More than the Post Travel Blues: My Story of Travel Depression

Updated February 24, 2016
Travel Blues Travel Depression

In Scotland, two days before I left.

My Story

It’s been one year and I still don’t know if I’m ready to write about it.

I skirt around it in published and unpublished posts, talking about travel becoming harder the more we do it, and about whether travel bloggers are forgetting travel is a privilege. It’s always there, this experience, lurking in the back of my mind as I write.

I still feel like it shouldn’t have happened to me, that I should have coped better, that I should be more grateful for what I had and have.

But the truth is, last year, after years of travelling the world, I travelled into depression.

Not so smart financial decisions when I moved abroad and visas, the bane of my life, led me to leaving Europe and most importantly to me, the United Kingdom, to return to Australia where my parents were living.

I can hear you asking… So? You had to move to Australia, what a hardship, don’t you know how many people would LOVE to do that? What’s wrong with Australia or New Zealand? Why don’t you want to live there?

The answer is nothing is wrong with those countries, they’re great places to live, but they just weren’t for me then, and they’re still not now.

The beginning

Since I was 16 I’d dreamed of moving to the UK and travelling Europe. After university in my home country of New Zealand I decided to move to Australia for a higher wage and make that dream became a reality. Just in time for the end of 2013 I moved to Edinburgh, mission accomplished. Of course I had some teething problems, jobs, flats, making friends and general life, but before I knew it I fell in love with Edinburgh and Europe.

The working holiday visa for Kiwi’s is two years, and after one year in Edinburgh I already knew I wanted to stay. I enjoyed the next year, but I always had the underlying anxiety of trying to find a way to stay. My time was peppered with job interviews and rejection for not having the skills to be sponsored, of constant questions about my plans and why I didn’t just renew my visa or people telling me how unfair it was that I had to leave, no one seemed to understand the rules. Of seeing friends from the UK be sponsored in Australia and New Zealand, and wondering why I couldn’t have that in return.

Not for lack for trying, it all came to nothing and just like thousands of others I had to leave the country the day my visa ended. I’m very aware I was in a privileged position to be allowed two years at all, but it doesn’t mean it didn’t hurt. To begin with I left for two weeks and came back on a tourist visa, but getting on that first flight to leave for a holiday knowing I was returning as a tourist was hard.

The end

Being back in Edinburgh afterwards was both amazing and hard. I had a half-life as a tourist, it felt like I wasn’t fully there. I moved in with the guy I had been seeing, and we decided to “make it official” but with an end date, a complicated situation but one I didn’t want any other way. Not wanting to bother his flatmates and wanting to see as much as I could before I left I tried to balance my time between mini holidays and living in Edinburgh. Each day that crept closer and closer to the inevitable I began to fall apart a little more. He could see it, I could see it, but I didn’t know what to do.

I think I started to go numb from the time I got in the cab to go to the airport, and that numbness didn’t stop for a long time. Months of alternating between numbness or cutting sadness. If you’ve ever broken up at an airport by the way, it’s shit. Really shit.

Australia

My parents met me at Perth airport and I wouldn’t call it a happy reunion. I wonder how they felt, excited for their daughter returning but maybe being afraid to show that when I came out of the doors and all I could do was shake my head and cry. Words can’t express how grateful I am for their support, as always,  but in that time I don’t quite think they knew what to do with me.

The first 10 days back in Australia were spent obsessing over applying for jobs, seeing it as my lifeline. The faster I could find work and pay off my debt the faster I could leave again. When I wasn’t applying for jobs I was trying to enjoy the opportunity to see a new place, to show enthusiasm for the places my parents wanted to show me. I wanted so badly to be happy but it just wouldn’t seem to come.

Ten days after I arrived we embarked on a drive across Australia, the trip of a lifetime that I had dreamed about doing since my first year at university. We moved from Perth to the Gold Coast in two cars and I would either sit in the car as my Mum drove, or I would drive on my own in the second car.

I do have fond memories of the trip and I do remember the parts that were amazing, but I also remember how silent I was in the car with my Mum, letting her do all the talking. It was as though speaking was an extra effort and required energy I just didn’t have. Then when I was in the car driving alone I cried most of the time. Essentially I cried my way across Australia, and sometimes I think, how pathetic is that? I had crazy thoughts, about running away and escaping, just walking out of where we were staying and hitchhiking away, but I didn’t know what I was running from.

