Travel is exhilarating, exciting, and exhausting. Over time I learned some important lessons in dealing with post-travel returns.

Home, home again
I like to be here when I can
When I come home cold and tired
It’s good to warm my bones beside the fire.

Pink Floyd, Time from Dark Side of the Moon

I have the means and documents to travel. Neither was always the case, so I appreciate every chance I get to take a trip. Whether it’s a one day hop on a budget airline to see loved ones, road trip or vacation, the time and cost involved make travel a privilege.

Travel is exhilarating, exciting, and exhausting. Over time I learned some important lessons in dealing with post-travel returns.

“Now boarding” sign at the Hong Kong International Airport.

Leave no trace

Unpack right away

This is probably the single most important lesson I learned, and one I sometimes fail to follow and then bear unpleasant consequences.

When you arrive home, start the washing machine immediately and feed it all of your travel clothes. If there is no laundry on premises or you are too exhausted to stay awake, put all the clothes in a laundry hamper. Take a quick shower and change into comfortable clothes that had been waiting for your return.

Half unpacked luggage creates pockets of anti-time

These pockets act as reminders of traveling days (better days) and can trigger sadness and frustration. So take clothes out and put in a laundry hamper (or do laundry right away), put books on the shelf, and magnets on the fridge as soon as possible.

Integrate the souvenirs from the trip into your life.

Take naps

The coffee disaster

After returning from trans-pacific travel for the first time, I decided to dive back into work. That day, I was in the middle of helping run an all-day university event. Starting with breakfast for organizers at 6 am, I caffeinated to stay full of energy and excitement.

Then, around mid-day a series of bad reactions started to happen. I became nauseous, sensitive to light, had tingling skin and desperately wanted to lie down. I barely made it home on the bus without vomiting or passing out.

At home I shut the blinds and went to bed, but the coffee kept me awake. This combination of exhaustion and being wired made me want to crawl out of my skin. No more caffeinating my way out of jet lag.

Naps

When our electronic devices indicate low battery, we plug them in to recharge. Consider your body as a kind of device. When you feel the need to lay down to recharge, listen to that indicator.

Sometimes taking a walk can act as a recharge, but in general resist the urge to power through the day to beat jet lag. Instead, take a short (1-2 hour) nap.

Day off

This is not always feasible, but if you can budget a day before returning to work it is very helpful.

It’s a day to do laundry. A day to go to the store and restock groceries. A day to wake up early and drink a beer because you feel like it’s an evening somewhere else.

Keep engaging

During my travels I get to experience and participate in intensive collaborative environments. Whether it’s working on open source software, configuring and building dinner, or navigating unfamiliar settings, these bursts contrast sharply with the rhythm of daily life.

The difference can be stark and lead to feelings of alienation, especially after returning to work.

Keep in touch with community and friends. Being engaged online at a comfortable pace and intensity can help ease the isolation that comes after travel.

Pay attention

In addition to the “low battery indicator”, there are other signals worth paying attention to in post-travel. Are there new patterns in your everyday activity? New patterns aren’t necessarily bad. They can be habits I learned about from others.

But they can also be warning signs. Pay attention to them. Ask,

Why am I having such a hard time with…?

and try not to immediately come up with solutions. This may seem counter-intuitive at first. As a tech worker, I am constantly tasked and focused on solving problems. But sometimes, taking time to notice and understand the “why” of new patterns is just as important.