The worst part of travel isn’t the security checkpoints with prison-issue wands, puffs of air blowing in your face or gloved agents pawing through your belongings. It’s not the airline seats with their lumbar supports that spear your spine or the $2.25 you pay for a small bottle of filtered tap water at airport restaurants. It’s not the jetlag—which can be so brutal that your left foot doesn’t know where your right foot is walking—or the suitcase that vanished with the travel clothes, gadgets and gear you have spent half a decade assembling.
The worst part of travel is actually coming home. One day you are in Peru, gaping at Machu Picchu or in Quebec City, learning about why the English and the French both coveted the area. Maybe you’ve been cycling in Italy, trekking in Nepal, cruising down the Nile in Egypt, or sauna hopping in Finland. The next day, you open the door to your digs and…chaos.
The answering machine is blinking, there are hundreds or thousands of emails, the snail mail spills over the edge of a huge tub and stares at you from the floor. There are bills to be paid, deadlines to be met, appointments to be kept. Your hair needs new highlights, your car is due for servicing, there’s a leak in your office, you forgot to send your sister-in-law a birthday gift. The exotic fades as you slip into the quotidian and start trouble-shooting, catching up, returning calls, and squirming in the dentist’s chair. Hooray! You are home.
I have not yet figured out how to make homecoming a celebration. But I have a few tips if you are as overwhelmed as I am when you step over your own welcome mat.
1) Even if you are committed to NOT being wired when you travel, try to check your email at least once before the big return.
You will have a good idea of what awaits you and can perhaps forestall a crisis or two.
2) Set the vacation response on your computer before you leave on a trip. It can say something like, “Hi, there. Sorry I will be a continent away from my computer from (fill in the date) to (fill in the end date). I will respond to you upon my return.” This lets folks know that you weren’t ignoring them, and they learn when you will be back so they can re-contact you then.
3) When you set the vacation response, allow yourself a day or two to land. Pick a return date that is day or two after your actual homecoming.
4) Don’t schedule too many things for the first week of your return. Allow yourself to re-acclimate slowly.
5) Do something pleasurable for yourself. A bath in Dead Sea salts. Print out your favorite photos from the trip. Go for a wrap and massage. Go to bed early. The emails will not evaporate if you don’t answer them right away.
6) Tell selected friends and family a few trip highlights, so the memories stay vivid and fresh in your mind.
7) Contact a new friend from the trip and moan a little about how overwhelming it is to come home and how you wish you were back on the trip again.
Bon voyage and bon retour. If you have any other tips for landing softly, by all means let us know. If you get an automated vacation response, you will know that the homecoming was too much, and we’re on the road again.