Reverse culture shock: understanding your blues when you return home from abroad
Anytime a person an extended yet temporary time abroad they tend to build a lot of strong connections in a short period of time. Something about the impermanence of the time can make everything feel that much more magical and memorable.
But, it’s a double-edged sword. These people may also be the most susceptible to an unfortunate condition—reverse culture shock. Suffering from this ailment won’t kill you, but it can be extremely disorienting for reasons that you may not truly understand at first,
At its essence, reverse culture-shock (RCS) involves mental and emotional struggles that arise when you return to a place of high familiarity. You come back to a place that should feel like home, but for some reason, it feels like anything but.
How I first encountered RCS
In my experience, the first sense of extreme RCS hit me after I returned to my home university after studying abroad in Dubai for a year. Something about those first days of classes walking around a university I’d attended for 3 years, but somehow felt completely new, made me feel vertigo.
I suppose it feels similar to deja vu—as if abruptly waking from a very long dream. I was passing the same old same but different buildings and familiar yet strange people, feeling like I had never left but simultaneously feeling like I’d never been there before. I felt like I were a spy, taking the classes Gabby would have taken and going to the sorority chapter meetings Gabby would have gone to. Except I wasn’t the person I’d left home as anymore.
And that’s when I realized that reverse culture shock is actually one huge identity crisis.
Navigating the identity crisis
“Pre-Study Abroad Gabby” had lived in Virginia for the past 10 years, has a dog, hates the cold, and has a friend group consisting of mostly artistic college students from northern Virginia. “Pre-Study Abroad Gabby” couldn’t have distinguished between Egyptian, Persian, Lebanese, and Pakistani cultures.
“Dubai Gabby” spoke Arabic every single day. She was always conscious of making sure her clothes were appropriate yet stylish for the Muslim culture she was guest to. “Dubai Gabby’s” friends weren’t from the same country, let alone the same continent, and she was constantly learning how many varieties there were of this thing called life.
But here I was, standing in my “home” university, now neither of these people. Walking into the dining hall and instinctually saying “Merhaba” to the Chikfila attendant. Completely out of touch with the current college events, about to graduate, not sure who I was still friends with or my place in the university.
Who was I now?
I felt as if I were left carrying around a ghost of an experience.
I was having reverse culture shock, desperately attempting to reconcile who I’d always been and the person I discovered I could be during my extended time abroad. You may be feeling a similar in-betweenness.
And you should know it’s okay. It’s okay to exist in-between. You’ve bitten the forbidden fruit and seen the possibilities of life. It’s going to feel as if you’re being asked to pretend it never happened and snap back into your old life! But we all know travel changes us forever.
It happened, I promise. Your time abroad was just as magical and meaningful as you remember it and being home does not mean it was a once in a lifetime affair.
It happened—and it can happen again!
Finally, rest assured. You have not “peaked”.
The shift in perspective we gain from travel is not something that can be turned on and off. And if you had a good study abroad experience, you might be feining for another trip right off the bat. You might even be worried, thinking “Will any trip ever compare to that? Have I peaked?”
You haven’t. You’re never too old to embark on a new adventure, and there is a world of travel and adventure to be had. Even this COVID-19 travel stall will one day pass, and the people will appreciate exploration and travel more than ever. So relax!
Allow reverse culture shock to be the discomfort you need to grow as a person. Let it push you to reprioritize the things you may now realize you truly value, and accept it as an encouragement to get you on that next flight to another new identity and a new adventure.
Gabby Beckford is a Gen Z travel and lifestyle entrepreneur who runs the blog Packs Light.
