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Beat the At-Home Blues

How to Keep Your Spirits High Between Trips

I'd just come back to the US after two years of teaching English abroad, and I was depressed.

My journey — a year in Ecuador followed by a year in Taiwan — had come to an end. I was happy to be home with my friends and family; my plan was to live in the States for six months or a year and save money before traveling again. I felt hopelessly out of sorts, although I knew I'd be striking out for foreign lands again.

As I began the process of re-settling — like finding a new apartment and gainful employment — I was overcome with restlessness; I didn't want to re-adjust. I'd managed to pick up and move to South America and Asia, yet now I was intimidated by the simple prospect of combing apartment listings and sending out resumes.

What was wrong? It wasn't simply that I missed living abroad. On a deeper level, I felt that my time outside the country had changed me in a fundamental way, and that I was now caught between my travel-centric lifestyle and my old life rooted in America. I wasn't suffering from "reverse culture shock," which happens when you return home for good from a long stay in a foreign country. The unique malady from which I was suffering — I dubbed it the at-home blues — seemed to be unique to a life that involves long-term travel punctuated by sizeable stretches at home.

The following is my advice for beating this peculiar affliction:

1. Start planning your next trip. Your next journey may be two months or even two years off, but it's imperative to begin taking steps to make it happen. Use the Web to research possible destinations. Browse guidebooks and travel narratives. Make a written timeline that spells out when you'll leave. Decide how much your trip will cost and start getting your finances in order. The bottom line: Don't succumb to your domestic malaise. Envision the day you'll embark on your next trip, and then work day by day toward that goal.

2. Surround yourself with international influences. I asked Rolf Potts, author of Vagabonding: the Art of Long-Term World Travel, for tips on beating the at-home blues. In addition to making new travels plans he suggests "hanging out with other travelers, eating at cool international restaurants, [and] reading the Economist and other media of international scope."

Seek out the company of friends or acquaintances who appreciate the value of traveling; sharing your tales with them will lift your spirits. Newspapers, magazines, and web sites that focus on world news are an effective antidote to U.S.-centric media outlets. And if you learned a new language during your last stint abroad, consider joining a class or an informal language group in order to keep your skills sharp.

3. Seek out adventures close to home. Take weekend getaways to places you've never been before. Even consider taking a different route to or from work -- just so long as you incorporate the search for the new and different into your daily life. You don't have to be in a foreign country to discover new things.

4. Draw on the skills that helped you adjust when you were abroad. During your time outside the country you likely learned to be flexible and patient and to avoid judgmental thinking and stereotyping. These same traits can help you adapt to your temporary time at home. Be aware of and thankful for the ways in which your outlook on life has changed because of your time abroad. Use your newfound attitude to maintain a positive outlook while you're home. A traffic jam in Boston can be just as frustrating as one in Bangkok; if you've learned to cope with the latter, then dealing with the former should be all the easier.

5. Be positive and don't romanticize. Remind yourself that the grass isn't, in fact, greener on the other side of the fence — it just appears that way. You may discover that when you were abroad you idealized aspects of your former life in the U.S. Similarly, enjoy every day at home, and don't make yourself miserable because you think things will be perfect once you hit the road again.

In the end, it may help to think of the at-home blues as the price one pays for enjoying a lifestyle rich in travel. When you focus on the moment when you will finally embark on your next trip, when freedom and the unknown are once again made palpable, a simple downturn in spirits will seem all the more conquerable.

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