Surviving “Re-entry Shock”

Even when you leave home for the weekend, it’s a shock to get back home.  Time starts ticking again.  The bags are filled with dirty laundry, there isn’t any milk in the fridge, your e-mail inbox has filled up, everyone’s exhausted, and the adventure is over.  The trip was supposed to be relaxing but the minute you walk back through your front door, a world of responsibility smacks you across the face.  And, sadly, you find that the trip is over.  If it was a big adventure, it can be a disappointment to land back home. The long-planned and saved-for trip is finished.  Being overwhelmed by errands while suffering from post-trip let down is a killer combination.  We call it “re-entry shock.” 

Re-entry shock absolutely affects your kids too.  Our 4th grader came home about 2 weeks after returning from a big trip and said ‘I don’t get it Mom. I just wake up, go to school, come home, and then I wake up again.  What’s the point?”  In middle school, it was a shock to discover that even though some missed homework didn’t have to be turned in, the missed material still had to be learned.  Seriously?!? Your kids’ friends will be so happy to see them for about 5 minutes but then it’s back to life as usual.  There’s no one who can understand the exciting experience that is still so fresh in your child’s mind.  Meanwhile, parents are overwhelmed and grumpy.

A few ideas for minimizing re-entry shock:

  • Plan a travel dinner with close friends for soon after you return home.  Share your photos, eat food from wherever you’ve been, and let your kids share their journals and souvenirs.
  •  Save 1 empty day for every week you’re away (up to about a week) for recovery.  Don’t imagine that you can fly in at 11:30 pm, clear customs, get home, unpack, do laundry, check the mail, pay the bills, collect the cat, and have the kids at school and ready to learn by 9am the next day.
  • Attack the build-up.  Don’t try to roll back into life without tackling the re-entry chores.  Before you call anyone, unpack all the suitcases in a flurry, throw in a load of laundry, grab the essentials at the grocery store, sort the mail, and delete all the spam from your inbox.  Then put your feet up for a rest.  There will still be lots to do but it starts to seem more manageable after the first layer is conquered. 
  • Be stealth.  Tell folks that you’re coming home one or two days after you’re really flying in.  By the time folks start to expect you to be alert or to answer your e-mail, you’ll have found clean underwear and have had a full night’s sleep.
  • What about the let-down?  First of all, expect it.  If you saved for 2 years to go on a 2-month trip across Asia, there is going to be a let down when it’s over.  Second of all, plan something special a few weeks after you get home: a trip to your favorite restaurant with long-time friends, a weekend at a local B&B, a special at-home family night.  The anticipation is a reminder to the family about what is special at home.  Third, start planning the next trip.  That might be much like chain-smoking or perpetual-travel obsession but it helps.  No plane tickets, no commitments, just “what next?”

Comments welcome – especially more tips for surviving “re-entry shock.”

4 Responses to Surviving “Re-entry Shock”

  1. great tips – i’d suggest journaling or scrapbooking photos, and creating a journal about your trip, too! it’s so much fun, and keeps you happy and in the loop! :)

  2. Thanks so much for your ideas. Funny you should mention journals – they’re what I’m writing about today. I’m also photographing Zoey’s old journals … they are a disconcerting record of how fast she is growing up. I should have invested in archival paper and tape!

  3. Good tip is… home swapping! You have had time to do your laundry at your vacation place using the facilities of the house you exchanged with, so when coming back, you only have to unpack directly into your wardrobe. Same thing for the food: the exchangers will have taken care of leaving milk, butter, eggs and fruits in your fridge just as you did in theirs – but it was much more exciting grocery shopping at the exotic vacation place that it would be coming back late and exhausted at home. And after having spent a few / many nights at a stranger’s place, although it is a lot of fun, you realize there is no home that suits you just as perfectly than your own. I’ll soon tell you more about home swapping in a post ; -)

  4. Thanks for the great ideas! We haven’t tried a home swap …. yet!

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