dedicated to business language skills. When people talk to me about a project, I have to concentrate really hard to block out the Charlie Brown adult voice “wah wah wah *insert acronym* wah wah *insert buzzword* wah wah wah wah” in my head.
It’s actually quite comparable to re-learning Spanish or Italian for me. At first, the words are somewhere jumbled in the back of my brain, and I have to focus intently to put them together to form meaning, especially if they talk fast. But after being surrounded by it for a while, I know it’ll become natural again and the words will be both understood and said with much more ease.
What I struggle with is re-acclimating and finding a place to fit in when my surroundings haven’t changed, but I have. For a year, my job was to be a traveler, explorer, writer, photographer, logistics queen, flight deal finder extraordinaire, etc. To be honest, I’m a little (actually, a lot) bummed to exchange my title for business analyst or project manager. It doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, but it pays the bills.
Jan is in the process of looking for a job and re-learning “business-ese.” He is exploring opportunities to potentially do something completely different from what he did before we left on our Round the World journey, which I am really excited about for him. On the flip side, Jan feels guilty not working when he was the one that was more eager to get back to a work routine.
We feel a little unsettled at the moment, but we recognize we need to be patient and remember the biggest lesson we learned on the road, which is that things always have a way of working themselves out. Sometimes it doesn’t work the way you had planned or expected, but it always ends up ok.