How to Decide On Accommodations as a Young Solo Traveler
Being a young solo traveler is an incredible experience, but not one that you can simply Google a how-to guide for. Deciding on accommodations as a young solo traveler can be especially tricky on your few trips. Do you choose a Couchsurfing experience for the local, authenticity factor? An Airbnb for the privacy? A hostel for the communal aspect? Read this and then decide what’s best for you and the trip you want to have! 3 Things to Think About Before you jump into anything I suggest you think about 1.) what type of trip you’re hoping to have, 2.) what type of traveler you are, and 3.) your budget. If you having almost no funds, are adventurous, and want an extremely local experience, I suggest... Couchsurfing Couchsurfing is a completely free way to travel where you stay at a local’s residence with no obligation of payment or work. Locals might host Couchsurfers because they might like to make new friends or meet people of different cultures. As a woman, I do believe there is an element of danger in staying solo at a person’s home without legal or implied protections like at more official accommodation. If you have almost no funds, are adventurous, and are looking to volunteer or work while you are abroad, I suggest... Homestay A homestay is an arrangement when visitors share a residence with a local of the city to which they are traveling. Organizations such as WWOOF, WorldPackers, WorkAway, and HelpStay help connect willing and able workers with farms, hostels, and private citizens. I’ve done a WorkAway in Italy at a doctor’s home working in her garden in exchange for a place to stay and meals. In this environment, you will be surrounded by people, other workers or the hosts, but not people you know closely. So this is a good option for both introverts and extrovert travelers! If you have a slight/moderate budget, privacy is important to you, and you want to cook for yourself, I suggest… Airbnb An Airbnb or other short-term often allow you all the luxuries of living at home—privacy, a kitchen, laundry, etc.—at a reasonable price. On the other side, there are luxury Airbnbs that can give you the feeling of a 5* resort for a much more expensive price! But staying in your own apartment might get a bit lonely if you don’t have friends in the area. Consider using travel Facebook groups as a way to meet likeminded young travelers to adventure with during your travels. If you have minimal funds and are an extrovert seeking a sense of community, I suggest... Hostel Hostels are the absolute best location if you’re an extremely budget traveler whose priority is meeting other young travel friends. By staying in a hostel you’ll never be alone (for better or worse) and will be surrounded by hustle and bustle. They make it easy to find people to do group activities with every day and explore destinations with. However, the lack of privacy might be a concern for those who are traveling with a lot of valuables, so if you’re traveling with an expensive laptop or camera be wary. If you have a moderate budget and want to worry about as little as possible in terms of cleaning or safety, I suggest... Hotel Finally, the most common option—a good old-fashioned hotel. Most often the most expensive choice for a lot of reasons. With hotels you can pay for your stay with a credit card or reward points, you have daily cleaning staff, hotel security, and a lot more perks and support than any of the other accommodation options. The point of traveling solo is to do whatever makes you happiest. We’re young and traveling the world, we’re supposed to be completely selfish! And don’t listen to anyone who tells you you “should” or “shouldn’t” do something. Do your research and do whatever fits you and your adventures best. Gabby Beckford is a Gen Z travel and lifestyle entrepreneur who runs the blog Packs Light.
How to get the most out of your vacation time with a full-time job
2020 is the year you want to make your travel dreams come true, but you have a small problem... your full-time job. Domestic travel is difficult enough to plan, but with limited PTO international trips may seem impossible. I’d like to introduce a bit more strategy into your vacation planning. Following these 2 simple tips at the beginning of every year can highly increase your chances to travel and reduce your spending. Who Will This Work For? This advice is for you If you work a traditional 9-5 job in a corporate environment, or have limited PTO availability in general. Those of you who work in health care, child care, are civil servants, or similar careers...I’m sorry! You likely don’t have the standard 9-5 allotment of time off because you work directly with patients and people, and people don’t only need help on a 9-5 schedule. And if you’re self-employed or fun-employed, good news! You make your own vacation schedule. This is to help those with limited PTO visualize, strategize, and most importantly utilize it in the most cost-effective and way. Highlight the Long Weekends. Most people see long weekends as an extra night to stay up late, another morning to sleep in. I see them in the same way… while traveling. Long weekends are opportunities to travel without using PTO or important university classes and often come about when federal holidays that fall on Fridays or Wednesdays. This is prime travel time for short domestic trips and weekends away. Start by consulting a list of established federal holidays for the year such as the 4th of July, Thanksgiving, and Christmas Day, and make sure they are on your calendar. Then note birthdays, anniversaries, religious holidays, Coachella, or any other events that you will likely travel for. Now you’ll have mapped out when is optimal for you to travel, and when you prefer to travel, and you can work on integrating them together. Example: Perhaps your birthday is on May 20th, which in 2020 lands on a Wednesday. Not very convenient for celebrating. However, if you map out your calendar you’ll see that Memorial day lands on May 25. Not so far away! If you truly wanted to celebrate on your birthday, you could use 3 days of PTO for 3 days, May 20-22, but be on vacation a total of 6 days, May 20-25. Knowing when and how much PTO you might use as early as possible can help you prioritize your spending so that you’re sure you’ll have enough when you need it. Now you can spend your birthday in the Republic of Georgia instead of Georgia. Outline the low seasons for regions you’re interested in. Would you go to South Korea in February? Iceland in August? Banff in July? Well, if you’re looking for huge cost-savings on your international vacations, you should consider it! These times are known as the