Sunday, March 20, 2011

Arrival Protocol

Okay, so here's me getting bossy again, but I was thinking about how I return from a trip and how to do this best. Here's my free advice, and you get what you paid for. You don't want to be overwhelmed and depressed by coming home, but you want to return peaceful, refreshed and happy to be in your normal life again with such good memories. To ensure this, I think a successful reentry from a trip requires as much planning and care as heading out. That starts even before you've left.

Before the Trip:
  • Get someone to feed the pets, get the mail, etc. You don't want to return to disaster.
  • Clean house, including making the bed & having some clean clothes. You want to come back and see your home at its best and you don't want to have to do dishes or pick up before you can rest after a hard day of travel.
  • Clear out any perishables, but have some non-perishable food ready in the cupboard. With airlines being so stingy these days, you'll probably be hungry when you come back, but too tired to go out.

Immediately upon Return:
  • Shower. Morning or night, even if you're way tired. This should be one of first things you do. You'll feel better, more at home, and you won't carry all the germs of you picked up on the trip and flight. Also, this may be the first time in a while that you've had some good "naked time," so look for moles, rashes, ticks or anything you might not have noticed while changing in your sleeping bag by flashlight.
  • Dump your laundry. Yeah, I don't even sort it, but really--if you rinsed it in bathroom sinks and sludged through mud it in, I'm guessing it's not dry clean only. And usually clothes are a big part of our luggage so unpacking won't be such a chore in the future.
  • Clean out electronic noise. Delete spam email and irrelevant texts all at once. You'll find it makes reentry so much less daunting without all that extra stuff clambering for your attention. You can deal with the important matters latter, but just commit yourself to deleting the special deals from J. Crew and evites to parties you missed.
Within 24 Hours:
  • Label or post photos. Even if you felt like you'll never forget your trip, you may find yourself frowning over a thatched cottage or pile of ruins thinking, "there was some reason why I needed to photograph this, what was it?" Labeling while you're fresh also helps you to digest your trip, reflecting on the whole experience.
  • Talk about it. Maybe while picking up your mail with a good friend or just calling your mom, find someone who is willing to listen to you talk for awhile about your experiences. It doesn't have to be a two-hour debriefing with slides, but you'll find that several weeks down the way, you most remember the stories you told about your trip soon after your trip. Describing the tropical bird that swooped down on you or the old lady who sold you garlic in the street cements those memories in your mind.
  • Thank all the little people. As soon as you can, send thank you notes to those who watched your house or financial supported your volunteer efforts or inspired your packing lists. It's nice, too, if you have some little gifts, like exotic candies or photographs, to send. Don't forget to post reviews on Trip Adviser or for the good experiences you have. The people who work in tourism live and die by reviews.
  • Enjoy your home. Just walk around an reacquaint yourself with the books on your shelf, the ingredients in your cupboard, the view from your window. When I came home from this England walking tour, I looked in my closet and was awed by how many pairs of shoes I had to choose from. Everything will seem sparkly and new after your trip.
  • Unpack. The longer you leave everything in your bag, the less likely you are to find things you need, or look at what you brought home. Are all those ticket stubs worth keeping? Do you really want to keep that grocery bag from Taiwan? Which toiletries belong in your bathroom and which go in the 72 hour/gym kit? Get everything out and start airing out your likely smelling bags.

Over the Next Week:
  • Do what you can do at home. To keep my mind off how much I want to travel some more or how I miss the people I met, I like to cook a little, or go for a bike ride, or do something that I took for granted before my trip but is now new and fresh.
  • Embrace work. Answer all those email, finish up that homework, plan that may seem like unpleasant drudgery, but remind yourself why you went into your line of work in the first place. Think about what you contribute to the good in the world and to your organizations. Ponder how what you've learned about gratitude or nature or humanity changes the way you do your work. My travel to radically different cultures has made me a more sympathetic teacher for my international students, and personally engaging with historic areas has eased my anachronistic thinking in my research.
  • Share with others. Don't be a snob, but there will probably be a lot of people asking you about your trip. Invite a few of them over to enjoy a meal you discovered on your journey and look at a (brief!) selection of pictures.. Don't make this a party all about you, but engage others in the questions and ideas you encountered. They can help you make sense of your experiences and see it with new eyes.
  • Keep contact. Facebook or email all those people you met and promised to touch back with. It's great to get a Facebook update from a Canadian I met in a hostel, or our Belizean cook long after we parted ways. Remind your new friends of where you met, so they don't think some creeper ended up with their email address. By contacting them soon, you'll minimize the likelihood of losing those bonds forever.
  • Adventure locally. There are plenty of good experiences to have even at home in the afternoons and evenings. Invite over friends for a movie night. Go to a restaurant you love. Visit a museum in town. You might even make plans for the weekend to hike a local trail or take a historic walk. Remind yourself that just because your trip is over, the good times don't have to come to an end.

1 comment:

Jennifer said...

Are you my mother? Your "before-trip" section is identical.