I’m going home next week for the first time in more than a year and the entire thing kind of scares me.
I want to go home. It’s time. I need it. I want to see my family and friends and eat cheese and Mexican food and bake and sleep in my bed and see Mt. Rainier and go out to happy hour with friends and not sweat constantly or be eaten alive by mosquitoes. I need and want all of that. But it’s not as simple as just being able to look forward to catching up with people and eating the foods I’ve missed.
The thing is, I don’t know if I’m coming back to Thailand, or assuming I do, when that would be. Which is problematic considering a) I love it and b) I have someone. Oops.
When I first made the move to Southeast Asia, I bought a one-way ticket without a second thought. This time, buying another one-way ticket home, was difficult. While originally I was also full of doubt, questions and uneasiness, there was also a lot of excitement, anticipation and readiness to go. I was ready for something different, for a new adventure and to be on my own. Now, I have different doubts and questions, along with a really unwelcome feeling of indecisiveness and being lost.
In the beginning I thought traveling and living abroad would help point me in the right direction of where I want to be and what I want to be doing with my life. Ultimately, I think it will…but at the moment I feel more directionless than I did to begin with. That wasn’t supposed to happen…
I’ll be leaving Thailand exactly two years after I originally arrived. During that time I’ve become TEFL-certified and taught English in a variety of Thai schools, backpacked through India, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, lived on my own, learned to ride a motorbike, (tried to) learn a new language, got familiar with visa runs and my passport number, fought constantly with mosquitoes and cockroaches, made several friends and saw many of them come and go, showed family and friends from home my new, adopted home. I’ve gotten used to squat toilets, cold showers, eating rice for breakfast, never wearing a seat belt, riding a motorbike in the rain, nothing being on time and drinking beer with ice. While those will be easy to get used to not having or doing, there are other things that I think have changed me more and will take more time to adjust to.
My concept and perception of money is completely screwed up. Spending a couple dollars on a full meal is normal and a glass of wine is a splurge. I can get my motorbike serviced and washed for less than half of what a tank of gas will cost at home. My way of driving has completely changed – from driving on the left-side of the road, swerving in between traffic and not thinking twice about driving up the side of the road the wrong way – what will I feel like behind the wheel of a car in America?
I’m also (more) used to a completely different set of customs, social rules and behaviors. I’ve been surrounded by Buddhism instead of Christianity, holding your tongue instead of spouting off, and being patient no matter what the situation.
What’s going to happen when I get home? And what am I going to do next?
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Hey! I'm Alana and I've spent nearly the past decade living in Chiang Mai, Thailand, working as a writer and photographer. I started Paper Planes as a place to share local insight, special places, and how to travel well through a range of experiences — from hostels to high-end hotels, street meat to multi-course meals.
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This was a beautifully written post, Alana. I can relate in the sense that I’m not sure who I’m supposed to be when I get home, and I don’t know how I’m going to get used to just being in the same place all the time with so much less adventure and stimulation.
Thanks for reading, Ashley – are you heading home soon?
Alana, I agree with Ashley, that was so eloquent. My vote is to not let any moss grow under your feet. If you must get a job in the U.S., make sure it involves travel. Any employer will see from your blog your sense of wonder, appreciation for cultural differences, your versatility, and your fearlessness. Thank you so much for the help you gave me while I was there. You were a lifesaver.
Thank you for reading, Therese – I really appreciate it!
Great post Alana. I can totally relate as I feel pretty lost sometimes too! I’m sure you’ll have a great time at home and I’ll be checking back to see what you’ve decided 🙂
I know everyone feels this way some point or another, but it never actually seems that way and is always good to hear that you’re not alone!
When I came home after 2.5 year away, it was a bit of a rough transition. I felt like everyone at home hadn’t changed, but I had changed so much that it was hard to readjust. Good luck.
Ha – thank you!
Very well said. This is something a lot of people can relate to. I hope you’re able to find the answers to your questions!
Thank you – I hate this feeling of being in limbo and indecision!
I know the transition moving home after living abroad is tough- I’ve written several posts on it and am currently writing another! I feel the same- lost, unsure if I should go back..I think time will give us perspective and I hope with some future travel plans ( which involve neither home or where I was living abroad ) will help me decide perhaps! I guess were lucky we have two wonderful places to choose between as well!
Very lucky…and that can also make it very difficult sometimes!
I can definitely relate to this feeling. Although, I think sometimes going home after a long time can bring the perspective that you need in order to decide what to do next. We went back to Canada for a few weeks last Christmas after about 18 months on the road (a good part of that was spent in Thailand). It was wonderful to see our family and friends, but it also helped us to realize that we weren’t ready to move back home permanently yet.
It will be interesting to see how I feel and if I get some more clarity on where I want to be now… Thanks for reading!
Reverse culture shock, I believe it’s called. I’m nervous too, if I ever decide to return to North America (or ANY western country for that matter) long term!
Hoping all the best for you, and probably the most important thing to do will be to listen to the universe. If it is giving you options or telling you to ride the tailwind again, then maybe that’s what your’e supposed to do 🙂 Hoping all the best for you in your next chapter!
I know how you feel. Every time I go home I have some kind of culture shock. GOod luck!
