Visiting Home After Long Term Travel

Our time in Thailand was up. At least, it was for a little while. For the month of June, we embarked on our first trip back home to America after living abroad for more than a year. We knew even before our bags were packed that this visit would be bittersweet. We’d had really settled into Thai life, which may explain why we struggled with our feelings about visiting home after long-term travel in Thailand.

We melted into a sea of people after stepping off the plane, Chris’s height and my hair color no longer singling us out among petite, black-haired Thais. We were also blasted by conversations we could understand – some mundane, some annoying, some inappropriate for public talk. Good grief, where’s an off switch when you need it?

We followed English-only signs to immigration. “Hey! If yer an American citizen, get in this line! If yer not, get in that line!” spat a disgruntled TSA worker. Welcome to ‘Merica!

What We Missed About the USA

Seeing friends and family for five weeks and across eight states was, by no doubt, amazing. Visiting our old stomping grounds and places we lived made us smile as memories resurfaced. We had a huge list of things we wanted to do and foods we wanted to eat. And of course, we looked forward to some of the everyday norms of the US that Thailand sorely lacks.

We missed the comforts. We joke that US bathrooms are ones of luxury. Those that are well-ventilated, amply stocked with toilet paper, with a guaranteed supply of hand soap. It’s hard to describe the defeated feeling of having to use a poorly lit squat toilet with no means to wipe oneself. And the couches? Boy, what an incredible feeling it was to sink into an oversize plush sectional or a La-Z-Boy chair. This is a stark contrast to the Spartan wooden day beds and chairs made halfway bearable with thinly padded cushions.

We missed getting free drinking water at restaurants and drinking from the tap at home when thirsty. This sure beats buying bottle after bottle of drinking water, or waking up in the morning on a hot day without water and in need of a cup of coffee.

And of course, we missed the food. Although Chiang Mai has a great selection of Western cuisine, it doesn’t compare with mom’s home cooked meals or favorites like a Chipotle burrito or Outback’s Bloomin’ Onion. And speaking of restaurants, we welcomed the professional service. Waitstaff in Thailand is known for overlapping or switching courses, or staggering the delivery of entrees, so dining out with properly delivered food was refreshing.

What We Didn’t Miss About the USA

But surprisingly, as much as we looked forward to America’s cultural norms (Hey, look! Deodorant without whitening products in it!), more often than not we were bothered by things.

Some may think we’re crazy, but we couldn’t wait to get away from central air conditioning. We’ve acclimated to Thailand’s room temperature of about 85⁰F and typically use a fan to keep cool. Every time we stepped inside on a hot June afternoon, the 20-25⁰F degree swing in temperature brought on goosebumps and fantasies of pants and sweaters.

We didn’t miss driving long distances or the maddening traffic that came with it. In Chiang Mai, we have just about everything we need within a 15-minute drive. But in the US, we’d have to drive forty minutes just to meet with friends. We were also bothered by the limitations of our car and US road rules. In Thailand, we can (legally) zip between cars and drive on shoulders (even sidewalks!) on our motorbike, never having to succumb to the idle parking lot of cars during rush hour.

Oh, and the sticker shock! We knew we would be spending a lot of money in America, but we weren’t prepared to spend three thousand and eight hundred dollars during our visit home. The crazy part was that it was a modest vacation. We didn’t indulge in luxury hotels, excursions, touristy activities, and shopping. Our highest expenditure was eating out, and even then it was mostly for lunch. We did rent a car, and we also spent money on personal care (haircuts, clothing, grooming accessories, etc). In comparison, our previous month’s budget in Thailand (one that was out of control) still didn’t come close to what we spent in the US.

Outrageously Spending Money on Our Visit to America

Cost of Visiting Home After Long Term Travel

Tackling the “Big Question” from Friends and Family

Well, we actually took on three big questions that kept surfacing throughout our trip:

  • How’s Thailand?
  • When are you really coming back to the States?
  • What do you do over there all day?

A few people asked us about kids (none any time soon). A few people asked us if we missed Thailand (absolutely).

Thailand’s great, thanks for asking. If we hadn’t loved Thailand, we’d already be back in the States and probably back at our old jobs. But we’re not because Thailand is awesome.

And when are we really coming back to the States? Well, it’s not exactly fair to ourselves or the people we know to promise a definite return date. We’ve already made plans to live in Thailand for another year and after that, it remains open-ended. “But you’ll be back, in say, five years, right?” We just don’t know. And it’s better that way.

And what do we do all day? Jokingly, Chris began to respond with a cheerful, “Nothing!” There’s a little part of us, deep down inside, that knows no matter how we’ve been occupying our days in Thailand – “Oh, Angela’s been health teacher at a private school,” or, “Chris taught himself the ins and outs of photography,” or, “We’ve created a website from the ground up that now is actually pretty popular with people looking to go to Thailand. Here, Google us,” – those answers aren’t the right ones.

Visiting Home After Long Term Travel – It’ll Never Be The Same

But as any expat or long term traveler may tell you, visiting home after long-term travel will never be the same. Traveling has way of spoiling familiar things, no matter how much they made you comfortable before.

Anthon Bourdain Quote

It’s so true! Chipotle steak salad, Maryland steamed crabs, BBQ chicken pizza, champagne… Our taste buds changed, and some of our favorite foods just weren’t satisfying as they once were. They were dull, single-dimensional, or too rich and salty. Where were the dishes that delicately balance sweet and tangy? Where were the dishes with a slow building fiery spice?

Our definition of normal has now changed. Sticky rice and skewers of grilled pork for breakfast? Ok!

Side-saddling on the back of a scooter on the way to work? No problem.

Sitting outside on a humid night with Thai and Western friends drinking whiskey and soda? Any time!

We wouldn’t bat an eye at this now, but it was not that long ago that we would have never imagined doing these things.

Thai Life is Great

Although we had a great time visiting friends and family in the US, we looked forward to going back to Thailand. Living there for the past fifteen months has changed our perspective on life. There were things we missed about the States, but there were many other things that confirmed our choice to move to Thailand was the right one. We are looking forward to another exciting year ahead of us!

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