I grew up in a small rainy town in the north of England. I led a very sheltered upbringing, the countryside was ever a five-minute drive away, and my town provided little stimulation growing up. I bought a punk rock CD at the age of 13, and immediately became absorbed into the world of punk. My favourite bands wrote anthems about triumphantly leaving their boring hometowns – heading off into the distance and never looking back. I fantasized about the day I would take off from my hometown and never return. At 18 I got my opportunity. My life had become listless; I had worked in a few of uninspiring jobs and the rebellious spirit instilled in me from my years of listening to punk music burned within me. I spent the winter working long hours in a job installing wood burning stoves. My job was atop chimney stack, the Northern English rain and wind tearing at me as I perched on roofs for hours on end. I decided that this was it – I was out.
I determined that I was going to see the Americas. I saved up enough cash for a flight to Canada and took off one cold November morning from Gatwick Airport. I arrived in Canada in the midst of freezing winter, and began a personal odyssey of discovery. My small-town mind was blown. I travelled around Canada and the US for months. I was taught about philosophy and the 1960’s by hippies at 3am, I drank 40’s of beer in the snow on the streets of New York; I played guitar with buskers in Seattle, and befriended outlandish characters from all walks of life. The trip changed me as a person more than I could ever have expected – Then the money ran out.
Back to the UK I went. All I could think of was how different life would be when I got home. I had changed so much – I was burgeoning with radical new ideas and philosophies. How would my family and friends perceive this new person? Where would all these people be in their lives now, new friends? New jobs? New haunts? My plane landed and I took a train home. To my surprise – everything was the same.
After a week of reunions, hugs, stories and beers with old friends and family, the excitement and buzz about my return ended. People resumed their lives. After this breakout moment, my journey of self-discovery, I was expected to settle down and get a job. Everything in my hometown was the same, and yet I felt so different. I felt loneliness like I had never felt before. I listened to my old punk CDs and felt like a failure – The guys that managed to get out weren’t supposed to end up back in their old hometowns. I was indeed back – back in the same group of friends, in the same job, going to the same three bars, talking about the same old things.
I still had a burning fire inside me, I felt I had changed so much and no one could understand this inexpressible feeling of discovery I had. Some friends took my sometimes-preachy outlook badly. My eagerness to tell them about my experiences some received as boasting. They could not understand how I didn’t like being home any more. After all, “this place is just the same as when you left, isn’t it?”
I got into a cycle of repetition. My hometown was the same, and I felt like it was dragging me down. I started drinking more than I used to, trying to get that fix of radical ideas and sense of adventure that was so readily available on the road by going to bars every weekend, through the week, going to festivals and club nights at every opportunity. And yet it all felt empty – I was unable to capture that same subtle sense of discovery, danger and infinite possibility that I knew from the road. I had no money, and instead of saving, I spent what little I did have on drinking.
I did not understand it at the time, but I was in the grips of post-travel melancholia. Some may pass this off as whining from a privileged kid who was able to travel. But this is a real phenomenon, and I would guess that only those who have experienced it will understand what I mean. Coming home from an eye-opening world trip can make you feel restless and depressed.
I got out of my post-travel blues by realigning my priorities, and realizing that I was perpetuating a cycle, cleaned myself up, and started saving money again. I was stricter with myself about seeking ‘adventure’ in local bars, and set my sights on travelling again. When I had enough money, I booked another trip, this time to Europe.
Since then I have travelled extensively all over the world. Yet to this day, I feel a tinge of post-travel melancholia when returning home, but nowhere near as severe. I am still at my happiest whilst on the road – there is something about the absolute liberty of travel, the excitement of experiencing new cultures, and the infinite immersion that travel provides that draws me back every time. Coming home is always an anticlimactic end to a huge world trip, but I can pick myself up each time by planning the next one, and trying to work out how to make travelling last longer.