Lonely Planet Writer

Wonderings: how to beat the post-trip blues

Illustration of a traveller looking out of a train window at a lake with mountains and forest in the background © Joe Davis / Lonely Planet Wonderings: rambles through and reflections on travel... this month, James Kay considers how to handle the comedown after a trip © Joe Davis / Lonely Planet

A posh travel company claims to have found an antidote to the post-trip blues: a 'welcome home' hamper full of gourmet goodies. Although gobbling cheese bombs, chocolate clusters and duck rillette appeals to my inner glutton, I sincerely doubt that it represents the most effective way to treat this complaint.

Post-trip blues strike me as an unofficial cousin of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a well-documented form of depression which settles over some people like a damp, smothering blanket at certain times of the year; like SAD, the blues disrupt emotional weather patterns, causing a drop in mental millibars and the spread of a cold front over our internal landscapes.

Time out of joint

A friend of mine recently returned from a four-month trip through Central America. When asked to define her state of mind, she used the words 'detached' and 'unsettled', said once familiar surroundings had acquired a hint of the surreal and felt as if the journey was still unfolding on some abstract level; although the adventure was over, she had yet to return home.

Personally, I think competing perceptions of time befog a traveller’s brain after a trip. When your days brim with adventure, as so many travellers’ do, time slows down in a psychological sense, if not an absolute one; back home, meanwhile, everyone else’s life proceeds (or, at least, appears to proceed) on a parallel track, telescoping days into weeks, weeks into months, months into years.

At some point during the process of readjustment, the traveller switches from one track to the other. And as they settle back into a routine, it can sometimes feel as if the adventure didn’t really happen at all; as if, in fact, it were nothing but an intense daydream, an elaborate fantasy, from which they have just awoken with a jolt at their old desk. (Thankfully, there is evidence with which to dispel any sense of self-doubt; photos, videos, scribblings of any form or – best of all – shared stories.)

A hamper of food in an outdoor setting © Helena Wahlman / Getty Images Can feasting on tasty morsels after a trip dispel the gathering gloom? © Helena Wahlman / Getty Images

CBT for travel addicts

I suspect that other treatments – if not exactly cures – for the post-trip blues are likely to give much more lasting relief than the 'welcome home' hamper's jar of artisan chutney, however flavoursome that might be. Broadly speaking, these treatments, or more accurately techniques, involve reframing life from a fresh perspective; in other words, seeing the familiar in a new light. Think of them as cognitive behavioural therapy for those who can't live without the thrill of travel.

Our writers – for whom the blues are an occupational hazard – suggest many such techniques, from using the throw of a dice to discover new parts of your hometown to redesigning your commute as an action-packed itinerary. Approached with an open mind (remember, as Mark Twain said, that travel is fatal to narrow-mindedness), these ideas can inject a sense of adventure into the everyday.

Searching for the positives, my recently returned friend made this observation: there is something to be said for routine, despite its unsexy reputation, as it spares us from devoting too much brain power to questions that might otherwise consume a traveller’s time, such as how to get from A to B? Liberated from such mundane problems, we can instead use the extra bandwidth to reflect on what happened during the trip, savour it for a second time and examine our experiences for fresh meaning. And, of course, start to plot the next one.