I feel like the only similar explanation I have for those first few months in Australia is that it was like being underwater. Everyone and everything was moving normally around me, but I was drowning. I was in slow motion, and everything was an extra effort. To speak, to get up, to do anything except things that I saw as my way out. By the afternoon of each day I would just be ready for it to be done. Sometimes I went to bed at 5pm to shut the world out. Too tired to deal with life anymore.

Getting to the bottom

Time passed excruciatingly slowly once we got to the Gold Coast, but it was on the day that I actually got what I wanted, a job, that I really travelled to the darkest place I’ve ever been.

I was lucky to be offered more than one job in Australia, but it was the rejection from the one I thought best suited my travel plans, and the decision about which of the other two jobs I had been offered that broke me. Or maybe not broke me, but was the drop that pushed the water over the rim of the glass.

It sounds childish doesn’t it? Being upset because I didn’t get my way, and I think that’s why I find it so hard to write this. I wanted to stay in the UK, and I couldn’t. I wanted to get a job doing something I liked rather than random work all the time, and I couldn’t. I wanted my relationship to continue but because I had to go to Australia it didn’t. It was the culmination of 10 years of life planning ending, and I was lost.

I thought I knew what I wanted but I couldn’t do that, and anyone who really knows me knows how stubborn I can be and when I want something I’ll find a way to make it happen, but with this, there was no way. I don’t know why it all hit me so hard. I think it was just too much at once. Leaving Edinburgh broke my heart in more ways than one, and I was just managing to stay above the surface when that day pulled me under.

My parents were both away and I had decided to go to a movie by myself, because I had to keep distracted and busy all the time, my legs churning furiously below the water to keep me up. In the morning I’d been offered the job I wasn’t sure I wanted, but when I got to the shopping mall I received the call about not getting the job I did want. I don’t remember the drive home. I just remember that I wanted to escape and when I got inside my house I went straight to my wardrobe. If I went inside and closed the door then it was dark and I could imagine there was nothing outside.

I really can’t explain it too much, but I just wanted to be away. I don’t know how long I was in there, but I’ve dealt with enough depression in family and friends to know I was not in a good space, no pun intended. I tried calling a couple of people, but I couldn’t really speak. Finally I managed to text message my best friend… “I just don’t want to be here anymore.” I don’t think I contemplated suicide, I just had this notion that I needed an out, to get away, escape.

My friend saved me when I needed it the most. She called immediately and told me she was leaving work straight away and getting the train to my house, and that I was coming with her to Brisbane. A tiny glimmer of light appeared with that. Someone else would take the weight for me and I could surface a little again. She drove me back to her house and I spent the weekend there. She called my Mum to explain I wasn’t doing so well. She understood and she knew what I needed. To be busy, to just be there, to not just “snap out of it” and “cheer up”. She taught me that it’s ok to be sad, to feel anything really. I will never, ever be able to thank her enough.

The only way is up

As J K Rowling says, “Rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I built my life.” It was like I needed to hit a point where I felt utterly hopeless to start to recover. With the support of my family and friends I continued on. I still had to keep myself busy, taking TEFL and Web Design courses, and I still cried everyday that I drove to work for the first month. But slowly, I stopped being so upset all the time, I started to talk more again, to find enjoyment in things. I started this blog, maybe it was another crutch, but it worked. It was never that I didn’t want to be happy or to enjoy myself, but it was like the strength it took was just too much. I still had moments, but I was ok. And I kept being ok, and then more than ok.

I was determined to make going to Australia the best thing that had happened, to make it worth it so to speak. I leapt from big event to big event. I visited New Zealand twice, to see my home, family and friends. Adventures with my family and friends pulled me along until I could do it for myself. I went for weekends away to Brisbane, Byron Bay, Binna Burra and 1770 (all worth checking out). I learned to dive on the Great Barrier Reef. Then at the end of it all, I found my way back to Europe, Spain this time, and I realised another dream, of teaching English and living in a country that doesn’t speak English.

Even with all of this, that 10 months in Australia was some of the hardest I’ve had. When I got not hat plane to come back here, I had no hesitations that I was making the right decision. Sometimes the anxiety of being put in such a position again lingers, since what I have here is still temporary, but I know I can cope and I know I would cope better this time.

