Nothing’s ever the same after you travel

I recently finished watching The Lord of the Rings films for the first time since returning from my six months backpacking through the Middle East and Europe. They’re my favourite films, and I greatly enjoyed watching them again, despite the fourteen hour commitment, but there was one part that particularly stood out, one part that seemed to take on a new meaning I’d never quite understood before.

At the end of the films, Frodo and his fellow hobbits return home after their thirteen month quest, and Frodo speaks about the difficulty of reintegration while scenes of regular life play out for the audience. I’m pasting his dialogue below, and you can watch part of the sequence here.

And thus it was: the fourth age of Middle-Earth began; and the Fellowship of the Ring, though eternally bound by friendship and love, was ended.

Thirteen months to the day since Gandalf sent us on our long journey, we found ourselves looking upon a familiar sight. We were home.

How do you pick up the threads of an old life? How do you go on, when in your heart you begin to understand there is no going back? There are some things time cannot mend. Some hurts that go too deep that have taken hold.

It was hard for me not to empathize with him in a way I never had before. Sure, their journey was vastly different than my own, but I don’t think that makes the return home any more or less difficult. The facts are the same.

While on the road, you have so many new experiences. Your knowledge, curiosity, and desire for more is forever expanded. You experience more in a matter of months than some people do in their lifetimes. You spend your travels constantly seeing new places, you forge bonds with people you would’ve never had the opportunity to meet, and those experiences forever change you.

Then you return home, and find very little, if anything has changed. Home is stagnant, there is little change ever, and readjustment is incredibly difficult. The consistency of home can be reassuring, but more often than not it’s jarring, and boring.

After travelling you’re a different person. Your experiences and friendships have changed you forever, and have changed your plans and expectations for the future. You return to the place you saw as home, only to find you no longer belong. You remember those things you didn’t like about it before, and find so many more because of the new broadness of your experiences.

The fact is that you’ve changed. During your time away you’ve become a new person, and it simply isn’t possible to return home and have everything be the same. You’re an observer who sees things you never saw before. You’re more of a tourist than a local, and you don’t feel you truly belong anywhere anymore.

I once had a prof in uni who had moved to Canada from Italy. One day he told us a story of when he returned to visit his family, and found very little had changed. But even more, he said people were asking him how long he’d been in Italy and told him he had a good grasp of the language, assuming him to be a foreigner, when in fact he began as one of them. He told us he no longer felt he truly belonged anywhere after that experience. He wasn’t truly Canadian, nor was he an Italian any longer. While I’m still a very proud Canadian, since returning home I’ve been asked many times which part of Canada I’m from, those in my province assuming I’m from somewhere else because of the way I speak and act.

It’s as if you lived your whole life seeing a limited range of colours, then were exposed to the fullness of the rainbow, only to have to return to the bleak palette of before. You never forget all the colours you’ve seen, and not only do you look for them in places you can’t find them, but the world you once thought was everything is now dull in comparison. You’re eager for the day you can return to the rainbow, and there will be a hole inside you until you can once again.

I hope I’m not being too depressing, but after watching the films I felt for the first time since getting back from my travels that I wasn’t alone in my feelings. It gets easier, of course, the longer you’re back. The memories of the rainbows fade, and you only remember that they exist, instead of what they look like. (Unless you look at photos. They’ll always reopen the hole and show you what you’re missing.)

So what’s the point of this post?

Travel. You must travel. You must have those experiences and broaden your mind, but don’t expect everything to be the same once you arrive home. It will never be the same, and some people simply choose to deal with it, while others are changed forever. I’m one of the latter, and the call of the road never ceases.