“Reverse culture shock,” a complex we heard so much about while traveling this past year that we assumed it would be inevitable upon our return home. How it would manifest itself we weren’t sure, but one thing was already clear — Britnee and I couldn’t wait to celebrate little things back home in America: sitting comfortably on a Western toilet, traffic lights that make cars stop at intersections, libraries full of books in English, less diarrhea, seat belts so we might not die, grocery stores separate from slaughter houses, and the opportunity to wear more than one pair of shoes! After a year of travel, we were ready to come home.

When the big day finally came and we touched down at Salt Lake City International Airport, it suddenly felt as if we’d barely left. In the strange way time tricks the mind, our last 365 days of travel now felt like a short vacation. Hugging my parents, sister-in-law and good friends at the airport, it seemed like only yesterday we were saying farewell before departing for Tokyo. Yet, as we started the drive home, the summer grass of Utah smelt much sweeter than I remembered, the In N Out burger — or two — tasted far better,  and the familiar bed in a quiet home was more comfortable than ever. Home again, the “reverse culture shock” revealed itself in the form of total contentment; Britnee and I felt completely at ease.

OneWorldOneYear.com in Tokyo!This was due in part to us finally slowing down; like the end of a whirlwind rollercoaster ride, the brakes engaged and we returned to a more agreeable speed of life — one not known since blasting off a year ago. Visiting 26 countries over 12 months required a frantic pace from the start, so our biggest shock upon returning came from finally slowing down rather than cultural contrast.

Unlike the traveler who might spend an entire year immersed in a single foreign country, Britnee and I moved from one to the next every month or two. From the Far East of China, through the plains of Mongolia and across the vast expanse of Russia to Europe. There we rested briefly before leaving the comforts of the West once again to spend two months in Nepal, three months in Southeast Asia and finally South America.

We said hello, kon’nichiwa, nei ho, zdravstvuyte, hei, bonjour, namaste, xin chao, hola… Attended ceremonies at Buddhist and Hindu temples and Catholic and Orthodox cathedrals. Drove on the left side of the road, the right side of the road and all over Chinese roads. Haggled prices on everything from llama cardigans to border crossings. Drank cava, airag, salep, milk tea, plenty of pisco sour, too much Chang and lots and lots of Fanta. And we ate sushi, hot pot, borsch, black pudding, haggis, döner kebab, dal bhat, bánh mì and far too much churrasco con palta!

Patong Beach, ThailandThe most comfortable we got in one place was Thailand, where we spent a month of our stay living out of the same hotel room. The remaining 11 months of the year we were constantly on the go: our menu was inconstant; we frequently changed accommodation every three or four nights; cultures, customs and currencies were relearned every few weeks; and our heavy backpacks were the only permanent fixtures in our lives.

These are usually things we love about a vacation — the globe-trotting lifestyle — but given enough time it wore us down. Especially when you mix in illness, malnutrition, turbulent flights, general fatigue and far too many reports of airline crashes in one year. So when our plane’s wheels literally slammed down in Salt Lake City, we both felt incredibly relieved to be home again.

As we’ve settled back into life in Salt Lake City, our reverse culture shock, that feeling of contentment, has prevailed. Part of me thinks it’s only the afterglow effect of a great vacation. But I also realize I now have a far greater appreciation of what we have here at home after witnessing daily life in so many places around the world — from the remote villages of the Himalaya to the crowded streets of La Paz.

Marsyangdi, Nepal, travel, travel photography, Canon 5D Mark III, photography, Annapurna Circuit, trekking in Nepal, Pokhara, Annapurna Sanctuary, Annapurna I, Himalaya, Himalayan Mountains, Tibet, Prayer Flags, people of Nepal, Mustang, Manaslu, 8,000 meter mountains, Manang, Muktinath, Dhaulagiri,There’s the big and obvious — clean drinking water, well-stocked grocery stores, building and fire codes, safe city streets — to those little things once under appreciated and now celebrated — I’ve never been so happy to get a library card in my life and boy is the toilet in our home clean and comfortable. There’s also the fact that our new 600 square-foot apartment feels like a mansion after too many tiny hostel rooms.

And while we’re both adjusting to a regular routine again, we’re still kind of on vacation as we explore our new neighborhood in downtown Salt Lake City. Riding the FrontRunner, listening to the church bells across the street, exploring new parks and unfamiliar mountain trails, and eating at wonderful, international restaurants around town; we are still tourists and the vacation isn’t over.

Renew passport. Repeat. 

About The Author

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Mark quit everything to travel the world for a year with his wife, Britnee. Along the way, he picked up a love for many other things, including illy coffee, Nepal, Bolivianos bills, and Thai beaches. Now happily home in Utah, Mark is a balding marketing professional with a mountain biking addiction.

5 Responses

  1. Joe

    So did you guys travel everywhere speaking English only and assuming everyone everywhere knows English? Or did you guys ended up having to attempt to speak some basics of the language of the country?

    • Mark Johnston

      Some basics of Spanish were helpful in South America and having studied Russian in high school was definitely beneficial on the Trans-Siberian Railway (even though I’ve long forgotten most of it). China was probably the next most challenging country, but we’d usually bump into someone who could help. In all, it was surprisingly easy to get around the world speaking only English, at least on our route.

  2. Rekha Rajan

    Wow…27 countries in 12 months is indeed quite a lot. My husband I would have fought many times especially because we would have been put under stress many times during our travels. I wonder how it was for you guys.
    Rekha Rajan recently posted…Most beautiful rivers of the WorldMy Profile