So why write this?

You can read a lot on the internet about the post-travel blues, reverse culture shock and coming home after travel. I’m not the first one to feel down about having to go home and it wasn’t like it was new to me. After I returned from living in the USA in high school I had some reverse culture shock, except it was nothing like this.

Writing this post was hard and brought on some tears (I might be a bit of a crier…) but two things happened in the days following me writing this first draft. The first one was that I stumbled across this post directed “To Anyone Who Thinks They’re Falling Behind In Life.” This post is gold. If I had read it at this time last year, I like to think it would have penetrated my haze a little. Sometimes we can’t control things and we just have to take a step back and be where we are, because one day it will make sense. It’s about timing, and it’s about being ok with not always doing or being our best, that “…we are as we are until we’re not.”  Intellectually, I knew this, but having it put into words like to read is something different.

The second thing was that my best friend (yes, that one) sent me this.

During that time, I was listening to a teacher who said, “You always have to have some breakdown to have a breakthrough.” When I heard that, it made the hair on my arms stand up. It goes all the way back to birth. The baby’s not comfortable when it’s leaving it’s comfort space, and it’s being pushed through violent contractions to who-knows-where. So I sorta developed that into my own saying: “Birth always looks like death from the other side.”

I don’t know where it’s from, so if you do PLEASE enlighten me, I need more of it. (UPDATE: This is apparently from an interview with a folk artist called Rob Seven, but I can’t find the original link.)

A coincidence that both of these articles say the same thing? I don’t think so. They both drive home the idea that we have to ride out what’s happening now, because one day it’ll make sense. And you know what? My story already does in some ways. I wouldn’t change those experiences in Australia. The time with family and friends. The stronger connections I made. Reaching goals in my personal life. Starting this blog and learning so much. The opportunity to move to Spain. And you know that guy? Well, we are back and in a better place than we could ever have been before.

I guess that’s the reason I had to write this. To look back and see myself on the other side. Growing ever stronger. To acknowledge my family and my friends for their help. To write it for myself and hopefully for others, to know that if it happens to you, you can get through it. Dealing with loss is something we will all have to go through at different points in our lives for different reasons, and I am no exception. But just remember,

“Birth always looks like death from the other side.”

Sonja x

 

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44 Comments

  • Reply Barbara Radisalvjeivc February 24, 2016 at 7:51 pm

    Thank you for sharing your story. It should bring hope to others who are suffering from depression, no matter what the cause.

    • Reply Migrating Miss February 24, 2016 at 10:27 pm

      Thanks Barbara. It’s the most personal I’ve got so I wasn’t sure about it, but if someone read it and it gave them hope that would be more than I could ask for!

  • Reply Sally from Passport & Plates February 24, 2016 at 8:04 pm

    Sonja, thank you SO much for sharing this. It’s raw and it’s personal and I’m SO glad to read that someone else knows the feeling. This feeling of not wanting to be in a certain place. Of not feeling like you belong in a certain place anymore because your heart belongs somewhere else. Of getting rejected from dream jobs in other cities and just not being okay overall. This was powerful, and I understand exactly what you mean. Thank you for sharing your story and reminding me that things will look better on the other side, even if they don’t at the moment. <3

    • Reply Migrating Miss February 24, 2016 at 10:29 pm

      Thanks so much for your comment Sally! I’m so glad to read someone else understands this feeling of helplessness when you can’t be in a certain place either! It’s difficult to explain and for people to understand I think, unless they have been there. Best of luck to you, it will definitely look better on the other side x

  • Reply Jaimee February 24, 2016 at 10:58 pm

    Thank you for sharing this. It was really hard to read in some parts because it is so relatable. You’re an inspiration. Xx

  • Reply Franchesca February 25, 2016 at 12:13 am

    Awesome post, Sonja! I think you described depression perfectly: “I feel like the only similar explanation I have for those first few months in Australia is that it was like being underwater. Everyone and everything was moving normally around me, but I was drowning. I was in slow motion, and everything was an extra effort.” I always liken it to being encased in a glass box – while everyone else outside the box is walking and talking normally, they seem muffled and unreachable to me. You’re awesome, homie, and I’m so glad that you clawed your way out of that place.

