40,000km across the face of this earth. Back in the day, it was people like Chris Columbus, Capn’ Cook and Dave Attenborough ‘in search of guano’ that did this sort of stuff and it often meant year-long sabbaticals from the village blacksmith business. Now every Tamsin, Didier and Hamad can set off after a quick trip to North Face and plunge into this world to party on a far away beach covered in UV paint whilst uploading everything to faceplant.
London to Sydney overland is nevertheless a rather epic feat, but whilst smart phones and selfie-poles were at every corner of the globe we visited, the real modern interconnectedness of this world hit us smack bang in the face like a wet herring as we sat in our Qantas seats, watching Guardians of the Galaxy in widescreen, on our way back to the starting point of this epic quest, only minutes after we’d actually arrived at the finishing line.
Sitting in a giant toothpaste tube for 21 hours and miraculously appearing where we’d left off 9 months earlier was a real shock to the system. On the Piccadilly line to Cockfosters (“…yep. Cockfosters.”), we debated whether we’d just dreamt up this entire world, the last year and all the trials and trepidations (and Typhoid) that came with it.
The ‘psychology of returning home’ has been widely studied, whether it be travellers, overseas workers or soldiers that come back to alienation in familiarity. Just like Tom and Jerry, who leave little cut-out Tom and Jerry shapes in doors they smash through, you leave a little cookie-cutter hole in your familiar surroundings when you head off for Edinburgh, Sao Paulo or Taiwan.
You have an awesome time, meet lots of new people with lots of new perspectives on life, ingest things you’d never dream of touching in your 1st world health & safety surroundings and are forced into alternate lifestyles where busses are routinely 4 hours late, cows go berserk in the middle of highways and you can’t read any of the multi-coloured squiggly signage.
Travel broadens the mind, you diversify and expand – it’s a well known phenomenon. Returning home often means your new shape doesn’t fit the old hole – you just love the feeling of that painted surfboard necklace under your shirt and tie, you bend conversations to slip in the ‘correct’ pronunciation of ‘Pinot Grigio’ and you stockpile Mie Goreng from your local pan-Asian supermarket.
Positive or negative deep-impact experiences, such as the ones some of us travellers and many soldiers face abroad, can alter a person’s psyche so much that returning home and continuing as normal becomes impossible. For an example, you only need to watch “The Hurt Locker”, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” or even (especially for Kiwis) “The Hobbit”.
Your new identity has finally caught up with you and is going nuts building little dream catchers and Tibetan prayer flags into your suburban safety net. All seems hunky-dory until you realize that you loved Texas and it’s big burgers, easy, welcoming spirit and tailgating in massive pickup trucks. And this is in no way compatible to your spiritual Balinese quinoa-fuelled yoga retreat. You never knew you could get to deeply love two completely opposing mindsets, what do you do now?
As we sauntered around World Travel Market with our business caps on, meeting up with existing clients, chatting to potential new ones and branching out to interesting bloggers, production companies and tourism boards, we found ourselves submerged in an entirely new level of ‘returning home’ as we walked past miniature versions of the 19 countries we’d spent significant time and formed memories in over the last year.
Stunning Siberia threatened to clash with amazing Japan. “They have no sense of personal space” cried our Russian friends about our Chinese friends. “They never smile” cried our Vietnamese friends about our Russian friends. “They will rip you off” cried our Japanese friends about our Vietnamese friends. “They have giant killer Robots!” cried our German friends about our Japanese friends. All inside our heads, as we walked through one of the biggest travel industry events in the world.
Surrounded by representations of all our wonderful friends, with all their unique, amazing and sometimes incompatible lifestyles we were able to take part in, and who had shaped us into our crazy cut-outs we were when we returned to London. At Rat & Dragon’s 10-year anniversary party, when everyone who has been part of the journey meets in one place, we have no doubt that curiosity on a human level will overcome any cultural differences.
But for the moment, in our familiar environment, in our expanded new shapes, we can let our different cultural influences stay exactly that: different. It’s an interesting exercise in low-level cultural schizophrenia, but it will allow us to stay fluid rather than set in an amalgamated, consolidated mindset.