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There’s only one downside to a great gap year and that’s the return to the real world.
I was away backpacking for two years and I’m sure serial killers find it easier to resettle into the community than I did.
I was used to a life of freedom that flourished in the absence of rules and responsibilities. I woke up whenever the room got too light, I slept whenever the music stopped and I moved from city to city whenever I’d exhausted the attractions.
I returned to picking up where I left off on a hefty mortgage; chasing up old friends who’d since had three kids and no longer left the house; and applying for a million jobs I didn’t want in the first place. With the best will in the world, such exertions do not become me!
If you’ve already boarded that one-way flight, don’t lose the will to live – this is what I should have done to make my homecoming less life-sapping. There’s still time to save yourself and here’s how.
Re-connect before you arrive:
Naturally friendships can slip if you’re always busy fun-having and your mates at home have nothing of greater magnitude than a new haircut to report.
Make the effort to let people know your return date and that you are looking forward to hearing all about what they’ve been up to. Arrange an actual meeting date if you can so it’s something to look forward to.
Manage your expectations:
The excitement of the homecoming lasted almost until the final speed-bump driving out of Heathrow’s terminal three.
Don’t expect all singing, all dancing parties good enough for the Prodigal Son – it’s not the movies and generally the response is all a bit underwhelming if you build it up.
Do some groundwork:
It’s hard to get your mind on returning to work or study while you’re half way through a skydive or enjoying a surf but there’s always some downtime when you travel.
Grab the chance while you’re sitting on transport or waiting for your Pot Noodle to settle and start to think of three things you could do before you get home to help you get in the right mindset.
Update your CV and send a provisional email to a few recruitment agencies to let them know when you will be available to start work. Start following job sites on Twitter.
Kick-start your social life:
When you miss your new mates and your old mates have moved on with their relationships or circumstances have changed, it can be lonely.
Don’t give yourself chance to mope about, take control by joining new groups. Sign up to courses that interest you, find friendship and networking groups through Facebook to broaden your circle and take up a new hobby to get yourself out and meeting new people.
Do something spontaneous:
Half the buzz of travelling is that it’s full of surprises and crazy impulses. Get the measure right though – shaving your head for charity is fine, a face tattoo probably isn’t.
Commit yourself to a charity run and then you’ll have something to work towards or go to the train station and take the first train leaving at 10.20am. It can be anything you like as long as you feel excited about it.
Share your memories:
Your mind will be buzzing with all the great things you’ve seen and done and it’s hard when friends or family can’t relate or are just not interested in hearing about it for the next month. Start a blog to share your photos and stories with other people who may learn something from your journey or have stories and memories they can share with you.
Writing about your experiences can be enjoyable, keeps you occupied and will introduce you to lots of like-minded people who you may be able to travel with in the future.
Plan mini highlights:
Money may be tight after a big trip but having nothing to look forward to really emphasises why you wanted to escape in the first place. If you plan in advance you can find some great deals. Book a weekend trip to a city in your own country that you haven’t visited before.
Arrange to meet up with the friends you made on your travels when they are also home. It doesn’t matter how far away the break is, just booking and planning for it will give you something to look forward to. Subscribe to email newsletters from travel companies and money-saving deals to stay inspired and remind yourself that there will be plenty more chances for another adventure.
Help someone else:
A quick way to stop feeling sorry for yourself is to help someone else. If you’re between jobs or finding it hard to get back on the career ladder, search for voluntary opportunities close to home. They may not be paid but a few hours a week will look great on your CV, will stop you having nothing to do and will make you feel good about yourself and how you are spending your time.
Remember what travel taught you:
Don’t slip back in to your old life as if it never happened. Travel teaches you to rely on yourself, to trust your instinct and not be afraid to take a different path. Remember all the things you achieved while you were away. All the things that scared you but that you managed to make turn out well. Focus on all the great decisions you made for yourself and the doors they opened for you.
Remember that you are stronger, braver and more confident than you probably ever realised before. Don’t ever let go of that.
The world isn’t going anywhere and is ready to be explored again, any time you’re ready.
Enjoy the comfort of your own bed, a hot bath, EastEnders, a cup of tea and a Sunday roast.
There is something to smile about every single day, just start small and keep your eyes open for new opportunities.