    • Reply Migrating Miss February 25, 2016 at 11:25 am

      Thanks Franchesca! The glass box definitely works too, it’s so true that people seem unreachable. Even the people that really want to help you can have a hard time getting through. x

  • Reply Sarah February 24, 2016 at 11:25 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing this. Many travel bloggers, myself included, most likely feel this way but don’t let ourselves talk about it. Very inspiring Xx

    • Reply Migrating Miss February 25, 2016 at 11:24 am

      Thanks Sarah! I think a lot more people feel this way than they let on. To people who didn’t know me well at this time I probably seemed fine, and I didn’t talk to people I wasn’t with very much for them to know any different.

  • Reply Veera Bianca February 25, 2016 at 12:06 pm

    You write beautifully. And I am happy you shared such a personal story, I’m sure it will inspire many – myself included <3

    • Reply Migrating Miss February 25, 2016 at 5:23 pm

      Thanks Veera! I didn’t think about inspiring people, but if it does then that’s more than I could ask for x

  • Reply Nikki February 25, 2016 at 12:38 pm

    Sonja, thank you so much for sharing such an honest and personal story. I’ve talked about experiencing the travel blues a lot on my blog, but several months on and I am still feeling everything you described above. I haven’t been able to put my finger on it until reading your post now. While my story is a little different as I was never officially “living” anywhere on my travels, I did spend five months in Tanzania and it felt like my home. And I’ve not been able to shake that feeling of not “belonging” since returning. However I very recently had to make a tough decision to turn down a job opportunity out there (for several reasons I won’t go into now…maybe it warrants a blog post explaining my story) but my world literally felt like it had turned upside down all over again. I felt all the same emotions I felt when I was at that airport making my way back to the UK. I’m still making my peace with my decision not to return just yet, but it’s comforting to know I am not the only one experiencing this. It’s a topic I feel a lot of bloggers shy away from.

    • Reply Migrating Miss February 25, 2016 at 5:27 pm

      I was encouraged to tell my story, even though I wasn’t sure it was something I was ready to share on this blog, but the response I’ve been getting has been wonderful and I now I would encourage you to share yours! You’re definitely not the only one experiencing it, and I think it’s great to realise that. Plus in my case, it became something more than just the post travel blues, so if you’re really feeling down make sure you reach out to people. All the best!

  • Reply Dan February 25, 2016 at 12:47 pm

    I need to tell you how beautifully written this is and thank you for sharing it. Perhaps it’s because I relate trying to get back to my life in Australia right now but this really hit me and the way you have told the story is perfect. Glad you found your way back to both Europe and a better place 🙂

    • Reply Migrating Miss February 25, 2016 at 5:28 pm

      Thanks Dan :). I hope you find your way back to Australia. I find it both sad and comforting that other people understand what it’s like to be able to be in the place we feel we should be. I hope you find your way back too!

  • Reply Katie Featherstone February 25, 2016 at 1:12 pm

    Thank-you, I’m always really interested to read about other travel bloggers depression. I think we sometimes give off the impression of some perfect life floating around the globe, but it doesn’t always seem to be the case in reality. I guess it just makes the good times better.

    • Reply Migrating Miss February 25, 2016 at 5:33 pm

      Exactly! I’m very aware hopping from the United Kingdom to Australia to Spain could look very glamorous from the outside, but in reality it was one of the hardest times of my life! It does make me appreciate everything a lot more though, especially good times with family and friends.

  • Reply Liz February 25, 2016 at 2:07 pm

    Thank you for sharing this and talking about it. Many people try to dismiss things like this as just a phase so people who go through it feel selfish or shallow for even feeling this way, but this is a very real thing. I am glad that things have gotten much better now. 🙂

    • Reply Migrating Miss February 25, 2016 at 5:35 pm

      Thanks for your comment! I really struggle with feeling selfish or spoiled because I have been able to move from country to country in the past 5 years, and I think that made it even more difficult. That’s where accepting what I was feeling and that I’m human and it’s ok came into it. I’m getting there!

  • Reply Shelly February 25, 2016 at 2:58 pm

    Thanks for sharing your story, hopefully it helps others get to the other side as well. I had never heard that quote before either, but it’s beautiful.

