Tips & Advice / Travel

How to Cope with Post-Travel Depression

Sun setting at BRC Airport

Well, folks, I’m back from the Burn! I’m tan, I’m sore, and I’m tired. I’m freshly showered but still dusty, my apartment is quiet but I can still hear bass thumping when I sleep, and I’m feeling equal parts happy and sad to be back in San Francisco.

The 8 days I spent in Black Rock City were more than amazing, and as much as I’d love to word vomit everything about my week right now, I’m going to refrain. The honest truth is that this Burn was incredibly different for me — in many great ways, and a few not-so-great ways. Overall, I had an absolutely fantastic time and am so blessed and humbled from last week, but I’m still processing everything. Please hang tight as I gather my thoughts, because I truly can’t wait to share my Burning Man experiences with you!

I left Burning Man Sunday evening, immediately after the Temple of Grace burned to the ground. I hopped in a truck with my good friend Dane, we battled a relatively tame Exodus out of the city, and we drove through the night, arriving in San Francisco around 7am.  Since Monday morning, I’ve been in a bit of a hazy state. Part of it is that I desperately needed to catch up on sleep — it turns out that spending all day in the sun, biking around, and staying up late to chase art cars can tire a gal out! But more than anything, I’m feeling some serious post-Playa depression.

Catching a bit of the sads when you return from traveling is totally normal. You go from a completely happy, carefree state where you’re discovering things about yourself back to your regular, day-to-day routine. Even if you have a super-rad job or are surrounded by supportive friends and family, going back to the daily grind can feel a little soul-sucking.

Luckily, there are ways you can battle your post-travel blues and return home as an even better version of yourself. Here’s how!

Rule number 1: Don't go right back to work.

Rule number 1: Don’t go right back to work.

1. Allow yourself a buffer day.

If I’d planned to work on Monday this week, chances are high that I would have cried hysterically and stabbed my eyes out with any remotely sharp object I could find. Not only was I feeling emotional, but I was tired. I’d helped drive through the night and I also spent an entire week not sleeping whenever possible. When I got back to my apartment on Monday, I passed out until about 5pm. I woke up, I ate, and then I napped the rest of the day.

It’s ridiculous to think that you can jump right back into work (or other commitments) the second you get home. Take your first full day back and don’t make plans — it sure sounds like a nice idea, but it’s hard to predict what your mood will be when you get back. Even if you take your one day just to rest or catch up on laundry, make it a day for you and only you.

2. Organize your photos and share your stories.

Do yourself a favor and organize your media right away. Upload things to your computer and rename them so they’re descriptive and in order. SERIOUSLY. Even just a few days is long enough for you to forget when something happened, who you were with, or where you were. I’m actually in the process of uploading images to Dropbox as I write this. Bam. Future Theresa will be so happy to see these all organized and easy to sort through in a week, a couple months, and in a few years. Also, I won’t lie, it’s a pretty lovely way to revisit my travels.

And since you’re sifting through everything, go ahead and make a folder that’s specifically for sharing. While you’re friends and family will be super stoked to see photos from your trip, they don’t need to see all 600 photos of that church in Lutherstadt (ahem, not that I’ve done that…). Instead of showing every. single. image. curate a folder with the best of the best. Share that bare bones folder, and if your friends and family want more, let them know how they can view even more images if their littles hearts desire. This way you can share your adventures but also ensure you won’t exhaust their attention. You’ll want them to feel excited to hear all about your future trips as well!

3. Journal.

One of the best things about returning to day-to-day life after traveling is that you’re brimming with new ideas. Even if you don’t journal normally, give it a go. Remember that you don’t need to follow any kind of guidelines or layouts since it really is something that is just for you. You can draw, you can make lists, you can record your interactions with others, or whatever else you want! Even if you never ever look back at it, it’s a great outlet for your energy.

I currently have about five billion ideas swirling around in my head…next year’s Burn, art I want to create, new outlooks on life, new people, new priorities, dreams, and more. They aren’t doing me any good just marinating in my brain, though. I need to get them down on paper and work with them to see what I can make of them.

Organize your photos ASAP!

Organize your photos ASAP!

4. Take care of yourself.

Eat well, exercise, drink plenty of water, and get enough sleep. There’s absolutely no way you’re going to start feeling better mentally if you aren’t taking care of yourself physically.

Listen to your body. My first day back I really didn’t want to sleep for 15 hours…but my body sure as hell did. And I’m glad I let it get the rest it clearly needed! Taking care of those basic needs will open you up and allow you to get over the post-holiday blues with ease.

