“It is a strange thing to come home. While yet on the journey, you cannot at all realize how strange it will be.”

~Selma Lagerlöf

I remember the feeling as if it happened yesterday.

We were home from vacation – a four-day cruise off the coast of California – and I was standing at the kitchen sink, cleaning vegetables for our first dinner since the trip. My mind, however, was nowhere to be found. I was back on the Viking Serenade, reliving our days at sea and getting so carried away that I almost expected our wonderful waiter Moses – with his big smile and “No problem!” catchphrase – to appear around the corner and ask me if tonight I would be having the chicken or the salmon!

It takes awhile to adjust our mindset after returning from our travels. Like astronauts who have been transported so completely into another world, we need to prepare for reentry, knowing that home will still be the same but that we may be seeing it through a fresh prism. And if we’ve traveled somewhere with a different language or culture, that prism can be even more remarkable.

American anthropologist Margaret Mead took note of this idea, encouraging travelers to apply these newfound thoughts and insights to their lives at home:

“As the traveler who has once been from home is wiser than he who has never left his own doorstep, so a knowledge of one other culture should sharpen our ability to scrutinize more steadily, to appreciate lovingly, our own.”

It’s a strange conundrum. How can we balance the wisdom and insight our travels have given us with the bit of the blues that’s part of the territory when we return home? We’re happy to be back, but we miss being away. Nothing has changed at home, but something has changed within ourselves.

We arrive on our doorstep with a suitcase full of memories mixed in with the piles of laundry, and we want to share those memories with our friends and loved ones. We spin the stories, laugh at the crazy mishaps and pass around the photos. But what really matters are the unspoken changes and the feelings that we carry with us long after the journey has ended. How the cool river water felt as it flew against our faces on a rafting adventure. How that sunset was the most incredible shade of orange. Or how a cruise ship waiter from Jamaica had such a profound impact on a family from California.

Those are the souvenirs from our travels that we keep inside ourselves. They are the thoughts that trigger an out-of-the-blue daydream or make us smile when we hear something that reminds us of where we have been.

I’ve grown accustomed to my ghosts of vacations past. I’ve learned to anticipate their arrival, to welcome them in as old friends. Their presence means that it was a good trip, that my senses were awakened and that I came back a little bit changed from when I started. They remind me of travel at its finest – enriching, inspiring and challenging the who I am with the who I can become – and I know I will never be quite the same again.


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