It’s no secret that it’s a challenge to adjust to life in another country or life on the road. However, many people assume they’ll be able to pick up right where they left off when they return home.
It can be just as challenging to get back into the groove of life at home. All change, good and bad, can be difficult to get used to.
Especially if your foray into life as a digital nomad was cut short by an emergency flight home right before (or during!) lockdown.
Reverse culture shock for digital nomads
Returning home is a different experience for people who were abroad as digital nomads, backpackers, and people doing a working holiday than it is for people working as expats or studying abroad. You’ve gotten used to finding your way in a new place every few weeks or months and suddenly you’re settling into one place for the long-haul.
If you’re struggling to enjoy a life where your passport is gathering dust in a drawer and your airport lounge membership is going unused, try these ideas for embracing a life at home:
Enjoy what you missed
You probably dealt with homesickness while you were abroad. One way to help you jump into your new life at home is by making a list of all the things you missed — from peanut butter to your favorite dog walking spot — and making sure to enjoy one of them every day.
Be a tourist in your hometown
It’s easy to discover fascinating things about a foreign country. It’s also easy to assume you know everything there is to know about a place you’ve lived in for a long time.
So many of us have never been to local sights of interest — or haven’t been back since that primary school field trip. Check out museums and historic sights in your area. See what cafes, bars, and breweries have opened while you were gone. Even towns too small to support museums and theatres have community events hosted in other spaces.
No matter where you are, there are probably some great places to explore on day trips and weekend trips.
Planting seeds, literally or figuratively, is a great way to make yourself feel rooted. Starting a garden or getting some houseplants can really make a place feel like home.
If you don’t have a green thumb, you can build a new nest by hanging up pictures of friends and adding other decorating touches to make your space feel like a place that’s yours.
Keep discovering new things
Traveling is full of experiences that push you to learn and discover — both about yourself and other cultures. There’s no need to leave home to have that sort of discovery. Try working your way through a cookbook, picking up that guitar you always meant to learn to play, or finding local spots to hike and bike.
Keep making new friends
Just because you’re once again within 30-minutes of your high school friends doesn’t mean you should stop meeting new people like you did when you were traveling. Sure, it’s a lot harder to meet people when your life is steady and stable, but it’s still possible.
The easiest way to build meaningful friendships without needing to be uncommonly gregarious is by getting involved with things that will bring you together with a small group of people you have things in common with on a regular basis. What this means depends on what you’re interested in. Maybe it means trying out for a community theatre role, volunteering at a school, getting involved with an arts organization, joining a community choir, joining a book club, taking up a sport, or getting a community garden plot.
If the thought of getting thrown in with a group seems a little intimidating, you can also check out Bumble BFF. It’s like Bumble’s dating app (in fact, it’s the same app, just with different settings enabled) only instead of potential dates it connects you with potential friends.
Take on a new project
You don’t need to be fresh out of a working holiday abroad to feel lost if you’re spending all day bored at home.
Some people intentionally leave themselves some time to adjust before starting a new job, enrolling in school, or whatever it is they plan on filling their days with. This can be a great opportunity to reconnect with friends and family, adjust to the time difference, and take care of the tedious paperwork that’s piled up while you were away. It can also be an opportunity to wallow on the couch, scrolling through your phone, tv blaring in the background, wondering why you came back.
If establishing and maintaining a routine isn’t your strength, signing up for things like fitness classes or volunteering can be a great way to make sure your calendar isn’t totally blank.
Projects can be a great way to keep from feeling like your life has become a monotonous routine and you might wake up and realize ten years have passed. By focusing on different projects — prepping for a marathon, then focusing on studying music for to get back up to speed, and then volunteering to plan an art festival — you can provide the sort of novelty we get from changing locations.
So many of my CouchSurfing hosts have been former backpackers, expats, and other frequent travelers who’ve adapted to a life rooted in place. Hosting travelers through CouchSurfing is an easy way to meet people from all over the world and see your own city through fresh eyes.
Another great way to get a break from your native culture — and how weird and frustrating it now seems! — is to get involved with local cultural groups. My parents used to attend a monthly Kultur Abend where they’d take turns doing presentations on an aspect of Germanic culture and then hanging out eating familiar snacks and speaking German together. It’s easy to set something like this up with your friends, like a French movie night or themed dinner parties.
There are lots of more formal organizations, where you can volunteer with recent immigrants to help them get settled and improve their English.
To keep your language skills from getting rusty and to meet other travelers, check your local event listings to find language exchanges and other travel meetups.