Just watched a video on reverse culture shock. It’s tough. I think once you start traveling, it’s a one-way road to eternal wanderlust. It gets harder and harder to go back home, since every time you feel a little further away. you know your friends less well, you enjoy your old favorite places less, and it’s just okay at best. The first week back can be nice, but then it’s just…nothing. It’s possible to readjust, but it takes a long time, and in the meantime, the world beckons.
Going home is always harder than leaving home. Be careful – some people fall into a depression. Have a plan B – in my case it was to spend some time in a new city in my country.
Thanks, Jon – already have several little trips planned!
I give you two weeks before you’re itching to be back on the road again! Good luck Alana!
Wanna make a bet?
Don’t worry Alana….I think there are a ton of us who leave to travel or live abroad thinking we’ll have some sort of clear picture or answers in our head of what’s next and then we realize that we don’t have any answers but more questions. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s life. We’re all richer for doing what we did. All I want to do is become an expat now. I never in my wildest dreams thought I’d want to live overseas. I thought i would go back to the same life. I had a nice life before…..but now I want a simpler life.
So true about the answers and questions…
I know what you mean and it can be so strange heading home when you have been away for a while. I made a trip back after 3 years last Aug and it was surreal! Highly enjoyed it, but will not be back again for a few years again 🙂
Thanks for reading, Adam – I’m looking forward to going home, but definitely think it will be more of an adjustment than when I visited last time now that I’ve been away even longer!
Great post, i wish you the best of luck in your trip back to home.
Reverse culture shock is no joke. It took my boyfriend and I months to readjust to living in California after two years in Korea and traveling through SE Asia. Asian customs were our new norm, and we missed it something fierce. But, it was time to come home.
And when I came home in 2011, I had no idea what I was going to do next. I was scared that I’d never see my friends in Seoul again, never again taste my favorite greasy chicken from the local mini-mart, or ride the subway whose singsong announcements had become something of an inside joke between us.
But I did. I’ve been back twice, in fact. Once you get home and fill your needs for friends, family and all the comforts that only home can provide (like Mexican food and good cheese), you’re finally able to clearly see what comes next. And trust me, things have a funny way of working out exactly how they’re supposed to in the end.
What part of Seattle are you from? Born and raised in Tacoma here, and headed up that way in July. Can’t wait!
This was encouraging to read – thanks, Marissa! I was born in Tacoma too 😉
I think the one thing I’ve learned from being on the road for almost 10 months now is that you just have to take each day as it comes and that in trying to gaze into a crystal ball and see the future you only bring anxiety and frustration on yourself. Be patient with yourself and give yourself time to not only figure out what you want but how to get it… it seems that in life doors are always opening to us that we didn’t even see when we were all the way down at the other end of the corridor, so be brave, take one step at a time, and remember that even in going back, you can still be moving forward!
It’s always a balance of trying to have an idea of what you’re doing next but not worrying too much about the future!
Let me know if you’re still in Seattle! I’d love to meet up 🙂 I had similar feelings when I came back last year without a plan to travel again. Here’s a blog post I wrote about transitioning back into “real life”. Hope it offers you some solace!! http://www.thisamericangirl.com/2013/02/15/how-to-transition-into-your-real-life-after-travel/
Thanks Camille – I’m already back in Thailand but hope our paths cross at some point!
I am going home on Thursday for 10 days.. and it also slightly terrifies me.. I have been travelling and living in NZ for 2 years now.. and I am going back because my father has had a heart attack… I’m already thinking being with my family for 5 nights is going to drive me bonkers… but I also know I am going back for the right reasons.. I am a little nervous that the seeds of doubt may form in my head… and I will start thinking should i be going home etc… Oh the joys of living in the world that we want to create.. but it doesnt stop the doubts,niggles and guilt..
It’s sometimes difficult to keep the little doubts and feelings of guilt away even when everything is going fine…Good luck on your trip home.
This is so common and something I’m still experiencing! I lived in Spain for two years. I’ve been back home in Baltimore for about 7 months working a corporate 8-5 job that I loathe, and I’m ready to quit and move back to Spain again. It could happen any day, but I feel so much resistance from my family and pressure to do things the conventional way. Decisions, decisions!
Living abroad is one of the greatest and toughest decisions there is…even if you’re sure you really want to, it’s never that straightforward. Good luck!
I am going home soon too. Had bought a one way ticket from Singapore to Europe 13 years ago. I’m having mixed feelings for this upcoming relocation. Singapore feels so familiar yet different after a decade away.
A whole new adventure – good luck!
Just came across your blog via Pinterest of all places. TImely, as I too am heading back home (to London, though I’m not English, and England itself was the first big move I made half way through my life) after two years in Cambodia.
Its a tough move, one I’ve done before when I had to leave Thailand well in advance of when I wanted to. But that was 15 years ago, and after repeated small trips back to SEA I ended up moving back here to work a decade and a half later. I feel lucky to have had the chance and if things work out I’ll be back here again soon.
I concur fully with your other blog articles about the experience of living here. From prior experience, you do slot back in to “home” life soon enough. But as a SEA-phile the experience and yearning for the life here never leaves you completely.
Thanks for reading, Dave…good luck on the transition!
43 Comments on I’m going home…and I’m scared