Back to reality, you sigh as you deplane. Your bags feel heavier now. You think: perhaps the weight comes from your heavy heart. You feel like you have, as they say, a lot of baggage.
On second thought, maybe the weight is just from all the pasalubong you bought. Still.
We’ve all been through this. An almost magical trip cut short by the ultimate killjoy which is life. One minute you’re sipping cocktail drinks by the beach, the next you’re dealing with all the paperwork you left before you went on leave.
As with dealing with most losses, leaving your perfect destination requires you to go through a long and painful process before you can overcome your pain. In their book On Grief and Giving, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and David Kessler explain the process of grief through a simplified five-stage cycle. And, as a lover of distant places myself, I feel like this process can apply to travellers as well.
1. Denial: No, I am NOT back home!
As you open your phone to check on your travel buddies, you find that they’ve already sent photos of your trips. You spend the rest of your day on Facebook Messenger, recounting with them all the fun and crazy memories you just had. Yes, as if they weren’t there to experience it.
You upload your photos on various social media platforms, showing off to your online friends that you’d just had the best time of your life. After thoroughly going through your gallery, you update your profile picture and caption it with some wanderlust quote. You check it every now and then for comments and chances to further emphasise that you had a REALLY great time.
Now, you and your travel buddies start scheduling a reunion. Thanks to your trip, you realise how much synergy you have among yourselves. You promise to “travel again soon!” — both in your group chat and in all your comments on your newly-uploaded photos.
The next day, you wake up and go through the day as if you were still at the place you’d been to. You try your best to recreate that gorgeous poke bowl you had at the beach. Your Netflix account has transformed into an IMDb list of European films. Frank Sinatra’s New York, New York, Billy Joel’s New York State of Mind, Sting’s Englishman in New York — your Spotify playlist has been invaded by songs that remind you of your recent trip.
You feel like as long as you’re in the zone, your vacation lifestyle never ends! Until it does. And then…
2. Anger: This wouldn’t happen if I were in…
Every bit of nuisance annoys you to no end. Suddenly, work feels a lot more stressful. Your boss becomes too demanding for you to handle, even when (s)he has been exactly like that before. Manila traffic gets on your nerves even during off-peak hours. You have a stronger urge to shove people standing on the left side of an escalator — Hay, mga Pinoy talaga!!!
The more you go through your routine, the more you get frustrated about every inconvenience. You know what life is without having to deal with those troubles, and you’d kill to return to vacation mode.
“Why do I even live here?”, you ask yourself. And then you think of ways to move out.
3. Bargaining: I’d give up everything to return.
Nevermind your savings. Nevermind your friends and family. Or your home. Or your stable job. At this point, you’re willing to do whatever it takes to return to the place you’ve grown to love. You whisper a little prayer, promising all sorts of character development if the merciful God grants you a miracle to go on vacation mode forever.
With your new outlook in life, you reevaluate your previous decisions. If only I didn’t spend my leaves on other occasions, you think. If only I had a different job. You spend your day imagining yourself as a flight attendant. Or a travel writer even. You might even try searching for jobs that will allow you to work from wherever you want to.
One day, you give up. And then you move on to the next stage.
4. Depression: I hate my life.
No matter how much you try, there’s nothing you can do to stay in vacation mode forever. And right now, you’re having a challenging time to accept this. You find it harder to get out of bed and go to work. Harder to go through the usual hustle and bustle. Even your friends can’t help you get out of your funk, and instead, they annoy you by reminding you of your reality. It’s me against the world, you think, because no one understands you. No one understands how hard it is to be away from a place that has brought you nothing but happiness. Nothing motivates you anymore.
Sometimes, it may feel that this stage will go on forever until you can finally go on a trip again. But usually, it doesn’t. One day, your sadness may start to alarm you and you regain your senses. Finally, you refuse to stay in this stage.
5. Acceptance: Life is an adventure!
Congratulations! After some difficult processing, you’ve ultimately accepted that life isn’t always a vacation. To quote a cliché, it has its ups and downs. And, you’ve finally learned how to live with both. In fact, you’ve learned how to enjoy and experience life more richly through your recent travel experience.
Added to this realisation, your trip has finally blessed you with one of the best gifts of travel — lessons. You’ve become forever changed by your trip, a new creature with a whole new outlook on life. Now, you can begin looking forward to your next adventure, smiling every step of the way.