Time hasn’t stopped for you in your home town, yet you feel indelibly foreign to what should be comforting surroundings.
I’ve always considered myself somewhat immune to a lot of holiday side-effects. Jet-lag, homesickness, holiday nostalgia … it’s a soldier’s mentality that I tend to adopt, as with a lot of other things in my life. Just move on and enjoy the moment is what I think to myself. Jet-lag can be defeated with enough Red Bull and the eagerness to explore. Homesickness is for the melancholic and the sentimental. Nothing is ever rose-tinted, nor is it an ugly black. Most holidays I’ve experienced had the shit come with the good and that’s perfectly natural.
What I am discussing though is the flow of time, when you first come back from a holiday.
I’ve recently had this experience when I left my hometown of Melbourne, for the sunnier climes of the Gold Coast for 5 days. In my absence the weather changed drastically, the city entered another lockdown and my family struggled to heal after the events that had transpired against them.
I was up there to visit my girlfriend, having missed her presence keenly and eager to leave a lot of the stress behind. The holiday ended up being the perfect tonic to mend parts of me that were broken and to really regroup and rally my own energy.
The weather was perfect, never too hot nor too cold. The food was excellent. The luxury of the hotel was unmatched and the ability to just reach out and touch my girlfriend is something I don’t take for granted any more.
Which is why upon arriving back, I was struck by how alien everything felt.
The weather was ridiculously cold and wet. The car I was picked up in, felt stuffy and foreign. Seeing my father almost back to his normal self was puzzling. My bed felt strange when I first slept in it, after being absent from it for 5 days.
It is a strange ego exercise that everyone has to do when they return home. Readjusting to the idea that time did not freeze the moment you went on your holiday.
For a few days after, I felt like I was in a surreal state of mind. I was trying to get back into my old habits again but things weren’t clicking as well.
Play tennis, enjoy football (soccer), check social media on my PC, learn to play games again, adjust to having a plethora of clothes, taste more mundane food …
All my normal decisions, my actions that I would have done without a second thought before my holiday, I was now questioning why I did them.
Perhaps the most surrealist experience was driving my car again. I felt like I had lost a certain joy behind the wheel because for much of my entire trip, and the week prior, I did not drive my car very much. Sidling into my driver seat and actually driving again, I felt like something was off. I didn’t know how to describe it.
But the mental state was not there to drive, nor was the usual passion for the act.
Then it dawned on me, why this whole situation felt so strange. I had gone from the heights of luxury to the depths of mediocrity. Laziness was no longer a fun leisurely option. I had to work again.
Driving is an act of work, in comparison to the laziness of tram rides. Going to bed felt like a chore again, instead of a pleasure. Slipping on the work uniform stifled me versus the freedom I felt with jandals (NZ slang for flip-flops) and a pair of sunnies.
Not being able to laugh, hug and kiss my girlfriend was a stark contrast to the quiet, empty loneliness I felt back home.
I call this surrealist state of mind, the post holiday continuum because it disrupts your personal continuum, of space and time.
For a decent interval, you’ve managed to escape the hum-drum of ordinary life and enter a state of true freedom.
Holidays are so addicting because you get attached to that freedom.
Free from monetary constraints. Free from work stress. Free from daily sacrifices. Free from oppressive atmospheres. Free from everything that life has managed to pin onto your shoulders.
Imagine that … finally being able to throw off all the weight on your shoulders and literally have the options to consider choices you normally wouldn’t.
Should I just lie in bed for another hour today?
Should I go down and get the breakfast buffet or just order room service?
I feel like having a massage, should I book one now or tomorrow?
I could use an ice-cream right now …. let’s go out and find one.
Make that 2 scoops instead of one.
Should I buy this? Oh hell, why not.
Holidays are special because you carved out a literal time and space for you to be free of any expectations, environment or existentialism. They truly allow you to be in control of choices that are normally made for you. They grant you the ability to be lazy without guilt or pressure.
For once, you are truly in control of who you want to be.
Hence, when you create such a time and space for yourself where everything is so different mentally, the trip back to “normal” is going to be bizarre. I managed to convince myself that in 5 days, I could live like that forever. It was fun pretending to be wealthy and carefree.
In many ways, that Gold Coast trip was one of the first holidays that felt like an actual vacation and for once I felt bereft leaving the sunny climes behind for dreary Melbourne.
It takes days for people to come back mentally after a holiday. You find yourself resisting habits, questioning routines and eager to experience freedom once more.
That is what is so surreal about it all. The familiar turned unfamiliar. The normal unrecognisable as the norm. You feel like a stranger living another person’s life. Like you are unable to merge the two experiences you’ve just had.
You are presently unpacking everything in your room, yet literally hours in the past you were relaxing at a beach, sipping on a mojito. The dissolution of your holiday continuum is a hard one to accept sometimes. That is what lends the home a surreal atmosphere.
There is almost a robotic sensation to how your life pans out after a holiday. Like your body is on autopilot, whilst your mind refuses to let go of the strong holiday memories. After all, for days after, this sensation is only reinforced as people question you about your holiday. You reminisce on that fleeting moment in time and space where you were free, and indulge in it as people ask you more questions about your trip.
Strange isn’t it? How perhaps once before, you wanted to be left alone, but now every question about your holiday brings a smile and a touching memory. But as time continues, those memories start to fade slightly, until one day you find your reminiscing cut-off by a strange question: did that really happen?
That is what makes the post-holiday continuum so interesting, because of how surreal everything becomes with hindsight, time and juxtaposition. You find yourself so embroiled in your own daily life, that now it is the holiday that seems surreal and bizarre. Like how one earth did you manage to save up so much money to earn such freedom?
My own experience was only made doubly difficult by the nature of long-distance relationships. I left behind my girlfriend, and that act is strange in of itself. Emotionally, I wasn’t ready to leave and that explains why I am currently exploring that feeling of abandonment and adjustment in a post holiday context.
There is a cyclical nature to holidays, I’ve realised now.
Sampling that freedom, makes you crave it more.
So you go back into the grind, putting aside money, time, wealth, just so that you can taste that privilege again.
This post-holiday continuum is something that, I suspect, never really fades away.
It is what drives people to abandon all financial caution and chase that dream of living like a holiday forever.
It makes people want to travel, to explore, to journey out into the unknown, because they want to be free of societal chains.
As much as I empathise with that, I can’t truly embrace it. Holidays are meant to feel earnt. They need to be deserved and with such high personal standards, I need to be in drastic situations before I feel like I deserve a holiday.
The sad fact of the matter is, after 2 days of suffering from that post-holiday continuum any desire to go back to a holiday faded away quickly.
I am still too eager to find work in a job I can embrace wholeheartedly. Perhaps once I’ve found that, carved my own niche, will the call of a holiday tempt me once more.
But right now, it isn’t for me.
Still, if you ever feel like there is something surreal about coming home, after a relaxing holiday, now you got a term for it.