How To Survive Reverse Culture Shock

by Dave on August 18, 2009 · 25 comments

Heading back to Virginia

Heading back to Virginia

If ever there was a long term traveler who didn’t want to experience reverse culture shock, it was me one month ago in Medellin.  I’d been living the good life for 20 months, and I knew my time was almost up.  Before I left home in 2007, I imagined myself as possessing the maturity to return when “the time was right.”  In reality, I had fully transitioned to a new way of life, and I wasn’t prepared to let go.

Despite my stationary status in Colombia toward the end, I only had to step out of my apartment to be in an exotic culture where salsa music surrounded me, palm trees lined the streets, mountains were visible whenever I looked above the horizon, and animal testicles were a popular offering in the local park.  Somehow, returning to predictable, suburban America was less than appealing.

Surprisingly, I discovered a plethora of ways to actually enjoy the re-entry process.  Without further ado, I offer you my 10 best tips for transitioning home from traveling and living abroad.

1. Take Advantage of Seeing Your Native Country Through New Eyes

You’ve been away a long time and suddenly you’re back on familiar soil, yet your perspective is inevitably different as a result of all the other cultures and ways of life you’ve been exposed to while away.  Take this unique opportunity (which might feel like a psychedelic mind trip) to follow whatever strikes up your curiosity about an environment in which the mundane may suddenly seem fascinating.  By embracing a child-like curiosity, home might not seem so boring after all.

2. Continue Meeting New People

A universally appreciated aspect of independent travel is the way in which relationships can form through the briefest of shared experiences.  You are constantly exposed to new ways of thinking, cultural backgrounds, and ways to swear in foreign languages.  Back at home, pretend you are once again the new guy or girl in town (which you should be use to by then) and you’ll see just how easy it is to keep that social travel vibe going.

3. Seek Out Activities Inspired From Abroad

Didn’t get a chance to join an ashram in India?  Start taking yoga classes when you get home.  Become addicted to salsa in Latin America?  Do a web search for bars in your area offering salsa nights.  The list is endless, from sports to spirituality, cooking to kayaking, chances are good you’ve picked up a few new interests to pursue.

4. Be Slow to Reconnect with People

Purposefully spread out your reunions with family, friends, old colleagues and acquaintances over several weeks, if not months.  This will give you an opportunity to continue telling tales of your adventures abroad over an extended period of time.  Even your most ardent admirers won’t likely have the ear for more than a few stories during that first meeting.  If they do, enjoy the experience!

5. Take A Few Weekend Trips

If you’ve been traveling a long time, you may get antsy being in the same place for an extended time.  Plan a few short weekends away, perhaps once a month, to nearby places.  Moving around a little will surely stir up memories of your travels and hopefully put you back in the same emotional state.  These trips could be to reconnect with old friends or couchsurf and explore new cities.

6. Consider Living Somewhere New

Travel long enough, and “home” becomes wherever you lay your head at night.  Starting over in new places becomes routine, so why not take advantage of this comfort level and look for your next job in a new city or region of the country.  If you find work there, then you can look forward to discovering a new place all over again, which will surely keep you occupied as opposed to settling back into old routines in a familiar environment.

7. Eat Well

Food is an easy way to reconnect with the countries you visited.  Once you’ve experienced authentic Thai food, Indian curries, or Spanish tapas, you know what to look for in a good restaurant.  Suddenly, the large Vietnamese population in your area is a big plus, since going out for pho reminds you of that time in Ho Chi Minh City when…

8. Catch Up on Your Reading

Remember how everyone in Asia seemed to be reading Shantaram, but you didn’t have the desire to carry around a 944-page book?  Being home is an opportune time to catch up on the reading you missed while traveling.  If the books of interest are set in places you’ve already been, then you will be able to more easily identify with them.  At the same time, indulge in a few books about the places didn’t visit to keep your wanderlust alive.

