When I came back from my first long hike on the Camino de Santiago, friends and family would politely ask, “how was your trip?”
If you, too, have walked part of the Camino or come home from some other big adventure, you understand the dilemma.
I could give a short, trite, insufficient answer. It was great! It was hard! It was beautiful!
Or I could try to tell them how it really was. How it changed my sense of the world. How I cried sometimes in frustration and sometimes because of the beauty. How every single day was different. I could tell them about people I met for just a day or two, who are going to be my friends for life. I could describe the architecture. I could launch into just one of the dozens of stories of the unexpected that filled every day.
It didn’t take long for me to realize that this latter approach didn’t go well. The eyes of my well-intentioned friends or colleagues would glaze over. They’d tune out. They’d change the subject.
I was describing some of the most dramatic moments of my life, and they were clearly bored.
And it wasn’t just me. An article on Forbes last week, not-so-subtly titled “Why No One Cares About Your Travels,” described the results of a scientific study that was done to measure this disconnect.
It turns out it isn’t (primarily) about jealousy; the problem is about context. Your adventures are unrelatable. Most people are simply more interested in talking about familiar things than they are curious about the new things that you want to introduce to the conversation. Yes, there is a social cost associated with leaving the herd and having unique experiences.
That disconnection from friends and family—what Forbes calls the “social cost” of adventure—adds to the emotional and mental challenge of re-entering “normal” life after something like the Camino. Back in March at the American Pilgrims on the Camino’s National Gathering, the breakout hit conference talk was from Alexander John Shaia, author of Returning from the Camino, who says in his introduction that “the Camino is filled with a ‘muchness’ that requires sorting.”
So when you come home from an experience like walking the Camino, or some other grand adventure, what should you do? Where do you process?
Here are a few things that worked for me.
Stay connected to the people who shared your experience.
Stay connected to the people you met on the trail. If you’re on social media, befriend or follow them. But also, send emails. Share photos. Maybe even visit them. No matter how far away they live or how different their “normal” lives seem, they’ll be the ones who will understand this part of you best.
Stay connected to the people who love what you love.
There’s a reason that Facebook groups like American Pilgrims on the Camino and CAMIGAS draw tens of thousands of members. This is our clubhouse, the place where we come to share photos, articles, memories, and tips. (In fact, I found that Forbes article from a link in a Facebook group.) These are the people who will know why you smile at the thought of coffee and milk and why you still say “gracias” automatically sometimes in restaurants.
Not a “share online” kind of person? Find out if there’s a local chapter of your national Camino organization or confraternity, and attend their events. (Here’s a list of current US Camino chapters.)
Write it down.
Instead of trying to hold your memories close by talking them out with others, write them down. One of the best things I did after my first Camino was starting this blog as a place to make connections. I wanted to share my stories and experiences, show off some photos, and spend some time processing through what I’d just done, in a space that was available to anyone interested, and not required for anyone who wasn’t.
Or, you know, you could compile it all in one place and write a book. 😊
Look forward, not back.
My first Camino walk—the crazy long thousand-mile one—was four years ago now. Eventually, even Eric and I had to admit that our life-changing Camino stories were starting to feel a little stale. We’d regaled everyone we knew with the tale of the miracle sheep on a mountain, and the resurrecting chickens, and the neverending shoe dilemmas. It was time to stop living in the past.
Which, of course, meant only one thing: it was time for a new adventure. No, we couldn’t take another three-month sabbatical and cross two whole countries. But I’ve made shorter trips to the Camino Frances and the Camino del Norte. And in between those trips, we let the spirit of the Camino and the things we learned lead us elsewhere. Walking became part of our travel plans. Meeting people from around the world became more important. And so there was the week we spent day hiking a long-distance trail on Canada’s Sunshine Coast, and a year later, a week exploring the hot springs and glaciers in the Canadian Rockies. We started day hiking in our own mountains on weekends, and last month we went to Arizona for the first time to see the Grand Canyon.
In other words, we keep creating new stories.
Four years after I discovered this new side of myself, I’m still traveling and walking, and my friends are probably even less interested in hearing about subsequent adventures. But that’s okay, because I have options.
What about you? If you’ve walked parts of the Camino or had some other incredible travel adventure, how did you bring it home? What do you do to both hold onto it and not overwhelm the people who stayed home?