Select Page

Have you traveled on a service trip, or taken the time to give back in the communities you have visited? Much of my travel experiences are planned with consideration for service projects and nonprofit organizations I support or work alongside. So when I travel, I immerse myself in the culture in a very significant way.

Warning! If you travel as I do, sometimes, re-entry to your usual life can be rough. It’s not just leaving behind the resort, the jet lag, or the sore neck from the plane ride. It’s having to face your everyday reality when you compare it with the reality of what you left behind.

It’s comparing your full cupboards to the way people wake up each morning, wondering how they will feed their children.

It’s turning on the faucet to get a drink and remembering the cholera outbreak, or the 4-year old in your neighborhood who carries jerry cans of water with her mother each evening.

It’s being in your warm (or cool) house full of cozy beds and blankets after seeing homeless and almost homeless kids, struggling to stay alive by begging for food, collecting trash to sell, or working to make a few cents a day.

And for me, especially, it’s leaving behind the infectious smiles of my friends and the new people I meet. It’s saying goodbye to the joy of new cultures and new things to see and explore in exchange for things I have seen and done a million times before.

Have you experienced this? Trust me, I understand. Really well.

I spent a month this fall in Kampala, Uganda, and even though I have been back for a few weeks, I still have a moderately serious case of the reentry blues. I want to buy a plane ticket for tomorrow, do a few quick loads of laundry, and be gone again. While I was in Kampala, I worked with an organization I love, Milele Foundation Uganda. We planned for how we will reach children and families in their communities in 2020. We set goals. We organized. We dreamed. We worked.

But also, I settled into my new apartment, rekindled old relationships and made many new friends, ate barbecued fish on the beach, listened to live music, and danced the night away (a few nights away, actually). I truly believe that the best way to travel is to pretend I belong (even if I really don’t!) and try to learn as much as possible about the culture I am in.

While it’s a beautiful way to explore and truly gives me a life-changing experience, it will, undoubtedly, leave me with a nasty case of the re-entry blues. Can you relate?

Here is the real struggle; how do we get back to the responsibilities of our everyday lives without forgetting what we experienced? How do we return to work and fall back into the swing of the luxuries we enjoy and still remain changed by what we saw? And for me, the hardest part is how to wait! How do I allow time to pass before I am back on a plane and going again?

Here is what I have learned:
  • Unpack slowly. I know it seems counterproductive, but unpack a little each day. Take your time and allow memories to wash over you as you pull out that pair of pants with the knee ripped out from that day playing soccer with school kids. Smell your swimsuit and remember that day on the beach when you drank the freshest juice you’ve ever tasted. Slowly hand out the souvenirs you bought, and give them when you can tell the story of where you bought them. Unpack slowly and allow the things you experienced to flood over you, again and again, a little each day.
  • Write down the names of people you meet as you travel. When you get home, read those names so you don’t forget. Let the people you met be on your lips by name. When you talk about your trip you will be able to tell stories using people’s names. It will help you feel connected to the place you left for a long time. And on this same line, learn names while you travel. Don’t be afraid to ask how it’s pronounced a few times. It’s not rude to say, ‘How do you spell that?’
  • Tell stories of the poverty you saw. The world needs to know that people need their help. Our friends and family need to know that people are struggling. Respectfully and tenderly, share your heart for what you saw, and tell people how they can help!
  • Tell stories of the beauty and richness you saw. If you didn’t see any, you weren’t looking hard enough! Wherever there is poverty, there is also the opposite. It’s dangerous and inaccurate to visit a developing country and return and talk only about poverty. So make sure you tell about the other stuff as well!

Lastly, and very importantly,

  • remember that there is no guilt or shame with being born or living wherever we do. I am proudly Canadian, and I have proudly resided in the USA. My situation should not make me feel guilty, but it should make me feel responsible to share what I have been given with a hurting world. Don’t forget the people you met and the things you saw. Make tangible and realistic plans to continue to help, even from home!

If you hear that nagging call to go again, but it isn’t realistic at this time, don’t be discouraged. When I’m in that situation, I tell myself these things: I am ok, right here where I am. Not only am I ok, but I am exactly where I am supposed to be, and where I am asked to be for this time.

If you’re feeling the tug to go, but you look at your life and KNOW, this isn’t the time, hold on. Start saving. Make your return a priority. Keep in contact with the people you met. And then, wait for the right time. Wait. Because the blessing will be so much sweeter when the timing is right.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This