9.  Savor Souvenirs + Give Gifts

Savor your souvenirs and give yourself permission to fully enjoy them.  Frame and hang the new Laotian watercolors on your wall.  Sip the variety of teas you amassed in China.  Make a custom photobook of your favorite animal encounters, or a calendar to hang up at your next job.  Along the same lines, give the exotic gifts you collected to their intended recipients.  Hopefully, Dad will appreciate the authentic Sikh sword you picked up in Punjab!

10. Reconnect With People You Met Abroad

Relationships of varying strengths are formed while traveling, and chances are you already have a bell curve on Facebook with regard to the frequency you communicate with people.  Take the time to invest in your strongest travel-generated relationships by staying in touch with messages from time to time.  It will give you a chance to relive some old experiences.  With a little luck, you’ll see each other again.

Don’t be surprised if most people don’t respond.  When together in person, asking for an e-mail address or Facebook seems natural, however once you’re both back at home, you may find the connection was only the result of being at the same place, at the same time.  C’est la vie!

In conclusion, your experience returning home after extended travel is going to be largely based on attitude.  Use these tips to adopt the right mindset, and try not to compare life at home with that on the road.  Instead, think about how much you’ve grown during the time you were away, and look ahead to the new adventures that await you.

About the Author:

is the author of 1703 posts on Go Backpacking.

Dave is Editor and Founder of Go Backpacking and Medellin Living, and the Co-founder of Travel Blog Success. Follow him on Twitter @rtwdave or Google+

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Categories: Post-trip
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25 Comments

Kim August 18, 2009 at 4:23 pm

Hi Dave! First and foremost, welcome back to the States! I have been lurking around your site for more than a year now in preperation for my own around the world trip that I am doing with my sister. We leave next month! I cannot begin to tell you how valuable your site has been in my planning…thank you so much for documenting your experiences so well! Check out our site if you have the time and feel free to email me with any tips or suggestions, as we are going to a lot of the same countries that you did. I’d love to hear your input. Thanks again and good luck…

Reply

Kim August 18, 2009 at 11:23 am

Hi Dave! First and foremost, welcome back to the States! I have been lurking around your site for more than a year now in preperation for my own around the world trip that I am doing with my sister. We leave next month! I cannot begin to tell you how valuable your site has been in my planning…thank you so much for documenting your experiences so well! Check out our site if you have the time and feel free to email me with any tips or suggestions, as we are going to a lot of the same countries that you did. I’d love to hear your input. Thanks again and good luck…

Reply

Saben August 18, 2009 at 5:32 pm

and bookmarked…. Now if only I can find it 8 or 9 months from now when I’m home selling plasma to by a plane ticket ANYWHERE.

Reply

Saben August 18, 2009 at 12:32 pm

and bookmarked…. Now if only I can find it 8 or 9 months from now when I’m home selling plasma to by a plane ticket ANYWHERE.

Reply

Dave August 18, 2009 at 7:55 pm

Hi Kim,

Thanks for stepping out of the virtual shadows and introducing yourself!

I checked out your blog and thought it looked good. Kudos on picking a cute domain name too. You must have a great relationship with your sister to be heading off on such a long trip together. Don’t be afraid to take time apart – days, or even weeks, to explore different regions or countries independently.

If you have any specific questions, let me know, otherwise I’ve subscribed to your RSS and will chime in with any words of wisdom. :) I also added a link to your blog from my site.

Good luck!

Reply

Dave August 18, 2009 at 2:55 pm

Hi Kim,

Thanks for stepping out of the virtual shadows and introducing yourself!

I checked out your blog and thought it looked good. Kudos on picking a cute domain name too. You must have a great relationship with your sister to be heading off on such a long trip together. Don’t be afraid to take time apart – days, or even weeks, to explore different regions or countries independently.

If you have any specific questions, let me know, otherwise I’ve subscribed to your RSS and will chime in with any words of wisdom. :) I also added a link to your blog from my site.

Good luck!

Reply

Dave August 18, 2009 at 7:58 pm

I’m sure you’ll be writing your own post on the topic! But seriously, it is a weird experience those first few days, but it wears off. I guess it really is like a drug!