off-season, shoulder-season, or low-season because they are not the peak tourism months for a location. With a few simple Google Searches, you can identify the low season for a few regions you’re interested in visiting i.e. The Mediterranean, The Caribbean, The Middle East, The Pacific Islands, etc. I recommend searching by region instead of country or continent because regions are separated by more subjective variables like climate, and will be a more accurate representation. This usually means that you will experience less than desirable weather—a little bit of rain, a little bit of humidity—but what you get in exchange is worth it, in my opinion. Fewer tourists, more locals, smaller crowds (which means better photos), shorter lines, lower prices, and best of all, tourism industries who are coveting low-season business and are extra motivated to please! For example, I’ve been to Cancun during its rainy season. I was there for 5 days and, as expected, it rained every single day… for an hour. Each day would begin with gorgeous weather, sprinkled every from 1-3 PM, and then revert back to its sunny gorgeousness. But because it was the low season, the beaches were practically private and the service was VIP. We even got a free room upgrade because of availability. Of course, you don’t want to head into the Caribbean during hurricane season. But by doing your research and going during the rainy season can give you a premium result as I had! One small reminder before you book: in the slower tourist seasons you might experience local businesses having shorter hours or be completely closed for short stints. This occurs often in the Caribbean and Mediterranean, either because of the weather or because the locals themselves are taking advantage of the slower business to travel. However, the remaining locals themselves still have shopping and eating needs so I’ve found that just enough of the attractions stays open for me to enjoy the destination and it still is worth avoiding the huge crowds and cruise ships of people. Why Should You Do This? This may seem like a lot of effort for bad weather and a few long weekends. Why should you bother? Aside from the overall better travel experience afforded by smaller crowds, I do think this method is worth it for keeping good graces at your job. If you work a 9-5 but want to travel, you may find yourself constantly asking management to reserve vacation days (and possibly being rejected), or constantly haggling hours with coworkers and sacrificing some holidays for others. This can cause office tension and ultimately damage your work environment. But by using this method, you are optimizing the vacation time you already have with your weekends, and burdening your work team as little as possible! Also, by mapping your prime travel times at the beginning of the year, you give yourself the opportunity to book flights, accommodations, excursions (and haggle with tour operators for the best group prices), some months in advance. This can result in thousands of dollars in savings! With a bit of research and forethought, your 9-5 job does not have to keep you from seeing the world. ___ Gabby Beckford is an early 20-something with a passion for travel and an eye for once-in-a-lifetime experiences. You can read more of her blog at https://www.packslight.com/.
When is the best time to book a flight for your trip?
So often these days, travelers feel captive to the whims of the airlines. Flight prices, what’s included with your ticket, what’s considered an add-on, even whether or not you can bring a carry-on – it can be confusing and frustrating. Qtrip aims to simplify this process for travelers, and one way we can help is to be transparent and provide insights into the best time to buy an airline ticket.The Qtrip Airfare Study analyzed more than 917 million airfares across 8,000 markets to uncover insights and provide advice so that travelers can make informed choices when they plan. How far in advance should you book a flight? Based on data from the past year, Qtrip found that the average best day to buy a flight is 77 days in advance of your travel date (for domestic U.S. travel). This is an average finding, so it’s best to think of a range of dates.Qtrip classified the range of dates in which you can buy an airline ticket, called Booking Zones. There are 6 Airfare Booking Zones: First Dibs 315 to 202 days in advance (Approximately 10 to 6.5 months) If you are a traveler who appreciates having the most options, you’ll likely find the First Dibs zone ideal. The most choice in seats, specific flight times, and even classes of service occur when you buy early. If you buy in this early bird zone, you’ll spend around $50 more than if you wait to buy in the “Prime Booking Window.” It’s money well spent, if you prefer to have all the choices. Peace of Mind 201 to 128 days in advance (Approximately 6.5 to 4 months) The Peace of Mind zone is best for travelers who like to keep a balance between choice and value. It’s early enough that you’ll still have options, and it’s not quite as expensive as First Dibs (you’ll save about $30 on average compared to First Dibs). Prime Booking Window 127 to 21 days in advance (Approximately 4 months to 3 weeks) This is where you want to be if budget takes precedence in your decision-making. Year over year, this prime booking zone consistently yields the lowest prices for travelers (within 5% of the lowest ticket price). You’re likely going to trade in some of that choice we mentioned earlier, but if cost is the main consideration, there is no better zone for you. Push Your Luck 20 to 14 days in advance (Approximately 3 – 2 weeks) Here’s where things can get dicey. Inside of 3 weeks, the odds are prices will go up, and choice gets limited. This is a zone best left to gamblers, Sometimes you can find a great deal in the Push Your Luck zone, but it’s not a sure thing. Playing with Fire 13 to 7 days in advance (2 weeks to 1 week) Real risk takers dwell in the Playing with Fire zone – these are travelers who can’t help but wait until nearly the last minute to buy tickets. The truth is that playing with fire will often leave singe marks on your wallet. There’s usually much less choice and the prices are even higher. Hail Mary 6 to 0 days in advance (Less than a week) Most people find themselves in the “Hail Mary” zone out of necessity (family emergency or unexpected trip), rather than a premeditated choice. If you hope to save money OR like choice, there’s little to recommend buying here. If you have to do so, you’ll likely pay about $200 more, on average, than you would if you shopped in the Prime Booking Window. Should you find yourself here, you do have options. Qtrip offers monthly payments for travelers.
