“There are things you just can’t do in life. You can’t beat the phone company, you can’t make a waiter see you until he’s ready to see you, and you can’t go home again.” Bill Bryson observed this in The Lost Continent. For the last month, we’ve been testing out the last of these.
It’s been 32 days since we landed, dishevelled, late, without our luggage and via a couple of unscheduled German cities, back in good old Blighty. The experience of getting from Thailand to the UK alone was enough to make us think that it may be time to put an end to our travels, at least for the intermediate future. There’s nothing like a miserable German barman trying to charge you 2€ for hot water when you haven’t eaten for 12 hours to really make you think that travel isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Being the way we are, getting home was never likely to be a gentle settling in process. We took it at full throttle, landing and driving the 200 miles home in one day, packing and moving in the next, and Sadie started her job the day after. Quite how she managed it I don’t know. There’s a small but growing community of people who have done a similar, lets-sack-off-the-real-world-for-a-few-years kind of thing to us, and they all recommend taking some time when you get back to readjust to your new reality. In all likelihood, this one doesn’t include beaches, hostels, temples and weekday drinking. It can be something of a culture shock and most people don’t respond well to it.
I can only speak for myself when I say that it hasn’t really hit me yet. I was unemployed (or “funemployed” as it’s been renamed) for a couple of weeks upon getting back, which I spent fixing our house, undoing the damage of two and a half years of tenancy, as well as updating the décor to make it more suitable to our new, international taste, darling. We took an impromptu trip to Scotland that we booked in the pub, where all good decisions are made. We’re going to the English seaside over Easter and we’ve already booked our summer trip to Eastern Europe. To me it doesn’t feel like we’ve ended our travel lifestyle, just put it on ice and keeping it fresh for later.
I think what’s cushioned the coming home blow has been all the things we missed about home. Our friends and families come top of the list (just), but also the simple things you take for granted. Having your clothes in a wardrobe not a bag, having more than four t-shirts, staying in the same bed night after night with no fear of bed bugs, never wearing mosquito spray, sitting in your own lounge on a sofa and watching TV, cooking your own dinner, having a huge choice of food, speaking your own language, spending your own money, going to a shop where things have prices, driving, English beer and proper cider, not worrying about a time difference when needing to speak to your mum, your phone working, knowing where everything is… the list is endless. It’s the home comforts that make home… well, home. All these things you take for granted in your day to day lives suddenly become a bit of a revelation when you’ve been living out of a rucksack for years. I don’t really think travel has changed me massively, I’m not some gap-yah who has had a spiritual awakening; that said, it is really nice to have an appreciation of the things that are so integral to a normal life. I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to reach into my wardrobe to see a few shirts that I can wear, and that they aren’t creased to hell and suncream-stained. The novelty of these things will definitely wear thin fairly soon, but I’d like to think that I will at least appreciate it while it lasts.
“How are you dealing with being home?” tends to be the question I get asked the most. Along with “Where was your favourite place?” (Argentina, New Zealand thank you, next). And the answer is we’re dealing with it. Focusing on the present doesn’t mean you have to forget the past. For the last few years we have been travellers (small ‘t,’ thank you). Now we aren’t, and getting back to a normal life is going to be a bit weird. The last few weeks have been the longest I have spent in the same place for God-knows how long, including the few months we spent at Sadie’s mum’s in the spring, seeing as we couldn’t stop driving around the country. When the novelty wears off and the reality really sets in, we’ll meet that head on too. For now, it’s nice to be home. What will come will come, and we’ll meet it when it does.
I’ll be totally honest here, despite the journalism degree, I often leave these posts up to Mark. Partly because I, perhaps wrongly, presumed that our dear friends and family had lost a wee bit of interest in our gallivanting abroad – and really who could blame them – and that posting frequently was a waste of time. Plus, I’m quite lazy when I want to be. But if there is one post I should probably add to, it is this one.
Although we are very much going through this adjustment together, Mark and I have had quite different experiences coming home. I’ve been thrown straight into a routine, while Mark has been, and continues to be, a bit stuck in limbo until his new job begins in a few months. I’d love to say that the first few weeks of solely me working did not turn me into a slightly bitter old hag, but, uh they did. The salvation though? I bloody love my new job. Considering I dragged my poor husband home months early and cancelled countless fun plans, if this hadn’t worked out I don’t quite know what we would have done.
I spent last Spring working casually in our neighbouring village’s pub, because I didn’t want to waste anyone’s time training for a job that I knew I would leave within a few months for yet another trip abroad. I even turned down one I was scouted for, out of some misplaced sense of fairness. As a result I was miserable, truly miserable. I have always enjoyed hospitality, and never felt any shame in doing so (because why on earth should I?) but then I’ve always been lucky enough to work with great managers, and I’ve always felt valued. Despite living out of a backpack for close to 3 years, those few months were the only time in my life I have felt out of step, totally lost, and with only myself to blame.
I promised myself that when we returned to Sheffield, I wouldn’t settle for something I didn’t love doing. After years of freelance work and travel, a 9-5 was always going to be a shock to the system. It is early days, and there is a lot of adjustment still to go, but I’m getting there. I just hope for the same for Mark soon.
So yeah, that’s life now. For a while anyway. What, you thought we’d settle forever? It is like you don’t know us at all…
To everyone we met on the way, the friends we left at home and the family that have always supported us – thank you. We love you and couldn’t have done any of it without you. And to my wonderful husband Mark – spending every day with you, even the stupidly long and stressful ones, was a dream. You are my home, in every way. Thank you.