The Alice in Wonderland Effect: On Coming Home after Traveling.

alice in wonderland

There is something exciting about buying a one-way ticket to somewhere in the world and not knowing when you’ll come back.

Some kind of freedom of choice in choosing for ourselves when we’ve had enough of traveling, or when we’ve decided to drop our luggage somewhere.

Some may decide to build homes somewhere new, and others have homes that await them. Like a break in a relationship, we simply needed some time apart to be better for the future.

At last, when that clock strikes the time for us to come back, we may realize as we land back in our old town that nothing is as it was. And there can be a certain frustration that grows within us, which we find hard to explain to those who haven’t lived what we’ve lived.

It’s not only that we change; it’s that the things around us haven’t grown with us. The feeling we have is much like when Alice in Wonderland drank the magic potion and her body grew too big for her own house, too big for her own good. And it almost made her regret she drinking the potion in the first place.

“It’s much pleasanter at home, when one wasn’t always growing larger and smaller and being ordered about by mice and rabbits. I almost wish I hadn’t gone down that rabbit-hole.”  ~ Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

Having lived days, if not months, of travel and complete freedom—free to be and do what we please, free of material things, free to eat at whatever time, free to go wherever we want to go—, returning to a world that dictates how we should be is hard. Especially if our friends seem to be oblivious to it.

Coming back, we may be looking for the same freedom and authenticity we lived across the globe—because we gave ourselves the freedom of it. But on our return, we may have grown too big for our old house. We may feel lost and unable to understand the differences between ourselves and the others. And we may want, little by little, to start distancing ourselves from those who don’t understand what we have lived and grown into.

When coming back, we may notice we have changed because others haven’t.

And some might even call us on it and say, “You’ve changed…”

And we may be left with a bitter taste of having to accept it if we don’t want to end up alone.

How ironic it seems that we probably fought with loneliness during our travels, accepted it and finally conquered it only to come back to the world we left behind and have to battle with it again.

But the truth is, it is up to the person coming home to make a choice—that of choosing our new home wisely and also accepting where we came from.

Yes, moving is exhausting. We’ll have to clean up, arrange, sort and possibly throw away certain things. But this is when we need to remind ourselves, perhaps, that it is rarely the move in itself which is stressful; it is the stress of being stressed that drains us.

So maybe you are reading this while waiting for your plane to bring you back home. Or maybe you are traveling or have moved abroad and are thinking about heading back home.

If so, then this is what I can tell you to expect:

If you’ve gone to travel to have fun, you will most likely have no new choices to make. But if you have gone traveling to grow (or have noticed that you have), then you are bound to have to make that choice—that of making a new home and welcoming people in it regardless of how different they are from you.

The old you has been left behind to leave place for the new you. And it will be a new you that your new friends will admire, that your old friends will struggle to understand and that your true friends will learn to embrace.



5 Ways that Travelling Helps us to Win at Life.


Author: Lauren Klarfeld

Assistant Editor: Hilda Carroll/Editor: Caroline Beaton 

Photo: Wikipedia/Lewis Caroll

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Magali Mar 1, 2016 4:35pm

Hello Lauren,

All of what you have said above it true. But I wonder if it melds in with the idea of reverse culture shock, or if this sensation of claustrophobia is a separate entity, than that of resenting our roots and small minded surroundings?

As someone who travelled backpacking for 14 months across 14 countries, at the ripe old age of 16 turning 17, I can tell you that being a physical child with an experience most adults don't have and never will have, returning to my roots made life an absolute nightmare. At least adults have the luxury of mobility that a young person does not.

It took me 8 months to stop completely despising everyone and everything in my small town where I grew up. Somedays, I still do. It's been nearly 3 years and yet all I can think about is leaving again, finding my pace in life, like I once did.

There is also a kind of speed to life as a traveller, beyond the freedom we experience, although it is surely part and parcell of it. The ability to experience the results of our decisions, whether their outcome is positive or negative, in an almost immediate way, creates a different kind of sense of time, that is slowed to a nails on chalkboard screeching halt with the return to suburban "life".

I cannot trully call repeating the same year over and over again with only minor differences, unless a catastrophy or a huge life event occurs, "life". It's the routine that gets to me really. The confinement to a set of repeated events, that is repeated every single day for months on end…It's inhumane. It's robotic. And it's horrifyingly real.

There are two more years until I can travel again. And by then, I will hopefully be able to put aside money to allow myself to travel every two years for 6 months to a year through government x over y saving programs.

Another thing that I found incredibly difficult, was that I could no longer be the same person I had been while travelling. I no longer had the option of being a freespirited worldly person. It intimidated others and bored some, to hear of my travels. The gap between what someone imagines and what someone lives is much larger than can be understood by those haven't travelled. Not to mention that legally, I was still a child. But I had been adult my entire year abroad. To come back and be called a child was frustrating beyond belief.

To survive, I had to alter my personality, and curb my love of life and movement and choice and change. I had to accept my fate and submit to authority that had no right to call me lesser than they. It damn near killed me to lock the person I was travelling away, in the back of my mind. Oh she's still there, waiting to be let out again. But she's suffering until then.

I dream of the day when I can leave again, grow as I once did, learning and becoming so much more in my heart an mind. There is nothing like it, nor could it ever be replicated in the mundane, privileged, homogenous structures of the western world.

Jayne Dec 14, 2015 1:20pm

This is exactly I feel at the moment, I have been back a year and I feel like I'm in a cage and wanting to escape. Ive come back to a home which I feel I have outgrown and wouldn't hesitate to sell now where as before I wouldn't. I hate my job and Ive grown distant from people that don't share my passion for travel. The other thing I have noticed which I was probably oblivious to before is how much people complain about work, colleagues, family its none stop and draining. Great article, so true 🙂

Tara Dec 9, 2015 8:00am

LOVE this article! So true and very well written!

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Lauren Klarfeld

Lauren Klarfeld is studying to be a life coach and currently writing a book, not on travel but on travellers. As a traveler herself, she roams country to country and hostel to hostel looking for interesting stories and people—but most of all quotes—to construct a portrait of the modern day traveller and the future traveller within us all. Her work in progress is visible on Facebook and Instagram and is in the process of becoming a book.