Wanderlust In Reverse: What It's Like To Return Home From Your Travels

by Laura Frost

Ever find yourself lying in bed at night, staring at the ceiling and wishing you were somewhere else entirely? I’ve heard I'm not alone amongst 20-somethings in my restless soul syndrome: Wanderlust is almost as common as the cold.

I used to buy calendars full of photos of the world so I could wallpaper the concrete blocks of my dorm room with all the places I needed to see before I die. I wanted to ride the elephants in Thailand, walk the cliffs of Machu Picchu and swim in the waters of Santorini.

Travel itself is part of the adventure. Jet setting and road tripping are always promised adventures, and even trains are mysterious and romantic. As soon as you get wherever it is you are going, you realize the world is so much bigger than it was before you left your comfort zone.

Maybe you wish for the scents and heat of the Far East. Maybe you long to be on top of some entirely too tall mountain and the view that comes with completing the climb. Maybe you yearn for the bright lights and endless possibilities of New York City. Maybe you just want to go home.

That’s the funny thing about wandering: The very phrase insinuates a complete lack of a definitive endpoint, but confirms a very certain beginning. As you start this path from wherever you are from, you are starting a whole new part of your life. You may only leave for a week or you may be gone for years, but either way, you will be altered.

I grew up in a sailing town. The water was so surrounding that the humidity was nearly unbearable at times. Sperry’s were not a fashion statement, but a necessity.

Going downtown guaranteed tanned guys and sundressed girls piling off boats onto the cobblestone walks of the busy streets. Guitar players sat on benches serenading tourists, stray dogs and those trickling out of dance floors and back into the cool summer night. It was a great place to grow up, but I knew how much more there was of the world I needed to know, so I left.

Away to college, away on trips, away entirely after I graduated. That phrase, “You can never go home again,” would ring in my ears as I packed each time, but I ignored it as I embraced the new and incredible experiences I was embarking upon.

I cheered at Texas rodeos. I drank Sam Adams as I watched the Red Sox play in Boston. I waded into the Pacific Ocean, reveled in the cold water and swore it felt different from the Atlantic.

I made a new city my home and danced away nights I (mostly) remembered while I finally unpacked during the days. I booked tickets to see my friends in New Orleans to squash the itch of staying in one place too long.

A few months later I watched the biggest snowfall I’d ever seen pile up foot after foot in a new place I’d settled in, but then one day, I felt a new kind of itch. It tickled in a very different way than wanderlust did, and I realized, I missed home.

I found myself wanting to paper my walls in this new town with pictures of my old one. When my home state came up and someone had visited even once, I felt instantly connected to that person. I missed the heat and the humidity, and still that phrase, “You can never go home again,” would ring in my ears.

I’ve never been much for playing by the rules, so out of that rebellious nature, I bought tickets to do exactly that: go home. When the plane touched down, I caught a cab downtown and just walked around in the sunshine.

Everything was just as I had remembered: khakis everywhere, girls in sundresses eating ice cream as they watched boys rig up boats. I got another strange feeling in my stomach, but this time, I felt complete. I was home.

When I stepped onto those old familiar cobblestone roads, I couldn’t just feel the stones beneath my feet, I could feel the drop in my heart when I knew it was over with my high school boyfriend. I could feel the rush I felt all those years ago, when I ran to the mailbox in front of my parent’s house to check for college acceptance letters. I breathed in the river air and remembered how my first real kiss felt.

In all the wandering I still needed to do, and even if I never ended up living in this exact town again, this place would always mean something incredible to me.

This was the town where I had spent countless summer nights with my feet dangling just above the river. A few miles away was the stadium in which I’d screamed and cried with pride at hundreds of my little brother’s football games. Just outside of city limits was the very spot where I looked into my soul mate’s eyes for the first time.

Do you remember being the person lying down in your childhood room wishing to be anywhere but there? Did that person ever question where exactly he or she was going? I, for one, didn't always know. The only thing absolutely guaranteed by my wandering was that it would be different.

The odd thing about the phrase, “You can never go home again,” is that it is both entirely true and a complete lie. Anyone can book a ticket to the city he or she grew up in, but when you get there, the place will be different from your memory. You will be different, too.

That is the beauty of going home after wandering. When you first began your travels, you had an incredible passion for life, love and all you believed to be important and true. That was what sent you out with confidence looking for more adventure.

I thought I would never want to end up where I had grown up and maybe I still don’t entirely. Going home after such a long time away, though, made me see everything in a different light. It was like I finally saw the place I grew up in for the first time. The river sparkled so much more, the lights of downtown were so much brighter and even the air smelled sweeter.

The world was a simpler place in the days when this was the only home I had known. That simplicity was just what I needed to get my head straight and remember the reasons behind the dreams I found myself walking strange and beautiful roads to pursue.

Growing and changing are both just a part of life. Maybe you started your journey at 18 when you left home for college, or maybe you left the open fields of the Midwest in search of the bustle of East Coast lights.

When you got there, I hope you found everything you ever wished for. I hope, also, that you know you can always go home.

Photo via We Heart It