The hardest thing about travelling is coming back.

Of course, there is the night before panic of ‘why on earth am I doing this?’; the stress of fitting your life into an already oversized back pack; the struggle of whether or not you should take your DocMartins (definitely don’t) and the inevitable first wave of shock as you get off the plane and find yourself stranded in a sweaty airport confronted by a hoard of shouting Thai taxi drivers. You don’t understand a word being yelled in your direction, but all this you are mildly prepared for: you’re expecting the trials and the adventure. That’s why you’re here, right? It was the return that came as a shock to me.

My friend and I left fresh faced and 19, planning five months of roaming around East Asia and Australia – a traditional gap yah, you might say if you’re particularly inclined to being one of those people  – our first attempt at living life outside the confines of education.

5 months turned into 2 years, spanning four continents, innumerable hostels, an endless and increasingly bizarre array of jobs (shoe shiner and potato sorter now feature on my CV) and countless people met and befriended along the way. I loved it all. There were the ups and downs: it’s not all beaches and rum, and occasionally you are faced with the slightly alarming realisation that you are alone on the other side of the world, and even more alarmingly that this was entirely your own choice. But even within these moments of abject terror you’re still there, and it’s still unforgettable. 

And then you’re back. Mum is greeting you at Heathrow arrivals, she asks if you want a Costa on the way back. Next thing you know you’re sitting at home on your sofa eating baked beans on toast, and it feels like you never left.

The most shocking thing for me was how utterly unrelated the past two years suddenly were. It seemed so distant, completely out of context, almost like it had never even happened. It’s all fun and games when you’re sitting on top of a truck somewhere in Ecuador, but where do you place that in the grand scale of things when you’re back at home, buying Filofaxes for uni?

It wasn’t so much that people didn’t care, it’s that you simply couldn’t describe what you’d been doing. Inevitably, they grow tired of your endless stories that, no matter how interested they were, they could never quite understand. The constant question of ‘How was it!?’… flashbacks of the last two years of planes, hostels, landscapes, faces and foods flood my mind: ’It was great’ just never quite seemed to cover it. Nothing really seemed to have changed that much in the time I was away: my friends were still there going about their lives, my room still messy, that couple that had been going out forever were still going out. I had been constantly moving, nothing had stayed the same for more than 3 months and the stability of home seemed so alien, like I was lost within something that should have been so familiar.

There’s a phenomenon called Inverse Culture Shock: the struggle of trying to readjust to a culture that is at once your own, but also one that you have left behind. It manifests itself in the vague surprise at a flushing toilet, sitting on a tube and realising you can understand people’s conversations around you, your favourite cafe still there, sitting in your favourite seat by the window looking at the world going by. You are suddenly struck with a feeling which is at once so odd and so normal: you are here and you are back.

And then the terrifying prospect of doing real life, of going to university, of getting a steady job. I couldn’t help but feel slightly trapped. I loved my first year at university, and I’m looking forward to my second, but the adjustment of knowing that this is where you are going to be for the next three years was remarkably difficult. Just staying, being, in one place seemed more of a challenge than I’d ever anticipated.

So, I have become a wanderlust addict (the pretension is real). I still crave the rush of waking up in the morning, deciding it’s time to leave, getting on a bus after a cursory look at a map and just going. I’ll never stop travelling, but I’ll also never forget that coming home is by far the hardest part: the feeling of being so displaced in that place ‘home’.


Follow Giselle on twitter: @GiselleStormHyam

Illustration: Esme Lonsdale