    • Reply Migrating Miss February 25, 2016 at 5:35 pm

      Thanks Shelly, I hope so! I have no idea if it will but I felt like it helped me, and I feel good putting it out there.

  • Reply Taylor February 25, 2016 at 5:08 pm

    I needed to read this. Thank you for sharing, the personal stories of traveling and the affects of it are always the best. I’m so happy to hear that you’re doing better in Spain now, and I loved how you finished this post. I always love reading your stuff. Wishing you all the best in the future!

    • Reply Migrating Miss February 25, 2016 at 5:36 pm

      Thanks Taylor! I love the personal stories too. It would be very easy to just write the good parts about living in the UK and moving to Australia, but it wouldn’t be real. Thanks for your support!! Wishing you all the best too x

  • Reply Ramona February 25, 2016 at 5:33 pm

    What a great post! I myself am going through the same thing post-travel. It abruptly came to an end and I am wondering…”what now??” It’s a learning experience but, at this time, I am still trying to see the lesson. Thank you for sharing this!

    • Reply Migrating Miss February 25, 2016 at 5:42 pm

      Thanks for your comment Ramona! I think a lot of us experience a feeling of loss when we come to the end of something like travel. Hopefully you can see it as moving on to the next adventure, whatever that is! All the best!

  • Reply Rachel Best February 25, 2016 at 7:39 pm

    I really enjoyed this and can relate to you in many ways. Solidarity is coming full force from me. All the love from California xoxo

    • Reply Migrating Miss February 25, 2016 at 9:59 pm

      Thank you so much for your comment Rachel! I’m glad you could enjoy it 🙂

  • Reply Ruthie February 25, 2016 at 8:25 pm

    Hi Sonja,

    WOW! I’m at work and reading your blog post. Just brought tears to me. It’s happening to me right now. I feel like I don’t know where I am going. There is too much going on with life right now. Your post has inspired me to take things as they come, things happen for a reason. Though we may not understand the reason behind it, at the end things work out for the best.

    I’m so happy that you are where you are supposed to be and that you are happy 🙂

    Hugs

    • Reply Migrating Miss February 25, 2016 at 10:01 pm

      Wow thanks Ruthie! I hope you’re ok at work! I hope that the two things I linked to may be able to help you as well, and just keep remembering that it will all work out! I’m really happy where I am right now, and even though I know that I could fall into something like that again, I feel much better prepared and I think it wouldn’t be half so bad. Reach out to the people around you, even if it doesn’t feel like it, they will care. Best of luck to you!!

  • Reply Katie February 26, 2016 at 12:34 am

    Thanks so much for this beautiful post Sonja. I was in a similar situation myself when I returned to New Zealand and Australia after living in London for six years then travelling for over a year. You do just have to feel it and know that you will get through it. I recently broke up with my fiance who I had been with for almost nine years because we wanted different things in life and I have been going through a hard time again but with the support of my friends and family I am starting to feel better.

    • Reply Migrating Miss February 26, 2016 at 2:21 pm

      Thanks for your comment Katie! Wow six years would be so much harder I imagine, and breaking up with your fiancé. I’m glad you have family and friends supporting you and you will definitely get through it. Best of luck to you xx

  • Reply Florence February 26, 2016 at 9:03 pm

    Hi Miss 🙂
    Even if I don’t feel that commenting is the best way to communicate on such sensitive subject, I can totally understand you and let me tell you that it is very brave from you to open your heart to us! Thank you!
    I wonder if people like us all will ever be happy some day… ?

    • Reply Migrating Miss February 27, 2016 at 11:12 am

      Thank you so much for you comment Florence! It’s nice to know people do understand. I am much happier now with how things are going for me, even though I miss Edinburgh and the UK I’ve made myself a new life in Spain at the moment which I’m really enjoying. Hope you can find the same!

  • Reply Joseph March 1, 2016 at 10:49 am

    I’ve been in the same situation (2 year visa) and leaving Tokyo was the hardest of all. Having new projects and working my best to go there again is the goal. I can relate to how you felt back in your home country. Best of luck for you 🙂

    • Reply Migrating Miss March 1, 2016 at 11:54 am

      Thanks Joseph. It is definitely difficult! I found finding things to keep me busy helped as well, and while I’m not back in the UK I am back in Europe now which is really great.