How to find the cheapest Mediterranean cruise and hit the seas for under $200
Whether you’re gazing upon the Trevi Fountain in Rome, dining on baguettes in the South of France, or trying to wrap your head around the Acropolis in Athens, a Mediterranean cruise is the trip of a lifetime. When to book a Mediterranean cruise Booking far in advance (two years or more) or relatively last minute (two months or less) can often find you cheaper prices. June, July and August tend to be the busiest, and most expensive, months to take a Mediterranean cruise. Your money will often go further if you plan for the shoulder seasons in spring and fall, when the weather is still reliable, if chillier and grayer. Winter will get you even steeper discounts and fewer crowds, but in most cases, it lacks the sunshine and warm weather the Mediterranean is known for, and you’ll have fewer daylight hours to explore. How to find the best cruise deals Discount sites like Expedia, Kayak, or cruise-specific sites like Cruise Critic can lead to excellent prices. Cruises typically set their rates as per-person with an assumed double occupancy, or as per-day prices. Consider what’s included in that price. For longer trips, is there self-service laundry on board, or is there a fee? Are drinks – coffee, alcohol, juices, sodas – included? What are your food options, and what to reviews say about food quality? You’ll be spending a lot of time on the ship, so know what you’re paying for. Below, we’ve tried to give you an idea of the cheapest Mediterranean cruise options. Everything is in per-person rates. MSC and Costa dominate as the lowest-priced options (under $500) when it comes to Mediterranean itineraries, although Celebrity Cruises and Royal Caribbean will sometimes have deals of note. How to choose a Western Mediterranean vs. Eastern Mediterranean cruises Both areas have Unesco World Heritage sites, unbeatable local cuisine and excellent shopping. Western cruises in the budget realm tend to focus on Spain, France, Tunisia, and western parts of Italy, such as Genoa and Rome. Eastern Mediterranean cruises hit Italian destinations like Venice, as well as Greece, Montenegro and Croatia. If you’re most thrilled by warm sandy beaches, the Eastern Mediterranean will be the best choice. Some Eastern Mediterranean itineraries may also include Albania or as far as Turkey and Middle Eastern countries, though we couldn’t find them on any budget itineraries. The best budget Western Mediterranean cruises If you want to keep your cruise real short, MSC runs deals on single-night itineraries from one western Mediterranean city to another for less than $100 per person. For example, as of this writing, there are April 2020 overnights from Genoa, Italy, to Marseille, France or Barcelona, Spain for $69. Keep an eye out for MSC’s promotional deals, which often include a 2-for-1 price with kids sailing free. For example, an eight day, seven night sailing on MSC Poesia (one of the most elegant ships in MSC’s fleet) to Italy, France, Spain and Tunisia in November starts as little as $389. On Costa Cruises, a three-night western Mediterranean itinerary can be as cheap as $231 in October, sailing to Marseille, Barcelona and Genoa. This one is on their Costa Magica ship, which attracts a lot of Italian cruisers and has Italian-themed decor to match. If you’re the plan-ahead type, you can spend three days visiting Rome, Naples and Barcelona on Royal Caribbean’s Harmony of the Seas, currently the world’s second largest cruise ship, for less than $400 per person, but you’ll need to book as far out as October 2021. When it comes to high season prices, the newly-launched Costa Smerelda sails to Barcelona, Palma, Cagliari, Rome, Savona, and Marseilles for as low as $669 in June. Bonus: the ship was designed to use 100% liquefied natural petrol to cut exhaust emissions. Royal Caribbean International’s best deal is a seven night trip in August through Italy, Spain and France on Explorer of the Seas – which has an ice skating rink, surf simulator, and rock climbing wall onboard – for $754. The best budget Eastern Mediterranean cruises: Eastern Italy, Croatia, Greece, Montenegro Limited on time and money? See three countries in four days for $279 aboard the MSC Musica in October, which sails to Greece, Montenegro and Venice, Italy. For folks with more vacation days, spend seven nights on the MSC Lirica to see several spots in Italy, Croatia, Montenegro, and Greece for $347. When it comes to the high season, Costa has a late May steal of a deal for a seven night cruise for $649 on the Costa Deliziosa, a relatively small ship with room for less than 2,300 passengers. This route stops in Venice and Bari, Italy, as well as several ports in Greece. Royal Caribbean International has seven night July itineraries that explore Greece and Croatia for less than $800 on Rhapsody of the Seas, which has run numerous awards from Cruise Critic, including 2018’s best dining, best entertainment, best overall cruise ship, and best value. A seven-day trip on the Celebrity Infinity in late June hovers around $940, likely because the ship is getting a planned major overhaul later in the year. But hey, it’s still a great way to Venice, Split, Kotor, Corfu, Naples and Rome, and people regularly praise the variety of restaurants onboard, renovation or not.