5. Remember that it’s totally okay to feel sad.

You don’t need to hide how you’re feeling from people at all. When I got back on Monday, one of the first things I told my roommates was that I was feeling some intense post-travel depression. I wasn’t trying to bring them down in any way, but I did want them to know where I was at emotionally. I just had an absolutely wonderful week out in the desert — of course I’m going to be a bit bummed that it’s over! With any travel experience, you’re bound to feel a bit of reverse culture shock when you return.

Remember that without the sad times, the great times wouldn’t be so great. Also remember that there is a beauty in the everyday struggles and that seemingly ordinary things can actually be quite extraordinary. Retaining a sense of wonder about all the big and small things in the world is key to happy living.

Last, keep in mind that if you find yourself having a particularly hard time shaking the bad feelings that it’s a good idea to talk to someone. A therapist can lend an unbiased ear and help get you out of your funk.

6. Plan a new journey!

Even if it’s an adventure that’s close to home, having something new to look forward to can help you battle the blues. A little vacation rebound never hurt anybody, now did it?

I’ve got an LA trip planned for later this month, I’m going to Providence in October for my brother’s wedding, and I made an impulse buy and will be spending New Year’s Eve in Iceland. I KNOW. Whenever I start to feel like I’m missing Black Rock City, I just remember all the other cool stuff I’ve got coming up and it’s sort of hard to be upset!

If you’re not able to even think about setting money aside for a new trip, then start planning in the most basic sense of the word. Hop on Trover or Pinterest and explore! Pick a country and figure out what you might like to do there. Those sites are filled with some amazing eye candy that can feed a bit of your wanderlust and keep you in the adventuring state of mind.

Anybody else's boots got a bit of dust on 'em?

Anybody else’s boots got a bit of dust on ’em?

7. Connect with others who have had similar experiences.

If you met others while traveling that you can meet up with, plan a night to get together. Alternatively, is a wonderful way to meet people interested in the same things as you (there are traveling groups, as well as groups specific to certain cultures). If all else fails, schedule Skype dates with friends that you met while on the go. I Skype with a friend I met when I worked at a summer camp years ago, and we still talk about that summer as if it just happened. Why? Because we shared so many crazy moments that summer, and we’re literally the only people that we can talk to about it!

Right now, I’m looking forward to Decompression in about a month. It sounds super fancy, but it’s really just a chance for a bunch of people who went to the Burn to get together, share their experiences, and reminisce. There are drinks, there’s art, and everyone feels a sense of community among other Burners. It’s a perfect way to keep the memories fresh and create new ones.

8. Reflect on how you can incorporate lessons learned into your daily life.

I always return from travel feeling like a better version of myself, and especially when I return from Burning Man. The person I am out there is the person I strive to be all the time. Still, I struggle sometimes with being that better person year-round.

If you find yourself experiencing that same kind of identity crisis, give some serious thought to how you can make changes for the best. For me, I find that most of my blocks are all in my head, so I have to create constant reminders for myself. I’m thinking that daily affirmations will help keep those positive vibes in my head and I can really embrace the person I want to be.

Ultimately, you’ll need to take the time yourself to really analyze in what ways you’d like to change, and also brainstorm the best ways to create that change. I find that I’m more receptive to others when I travel, but that I sometimes shut people off in my day-to-day life — and I believe that daily affirmations will really help open me up to new interactions and possibilities. It will take a little bit of trial-and-error, but it is totally possible to channel the traits you like about your traveling self to your everyday self.

Have you ever experienced post-travel sadness? How did you deal with it? What did you find you missed the most, and how did you try to incorporate it into your day-to-day life?

6 thoughts on “How to Cope with Post-Travel Depression

  1. I have a terrible method, which is basically your 6th tip. This year I have travelled quite a bit but I split my travels into separate breaks with different people, meaning I’d come back from one trip, be sad, then go on another. It is a bit of a problem though as now I’ve run out of money, and I’ll have to wait to travel again… There is that post-travel depression kicking it, uh-oh! Great post, I’m new to blogging but I’ll be reading yours for sure 🙂

  2. #6 is my favorite! 😉 Like you mentioned, while waiting for the next big trip, exploring nearby places I haven’t seen and finding out what surprises and discoveries they have in store. Local festivals and events also are great ways to spend weekends. 🙂

    • Local fests are such a great idea! There is always something like that going on nearby, and I’ve never really checked them out. Something I should certainly start doing!

      Thanks for reading 🙂

    • Number 4 is a biggie for me — if I don’t get enough sleep, I feel like I literally can’t function. I’ve been pretty bad about my water intake since I returned, though, so I’m working on that one!

      Thank you for reading 🙂

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