  • Reply Sarah - Exploring Kiwis March 4, 2016 at 3:39 pm

    You’re a strong and inspiring lady, even more so for being so open about this. We’re likely heading home at the end of our two years in Abu Dhabi and I just can’t see myself being ready to – it’s hard when life pulls you in one direction but your heart wants something else…

    • Reply Migrating Miss March 4, 2016 at 3:57 pm

      Thank you Sarah! It’s so hard when you’re not ready, but I made it through and have learnt a lot about myself and how to cope with things so there is a positive. I hope you figure it all out too!

  • Reply Luis May 4, 2016 at 4:35 pm

    Wonderful post. I don’t know if you ever found the source for that birth and death quote. It gave me the chills the first time I came across it and now it’s a sort of mantra of mine. It turns out it came from an interview with artist Rob Seven.
    Cheers!

    • Reply Migrating Miss May 4, 2016 at 6:22 pm

      Thanks Luis! I never did find a source for that quote so that’s really great!

  • Reply Linnea August 29, 2017 at 8:34 am

    Hi!
    We should swop passports, I have European and you have a NZ?! 😉 Just joking!
    It’s so good to hear that someone experience the same thing. I could do anything to be allowed to live in Australia (MELBOURNE) again. I was an exchange student there and every single day I miss my life, my friends, the city, my uni, everything there. It’s months since I left and I still cry every second day. I’ve lived in other conutries and places before, but Melbourne was something special for me. That’s where I felt at home.
    And the feeling that nothing is fun and I just want to lie in my bed. It’s scary!

    • Reply Migrating Miss September 1, 2017 at 5:47 pm

      Haha so many people have said that to me! It is really hard when you fall in love with a place and it feels like home. I guess the thing is, even if you went back circumstances would probably be different. There might be a way that you can go in future (working holiday maybe?) but even if not, you will move on and find your happiness somewhere else! Funnily enough, I’ve actually returned to the UK now, and it is so different from the last time I was here. Which is a strange transition! It is a scary thing when you feel like shutting yourself off. I’d really encourage you to reach out to your support network at this time. It’s what got me through!

  • Reply Andy H September 18, 2017 at 3:00 pm

    After 2 months of soul searching since returning from my 2 years in Canada, I’d yet to have found anyone so able to describe the utter despair in leaving your heart in a far away land without any foreseeable means to going back.

    Tomorrow evening I’m flying to France to try and emulate that experience, but despite my best efforts I just can’t summon the excitement. Instead, I’ve been spending all my time watching videos on Canada, listening to Canadian music, researching permanente residency…

    I’ve given myself until the new year. If I don’t feel any better, despite having moved to
    France then I’ll do all I can to return to Canada.

    Do you think this is a healthy approach? I’d really appreciate knowing what you think on the matter, from someone who clearly knows and understands the feeling.

    Thanks,
    Andy

    • Reply Migrating Miss September 19, 2017 at 2:47 pm

      Hi Andy,

      It is really hard to settle somewhere when your thoughts are just not there and you physically don’t want to be. I would definitely try and give France a fair shot, possibly even longer than the New Year, although I’m not sure whether you’d intend to stay there while you applied for returning to Canada.

      What I’ve learned is that life takes us in completely different directions than what we might expect. I ended up moving to Spain and I did really love living there, but I also knew it was temporary and I’d need to figure out my plans after. I then got engaged and have now got married and moved back to the UK! Not what I would have imagined 2-3 years ago when I felt like this. If that didn’t happen I know I would have been sad not to be living back in Scotland but I would also find another place I loved, or keep having different adventures until I did. Now I miss Spain as well! You never know what will happen with France, so really try to give it a fair go and make the most of the experience. Although I knew I should make the most of living in Australia and I did try, there is probably even more I could have done, or I wish I hadn’t been so upset for so long and had managed to enjoy it more because it went all too quickly and I actually do miss it as well now I’m gone… it seems I miss everywhere!

      However, if you do have the opportunity to possibly move back to Canada and you don’t think you’ll be happy without it then maybe it is something you should pursue because you don’t want to regret not doing that. Having said that, don’t pin all your hopes on it because if it doesn’t work out then it’s not meant to be. It sounds cliche, but like I said in the beginning, sometimes things really don’t turn out how you expect.

      Do let me know how you get on!!!

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