… or Reverse Cultural Experience
For those who have not been on a Long Term Trip or a Round The World, this may sound weird. But it is a matter of fact that coming back can be even more difficult than leaving. We all change during a Long Term Trip, see our lives back home differently and judge even the smallest aspects of our life from a very different perspective.
The Reentry Shock is very discomforting and can last quite a while. Heidi moved on quite well, Gilles actually never fully came back. That is maybe why he decided to take a new step mid 2014 and start traveling again.
Here you find what we wrote a few weeks after coming back:
After traveling about 107.000 km in 362 days, we landed in Vienna on Wednesday July 23rd, 2008 in heavy rain and with temperatures around 12 degrees Celsius. A shock? Actually not, the cool and fresh air was something we have not experienced since we left New Zealand in early April.
No more wondering where we would spend the night – we frequented 174 different places that year – and how to move on. Was it really a year that we were gone… It seems to have passed so awfully quickly!
Home Sweet Home or Re-entry Shock?
The best part of coming back has been meeting friends and family who are genuinely happy to see us again. Gilles colleagues even organized a surprise “welcome home party” which we enjoyed tremendously. Heidi keeps meeting her friends individually and each time she is excited and truly looking forward to these animated chats and exchanges.
Of course, our first days have been busy with rearranging the apartment and unpacking the six boxes we shipped from all over the world full of artsy objects, souvenirs and things most precious to us. Not an easy task! What will we do with the colorful sturdy piece of clothes used by women in the Andes to carry their firewood, children, shopping? Maybe leave it in the cupboard next to the blanket we purchased in a Masai village in Tanzania. Not much is left from the clothes we started off with. We literally gave everything away that was still usable, Heidi in a small town in Cambodia and Gilles to beggars in Bangkok.
Faster than we had imagined, we are back doing things we have done a thousand times before. Before our trip such everyday chores were a necessity that we never questioned, but all this now seems a tedious routine. Idle thoughts we know, but this is how we feel these first few days. After a year of discovering new places every day, such activities seem terribly repetitious. Telephone lines have to be re-connected, mails sorted out, Heidi’s lost credit cards and driver license replaced, nothing terribly exciting…
Luckily, after a few days of rain, the weather has improved and we are enjoying the quietness of our cabin on the Danube. Heidi loves strolling through the city watching tourists. Being a local for once after such a long time can be quite exciting! But generally she feels rather restless, unable to find some meaningful to do.
Gilles went straight back to work after we returned and has less time to think about such frivolity. The first two days on the job, he was totally disorientated, but reality caught up with him very, very fast!
The Travel Bug
Within a few days after our return, Gilles booked four trips to Paris within the next few months. Heidi soon found herself booking a flight to Paris for mid August to take her niece to Euro Disney. After that, she plans a week of fasting in northern Austria. And in the meantime, we are answering requests for a home exchange in Moscow over Xmas and New Year.
Beginning of September, we are traveling to San Francisco for six days to attend the wedding of Gilles cousin. For this short trip, Heidi has arranged a home exchange with a family in Palo Alto, California, so the whole Barbier family to stay in comfort for free.
It looks very much as we are infected by a traveling bug!
Most of our friends kept asking the same questions: 1) What was the trip like? 2) Which were our favourite places? 3) How much did it cost? 4) Will we organize a DiaShow?
1) The first one is the hardest to answer. How do you explain that what we experienced exceeded all our expectations? That it was the best decision we took in our life? That we hardly encounter any problems at all? Heidi’s moneyless day bag was snatched at a bus station in Mendoza and we both one suffered from a cold? A year in Vienna probably adds up to more grievances.
Even a few day after our return, the true dimension of our impressions has not really sunken in. Usually, it is in the course of the longer conservation that this or that experience pops up, although we are cautious not to bombard people with our stories.
2) Our favourite places? We loved and enjoyed all countries we visited but some more than others. Argentina will always rank first, for its incredible scenery, wildlife and above all its people. Bolivia we found irresistible because its indigenous culture and lifestyle is so prevalent. In these two countries we stayed longer than in any other. Because we liked them so much, or do we prefer them over others because we dug a little deeper?
Generally, we believe that we experienced the countries in Latino America in a more authentic way, because we both spoke Spanish and thus could talk to everybody, whereas in Asia the common language, if any, was English, which limited our contact to people in the tourist industry.
China surprised us in a very positive way. Experienced “China hands” jokingly point out that we got to know only the “non-Chinese” region, the Southwest, the home of many of China’s minorities. They still cling on to their tradition, language, dress, architecture etc… On top of that, the area is extremely scenic.
Apart from all that we were full of admiration of how the country coped with a human tragedy of mind-boggling dimension, the Sichuan earthquake. It was also the country where we moved in an environment where very few, often zero people spoke English, but we still managed somehow.
3) Costs? We spent a little more than 20.000 Euro per person on transport, accommodation, food and activities, basically everything except shopping for souvenirs in one year. Shocked by the figures? We freely admit the trip could be done a lot cheaper, especially in terms of accommodation & food. But we never stayed in dormitories, except on mountain huts or on boats. Also, towards the end of the trip we chose more upscale accommodations, maybe because we knew we would not run out of money! Apart from that, we ate well most of the time. In the super expensive Pacific region – Easter Island, French Polynesia, the Cook Islands and New Zealand – we cooked each individual meal ourselves.
4) Showing off our photos? Of course we will be more than happy to present our best photos to friends and colleagues accompanied by stories & reminiscences. … Just give us a little time to prepare it!
Our final advice? Anybody who has the chance to take a year off and do such a trip – should do so!