People plan travel adventures, then people go on travel adventures. After weeks, months or years, there reaches a point where that chapter comes to an end. People claim all sorts of revelations from having travelled, yet somehow manage to diminish the experience with one phrase. ‘Oh well, back to reality’.

In Bogotá, Colombia I sat across from my good friend Jess. We had followed a similar itinerary throughout South America, therefore I’d bumped in to her many times over a 6 month period. Her relationship had ended in England, and this inspired her to quit her job and go on a huge trip with her sister. We were having a farewell dinner for her before she flew home the next day. She had been to over seven countries and she’d met a thousand new faces. She constantly spoke about how this trip had changed her perspective on her life and gave her a sense of renewal. During dinner she was talking about flying home and returning to work, and then said ‘it’s been an amazing trip, but from tomorrow I guess it’s back to reality then’.

It was a real conversation stopper. Despite her grand experience, she said it in a way that sounded dismissive. It drained my energy. It wasn’t only draining because I knew my big trip would end at some point. It was just a little depressing to think about the adventure like that. This wasn’t Jess’ intention, she merely said it out of habit as a throwaway line. I then realised that this phrase is used all the time. People say it to their family, partners, friends and themselves. It’s not just the words, it’s the tone it is said in. The tone of resignation. It’s a tone that diminishes the travel experience just because it is different to their routine. Over the coming months I deconstructed why I hated hearing it so much.

Magical Patagonia

Picture: Magical Patagonia

1. It makes it sound like your life’s purpose is working.

Yeah I get it. Travelling, not working and having freedom to explore places and things isn’t sustainable for most people. I understand the word ‘reality’ is linked to ‘the state of things as they actually exist’. In life the state of things obviously changes, and I understand my reality is sometimes exploring and at other times my lifestyle is settled in a routine. I accept the need for some balance and I don’t necessarily see routine as a bad thing.

However I don’t feel this routine should be the default setting that measures your entire life experience, existence and fulfilment. I feel like people are inclined to think about it in this way just because routine commonly absorbs us most of the time. I personally don’t think about life in this way. At some point the value of your life experience must be measured by your most happy, profound and transformative experiences. In many cases people see travel as the catalyst for this mindset. Saying ‘back to reality’ automatically sets the working routine as the only one true ‘correct’ reality you experience. There’s more to life isn’t there?

2. Saying it to yourself and others perpetuates the idea that travelling is a faux reality.

The more we say it to ourselves and each other, the more it reinforces the above mentality. When you say it to yourself it infers you are undeserving of having free time to travel, think and explore. When you say it to others you are diminishing their experience without even realising it. It can manifest a poison drip effect where they subconsciously feel undeserving of their travel opportunity. The more we say it, the more we subconsciously reinforce the notion that travel is departed from our true sense of reality and life experience. It insinuates that the working routine is all that there is, and by saying ‘back to reality’ we are constantly unloading this mindset onto one another. 

3. It is the ultimate killjoy remark.

People are normally buzzing after a overseas trip whether it be for weeks, months or years. Listen and learn about their trip without interjecting about where you went that time. Also please don’t engage in that ego driven one-upmanship where you did something higher, better, longer or in a more cultured way. (or whatever) Please let yourself and others enjoy the moment. Every adventure is unique and transformative on some level, regardless of the scale or at what stage of your life you did it. Saying ‘back to reality’ can quell this buzz in an instant.

The travel reality.

Now going back to the start of this story where my friend Jess sat at the dinner table in Bogotá. I told her that I didn’t like her ‘back to reality’ comment. She admitted that this was completely out of habit, and understood what I was getting at. The whole table agreed that we would now say ‘back to routine’ instead. This felt much more fitting. We spent the next few hours reminiscing about her trip and she talked about how it was everything she hoped for and more. We continued the dinner and farewelled her from South America that night.

I think everyone should take our lead and stop saying ‘back to reality’ to one other. Embrace, reflect and savour your travel experiences and share them with others instead.

It is worth finishing by saying that ‘reality’ is often a case of perspective. This is why every time I step onto a plane at the start of a trip, under my breath I say the words; ‘back to reality’.

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