Woman lying in bed in a cozy room.

Unpacking Travel: Beyond the Bags

“The best part of the trip was coming home”, said no one ever.

It’s almost uncontainable, the excitement leading up to a trip. Every day approaches like a pump of air into a balloon. Anticipation builds until  *POP*. Your amazing trip kicks off, delivering exhilarating experiences, a sense of freedom, and stimulation of all the senses. When it’s over, you kind of feel like a deflated balloon. Sound familiar? 

The UGH of coming home

While it may be nice to be home after a life-changing journey, getting back into the rhythm of life can feel sluggish, awkward or even depressing. It’s pretty common for travellers to feel this way, and the UGH can set in well before you walk in the front door.

Trekking home may have involved long bouts of walking, driving, flying, or maybe even ethical camel-back riding? Uprooting and transporting yourself across terrains and time zones with a looming departure is exhausting. Even a 3-hour difference affects us physically. When you finally return to your old stomping grounds, your internal clock may be yelling, “what the heck?”

Once home, the mixed feelings set in. Days before, you were voyaging freely and seizing the day, but then the wind in your sails stopped abruptly. Suddenly, free flow mornings, Indiana Jones adventures, and community celebrations are replaced by laundry, restocking the kitchen, and a 9-5 work schedule. The stark contrast between adventuring and regular daily life can be jolting to both the mind and body.

For me, returning to Singapore is always difficult after a trip to the Philippines where life is wild and free. In Singapore, although the facilities are clean and comfortable, I feel structure and commitments re-enter my life. Eventually, I re-embrace the things I love about being home and feel a sense of belonging again. But it takes time.

Post- trip hangovers can take a toll on you physically and mentally. Returning home doesn’t have to feel like the end of a beautiful journey. Through mindful unpacking, you can embrace your homecoming as one of the most valuable parts of your trip. 

Travel changes you forever.

Think about the last trip you were on. What did you do that you never would have done at home? (Can include an icon “Pull out your Living Atman journal”) These experiences enriched your life and created new lenses to see the world through. Those tools will always stay with you.

Mindful Unpacking

After a big adventure, the world you return to seems the same as when you left it, but you’re not. Along with a dusty backpack, you’re toting experiences that have cracked you open and shown you new possibilities. Unpacking more than your keepsakes anchors those precious learnings within. 

Many use a packing list, but people rarely use  an “unpacking” list. Here’s a guide to help bring your new motivations to life so you can honour your home and your adventure. 

Self-care buffer
Give yourself time to reset your internal clock and re-root. If you can, allow a gentle transition. Instead of jumping into commitments like work or school, carve out time to rest and renew. What’s your fave self care practice? Massage, reflexology, meditation, baths, reading, walks in nature… or maybe all of them?

Memory lane

Give your endorphins a kickstart by dedicating time to savour cherished moments. Here are a few fun ways to rekindle the flame: 

  • Print a few of your favourite photos and, on the photo, write about how you felt in that moment.
  • Look at the keepsakes you’ve brought back from your travels. Reminisce on why you purchased them and choose where they will live in your home. It will bring you joy everytime you see it.
  • Send notes of gratitude to the people you met along the way, thanking them for the unique reasons why they made your trip special.

Connect + share

Get giddy exchanging warm hugs and smiles when reconnecting with your friends and family. Your treasured relationships are powerful home comforts that will soften your adjustment period. 

Fun idea: Consider meeting over a meal inspired by your recent travels. Go out to a restaurant, or cook together while sharing stories. Your tales will come alive in the hearts and minds of those you care about..

Deeper engagement

“Isn’t it funny how day by day nothing changes but when you look back everything is different.” -C.S. Lewis. 

Settling in to home offers an opportunity to reflect on your trip from a bird’s eye view. A chance to gather your thoughts and ponder the meaning, purpose and learnings from your travels. 

Journaling is a lovely way to unpack your trip. Find a cozy spot, tea or coffee by your side, and let it flow. See where this journey takes you!

If you need guidance, here are a few prompts to get you started. 

  • I felt utmost joy and bliss when…
  • The people I’d like to stay in touch with are…_____ because_____ …
  • The time I felt most conflicted was when…
  • What totally blew my mind was…
  • Money well spent was on…
  • What I’ve learned about myself is…

Choosing change

You can ease the transition at home with self care, connection and reminiscing, but what do you do if your values and priorities change? If the “new you” feels misaligned after returning home? 

Sometimes taking greater action is required to find harmony within.

I’ve seen firsthand friends who have come home with a better understanding of their boundaries, needs, and beliefs. To them, alignment meant leaving jobs to follow a passion, ending a partnership to start something new, or creating more work life balance with new routines. 

It’s scary when you realize your life is no longer something that inspires you. So be gentle with this process. Start by observing what parts of your life feel tense or uncomfortable. What no longer brings you fulfillment? And what areas spark curiosity, interest, and joy? 

Ask yourself, what would bring these parts of my life closer to alignment? If it’s something you can act on, consider taking small steps over giant leaps. For example, a career change can begin with research, or conducting informational interviews with contacts in the desired field or work.

I remember when I visited Myanmar. Spending time in sacred spaces awakened my own definition of spirituality. For me, the peaceful energy connected to my heart and changed how I connected to myself, especially when traveling. Over the years, I’ve chosen to spend time in spiritual spaces worldwide, and it has led me to build a sacred wellness space of my own seven years later. A very different path from selling software!

When you travel, you push past your comfort zone to have experiences that have a strong impact on your life. It’s after the trip that you can connect all the dots. Mindful unpacking brings awareness to the journey as a whole, and what you do with it becomes a conscious choice. 

Coming home from a trip is not part of the “bucket list”, but maybe it should be. Through mindful care and reflection, your return can be a profoundly positive experience which can truly transform your life.

Michelle Villarosa
Michelle Villarosa
Being an explorer is my way of life. Anywhere in the world, discoveries in nature, community and spirit bring me joy and light. You’ll find me in self-care rituals, cherishing the dance between birds and trees, dreaming of creative possibilities, or playing fetch with my cat Winslow and nursing my newly adopted pup Rosemary. The human spirit inspires me. It invites me to share my purpose of uplifting others. That’s why, with my intrepid husband who equally reaches for his stars, I’m taking the leap to create a wellness space on the magical island of Siargao, Philippines. Deep breath. Let’s go!

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