It’s amazing how fast I’ve gotten accustomed to my mom’s cooking at night and my new Blackberry. After a month back, it is scary to say this, but it almost feels like I never left!

Maybe I should be looking up the closest blood bank….

Reply

Dave August 18, 2009 at 2:58 pm

I’m sure you’ll be writing your own post on the topic! But seriously, it is a weird experience those first few days, but it wears off. I guess it really is like a drug!

It’s amazing how fast I’ve gotten accustomed to my mom’s cooking at night and my new Blackberry. After a month back, it is scary to say this, but it almost feels like I never left!

Maybe I should be looking up the closest blood bank….

Reply

Kim August 18, 2009 at 9:24 pm

Thanks Dave! I will definitely be hitting you up for advice. Thanks so much for your feedback!

Reply

Kim August 18, 2009 at 4:24 pm

Thanks Dave! I will definitely be hitting you up for advice. Thanks so much for your feedback!

Reply

Jason August 18, 2009 at 9:40 pm

Great timing! I just finished my trip and am heading back to school soon for my last semester. I am definitely going to look into salsa lessons, will definitely take a few weekend trips in nearby cities with hostels, and can’t wait to add to my collection of interesting things to hang on my wall when I get back to my apartment. Thanks for the ideas!

Reply

Dave August 19, 2009 at 2:44 am

Jason – you can’t go home! I’ve been enjoying all the photos of pretty Argentine girls and partying you’ve been posting on your blog. :)

Do you know what you want to do after school?

Reply

Dave August 18, 2009 at 9:44 pm

Jason – you can’t go home! I’ve been enjoying all the photos of pretty Argentine girls and partying you’ve been posting on your blog. :)

Do you know what you want to do after school?

Reply

Locationless Living August 19, 2009 at 2:40 am

Great timing! I just finished my trip and am heading back to school soon for my last semester. I am definitely going to look into salsa lessons, will definitely take a few weekend trips in nearby cities with hostels, and can’t wait to add to my collection of interesting things to hang on my wall when I get back to my apartment. Thanks for the ideas!

Reply

Anil August 19, 2009 at 1:47 pm

When I was a child having moved back and forth from Turkey many times I had difficulty coming back to the US and leaving things behind. For me it helps to have little routines that make me feel grounded wherever I am. It can be the simplest things like a cup of coffee or a morning jog.

Reply

Anil August 19, 2009 at 8:47 am

When I was a child having moved back and forth from Turkey many times I had difficulty coming back to the US and leaving things behind. For me it helps to have little routines that make me feel grounded wherever I am. It can be the simplest things like a cup of coffee or a morning jog.

Reply

Dave August 19, 2009 at 2:47 pm

Good suggestion Anil. I think that is why it was important to me that I signed up for a new gym right away – it had become a big part of my routine in Medellin and being able to continue it at home has helped with the transition. One habit I didn’t continue was a daily cup of coffee, and I’m not sure I can last much longer without brewing some Juan Valdez!

Reply

Dave August 19, 2009 at 9:47 am

Good suggestion Anil. I think that is why it was important to me that I signed up for a new gym right away – it had become a big part of my routine in Medellin and being able to continue it at home has helped with the transition. One habit I didn’t continue was a daily cup of coffee, and I’m not sure I can last much longer without brewing some Juan Valdez!

Reply

Alex August 19, 2009 at 3:47 pm

Great article! I just got back from India a few days ago, so it is both timely and helpful! To read more of my travels: http://twitter.com/budizzle

Reply

Dave August 20, 2009 at 12:53 am

Thanks Alex, and congrats on surviving India! I have a Dutch friend there wrapping up her first trip.

Glad we connected on Twitter.

Reply

Dave August 19, 2009 at 7:53 pm

Thanks Alex, and congrats on surviving India! I have a Dutch friend there wrapping up her first trip.

Glad we connected on Twitter.

Reply

Alex August 19, 2009 at 8:47 pm

Great article! I just got back from India a few days ago, so it is both timely and helpful! To read more of my travels: http://twitter.com/budizzle

Reply

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