What non-travelers will never understand about me

I’ll be returning home on July 11th after a year in Asia. I visited home last year too after a year around the world. Reverse culture shock hit me hard last time but I think now I know what to expect.

First, I feel I should be telling you that I’m the last to judge anyone. I’m not judging anyone if they don’t like to travel. Whether you choose to travel or not, it’s your choice. Still, I feel non-travelers may not fully understand my travel addiction and what it has done to and for me.

Xi'an China
Xi’an China

1. It’s not the norm to be going around the world for a long period of time as an American. We all know this and I’ve killed this topic long enough to repeat it. I’m often asked what I’ll do after my trip is over and my response is usually I dont know. That’s not a good answer for non-travelers. I’m expecting this and I’m okay with it.

2. Traveling has made me curious. I like discovering new places, new foods, and trying new activities. Before I traveled, I was stuck in a routine of eating at the same places and doing the same boring things everyday. I wasn’t adding anything new to my life. The corporate job didn’t allow much time for travel. Last time I returned home, I was eager to go to new cities and discover new restaursants in New York City. I was really excited to go to Washington DC for the first time. So I continued my travels in my own home country visiting and doing things I’d never done before.

3. Going to the supermarket in the states will be somewhat of a mission now. There are just too many selections and Wal-mart is overwhelming. I’m use to going to a small local convient store. It only has a few selections but it has most of what I would need. Buying a shopping cart (or two) of food is crazy to me. I usually only buy a day or two worth of food and at most a weeks worth. Splurging means perhaps buying a week’s worth. Buying fruits is usually done outside on the streets – not at the supermarket. That’s if I have to cook at all because buying street food or eating in a restaurant might be cheaper and more convenient (and more delicious) than if I cooked the meal myself. I get disgusted in wasting food and can’t understand why so many people buy a month worth of food when half of it goes to waste.

Uyuni, Bolivia
Uyuni, Bolivia

4. When I return home, I’m going to have this urge to order Chinese food in Mandarin. I might even go to China Town and simply listen to people talk. I may attempt to look for a hole in the wall place in New York City with people that may not even speak English (they exist in NYC). I do enjoy a few food chains (Qdoba!) but I love finding local family owned restaurants. At home, my friends and family are more spectacle in trying new foods or going to hidden restaurants in danger of the food being terrible but I see it the other way around. I go thinking that the food will be great. Travel has taught me to be less afraid of finding and doing different things. Non-travelers think I’m crazy.

5. I meet a lot of people on the road but I find it more difficult talking to strangers at home. At a hostel bar, I’m meeting people from all over the world with tons of stories. Even in a local bar abroad, it’s easy to start a conversation. These are the places and people I fit in with. It’s easy to relate to these people. At a bar at home, I don’t even know where to begin a conversation. Do I start with where they work? I’m use to asking people where they are from. Telling people about what I do for a living at a bar in the middle of Pennsylvania has interesting responses.

6. I love hearing and sharing travel stories. This doesn’t seem to be the case for non-travelers. I feel I come out as if I’m full of myself as I share my stories. I prefer to give my travel stories in small doses. When I’m asked which countries I’ve been to, non-travelers seem to lose interest by the forth country and I can see it in their eyes (or it could be they’ve never heard of most of the countries).

Vang Vieng, Laos
Vang Vieng, Laos

7. Being a traveler means I’ve built new habits. After living in China for a year, I’ve built the habit of staring which is totally acceptable thing to do. Sometimes it’s at beautiful girl, a food dish I’ve never tried, or anything else interesting around me. I’ll have to readapt to avoid any smacks, ews, or what are you looking at. Other habits include table manners, gestures, the way I talk, and act.

Returning home was awfully difficult for me last year but I think this time I’m much more prepared on what to expect. I also have a lot of future travel plans to look forward to (Everywhere Connection) so I’m not as worried about the next steps as I was last year. I also had the idea that maybe reverse culture shock was all in my head and we’re all not that different. Either way, it’s much harder than normal culture shock.

Did you have a hard time readapting to your home culture after traveling?

Michael Tieso

Michael Tieso travels around the world writing, photographing, and filming his adventures. He is the Editor-in-chief of Art of Adventuring.
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