5 Ways I Prepare for Reverse Culture Shock After Traveling Abroad

Re-entry has been a constant companion in my life (no surprise there, right?).

I used to simply muddle though it, whether I was returning from living abroad or a period of traveling abroad. But once I started paying attention to how I feel in re-entry, and where I struggle with reverse culture shock, I was able to figure out strategies to make the experience of returning home more positive than negative.

Now, before every trip abroad, I create a simple re-entry plan. Here are five things I typically include in each re-entry after travel in order to cope with my post-travel blues (and, sometimes, post-travel depression):

1. I enjoy the liminal space the flight home from abroad offers.

I have a rule that I only work on planes if I want to. Some people find planes incredibly conducive to productivity. Not me! I get distracted and rarely get anything of substance accomplished. So, I prefer to use my hours in transit to relax, watch movies, journal, brainstorm, and dream.

I used to feel guilty if I wasn’t working, but I don’t anymore. I prefer to use transit time to just be. When I give myself this space, I arrive home more rested and relaxed, which paves the way for a smoother re-entry.

2. I schedule a transition (half) day before I return home.

I used to fly home at the very last possible minute (usually late Sunday night) and then dive right back into school or work a few hours later. Dragging myself through the following miserable week seemed like a small price to pay for more time abroad.

Until I came home from a trip to Argentina a few years ago.

Our flight had us back in our house on a Sunday morning. Initially, I was bummed that we were “losing” almost an entire day that we could have been hanging out in Buenos Aires. But once we arrived home, I realized just how nice it is to have time to unpack, do laundry, get groceries, and just generally get ready for the work week.

Now, whenever possible, I schedule a day to transition to being back home, especially if I’ve been gone for a month or more or if I’m crossing a lot of time zones. Even if I’m back to work the next day, I avoid scheduling work deadlines, in-person meetings or events or more than two virtual meetings for the day after I arrive home. If I need some extra sleep, to go grocery shopping or just take some time out to journal on my deck with a cup of coffee (or, if I’m being totally honest: Netflix).

Granted, I do this more often now that I work for myself and am in control of my schedule. But, in general, I’m much more proactive about not scheduling my flight home the day before a bunch of important meetings, events or deadlines like I used to. Even a half-day of buffer time eases my transition and helps me deal with my reverse culture shock.

3. I assess how I feel.

I know that I’m going to be an emotional roller coaster when I get home. Happy to be home, sad to be home, questioning goals and decisions, wondering if/when I’ll go abroad again. (You’d think by now I should feel confident that I will go abroad again…) I have a lot of feelings whenever I return home from being abroad, ha!

So, I make sure to give myself time and space to process how I’m feeling so I don’t push the feelings down and avoid them, since I know they’ll just pop up again later. Sometimes I journal, sometimes I talk to my husband, sometimes I go for a walk and think. Re-entry from abroad is a wonderful opportunity to take stock of your life!

4. I don’t compare.

When Aaron and I returned home from that trip to Argentina that I mentioned above, we both were due back in the office bright and early the following morning. As soon as we got home, Aaron unpacked, started a load of laundry, and went outside to mow the lawn. I don’t think he sat down until well after dinner.

I, on the other hand, dropped my suitcase near my closet, grabbed a snack, and watched Netflix in bed most of the day while snuggling with the cat.

When I asked my husband why he was so productive right after coming home (because I was feeling guilty about being such a sloth), he said it helps him readjust to being home. I felt the exact same way about needing some quiet downtime before what I knew would be a super hectic work week, which included a work trip the following weekend.

Both approaches are ok! I no longer compare my re-entry to others’; I trust my re-entry self-care process.

 5. I make my home welcoming.

I’ve learned that returning home to messy home just makes me want to pick up my suitcase and head back out the door! When my house is clean and organized, I find it much easier to unpack and get back in the swing of things.

Cleaning my house is now part of my pre-travel to-do list. I also make sure to have coffee and tea stocked for my first post-trip morning, at least one easy meal in the freezer, and a few snacks in case I can’t get to the grocery store. When I used to work in an office, I’d often treat myself to lunch out on my first day back at work.

Before I head out on any trip abroad, I also make it easy to get back to work. I often get mopey in re-entry and I’ve learned that it’s easier for me to jump back into work if I come home to an organized desk. I leave sticky notes reminding myself of projects to work on and I write ideas that I want to pursue on my whiteboard so I see them when I get back to work.