It has been almost a month since I got home, and believe it or not; I have yet to see any of my friends here. In fact, I haven’t seen very many people period, besides family and a couple of buddies who have visited LA.
You would imagine that after being gone for six months, the first thing I would want to do is catch up with old friends, to see people, call people, share stories, and find out what all has changed in their lives. In fact, this is usually what I am looking forward to in the days leading up to my return home from trips like this.
Yet you would be incorrect.
In fact, for most of the last three weeks, the last thing I wanted to do talk to anyone. The slightly confusing truth is that in the days after my immediate return, the only thing I want to do is sit at home and play video games, catch up on television, or sit in front of my computer.
Almost like an extended version of that decades-old stereotype of a typical man coming home from a long day of work, grabbing a beer, propping his feet up on the coffee table, and settling into his couch-mark to vegetate in front of the pretty pictures flashing across his television – except my long day at work was a super-extended backpacking trip around the world.
I’ve taken to calling this my post-travel, anti-social, hide-in-a-cave period.
It is a phenomenon that has actually been going on for quite some time but that I’ve only recently come to identify. Essentially, each time I get back to the US, I end up hiding out in my parents’ house for at least a week, if not two and do not even have the social energy to talk to people on the phone.
In essence, I become a hermit.
This time though has lasted longer than any time before it. After three weeks, I am just barely starting to feel the urge to be social again.
I have no scientific proof, but I think that just as the time required to recover from jetlag is correlated with the size of the time difference (most things I have read say it is typically one day per hour change), my cave period is also relative to the length of the trip. Although I have traveled a lot in my life, I have never actually traveled continuously for longer than 3 months before this trip. Thus, a three-week cave period is surprising even for me.
Many of my friends wonder why I have a cave period at all. I actually don’t really know.
It’s always just existed for me, and I haven’t given much thought to it while in the cave (time is much better spent vegetating or stuffing my face with chips during this period.) In the interest of doing things differently for this project though, I decided to force myself to think about my cave period – from the relative safety of my comfortable full-length sofa of course.
Before, I thought of it as an extension of my jetlag; being tired and off schedule, it was difficult to even talk to people, let alone meet up with people.
This time though, with the aid of my JetZone (buy it here !), I had very little jetlag, but I still stayed in my cave. Other times I thought it might be my general laziness combined to re-adjusting to a car-based lifestyle that dominates in LA – yet this wouldn’t explain my aversion to talking on the phone.
No, after the forced introspection of this trip, I think I’m going with an explanation that my sister’s fiancé keyed me into – that of a necessary period away from all things social to make up for how social I usually have to be when traveling on my own.
It makes a lot of sense, especially when taken in conjunction with my personality – naturally rather introverted (I swear!).
Whether or not I’m actually traveling on my own, the very fact that I’m on the road generally necessitates a heightened level of social interaction. Random strangers on a train, talkative neighbors on a plane, asking for help or directions, talking to waiters or waitresses, making friends with taxi drivers – all of it requires you to be super-social. Over a period of months, this can become rather draining.
For me, I think that the self-imposed cave period after a trip is a way to compensate for this, a way to recover my internal store of energy for socializing. This is why I go into hiding with or without jetlag, I avoid talking even on the phone, and I bury myself in highly solitary tasks like winning championships with my fake Spanish football team or finishing Lost.
The good thing about the cave period though, is that I eventually do come out of it, and when I do, I’m ready to meet with all of my friends, share stories, and enjoy the sun outside.
I am glad to report that I am finally crawling out of my metaphorical cave and into the (wonderfully refreshing and energizing) sunshine.
So, while I am working hard to make sure that re-entering society does not prevent me from working on Backpacking in a Suit or from winning the occasional football game on my PS2, it does mean that you’re much more likely to find me in a Starbucks near you. If you do, come on over and say “hi!” I promise to be social.