The Reality of Reverse Culture Shock

 Bahía de Los Angeles through our palapa window.
Bahía de Los Angeles through our palapa window.

We were warned. A close friend of mine who traveled to Mexico for several months last year told me to prepare for the experience of reverse culture shock when returning to the United States, and while I believed her, I don’t think there was any way to properly prepare for the reality of reverse culture shock. 

It hit us hard.

We spent the last six months without television, without movies, without internet or cell phone reception much of the time. A BIG evening for us included music and tequila around a campfire, or maybe a dinner out in a sleepy Mexican town. One night we spent hours entertaining ourselves by playing with the bioluminescent plankton along the Bahía Concepción shoreline. Mexican grocery stores are small and simple, with limited choices, making shopping quick and easy. The highways in Baja snake through vast unpopulated areas. There are no billboards, few gas stations, mostly it’s a vast wilderness. Interestingly, we quickly and easily adjusted to that slow, relaxed lifestyle, and we rarely missed the comforts of home. (Read all about our Mexico travels here!)

 The moon rises over a gradient sunset in Los Arbolitos.
The moon rises over a gradient sunset in Los Arbolitos.

Fast forward to our re-entry into the states. After a hectic border crossing we decided to get a hotel room for a night so we could treat ourselves to air conditioning and unlimited hot showers for an evening. The giant highways and heavy traffic we had to traverse to reach our hotel felt so stressful! I went to the grocery store to get us dinner and found myself completely overstimulated by the sheer size of the store, the loud music playing, the bright “look-at-me” displays. I bought what I needed as quickly as possible and retreated to our hotel room where Tom was having a similar experience with the big screen cable tv. So THIS was that reverse culture shock we’d heard about!!

The next few days were similar, and we found ourselves seeking ways to calm the chaos we were experiencing! Luckily the western U.S. is full of beautiful protected wilderness that gets us out of the hustle and bustle of American cities, and we chose a remote route to take us to Oregon (read our tips for finding beautiful, affordable campsites in the states!)  

 Wildflowers blooming in Joshua Tree National Park.
Wildflowers blooming in Joshua Tree National Park.

We are currently making our way up Route 395, camping on sparsely populated BLM land, and loving it. We are easing ourselves back into the speed of American life slowly, and realizing that our perception of “home” and “comfort” may be permanently shifting (we discuss our new home here). While we are excited to reunite with our family and friends, we are approaching “home” very differently now, and already making plans to continue our travels through the summer and into next year!

 Camping near the base of Mt. Whitney.
Camping near the base of Mt. Whitney.

Have you experienced reverse culture shock? What was your experience? Leave us a comment below!

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7 thoughts on “The Reality of Reverse Culture Shock”

  1. I spent over a month in Europe, on my own except for a party with friends in Zurich and a few days with old family friends in Geneva, staying mostly in little rooms with no TV and a bathroom down the hall, riding the trains and wandering all over the place, always at my own time and pace. I found people to talk to occasionally, but more often i just listened to the music of conversations i couldn’t understand. I was in cities pretty much the whole time, and felt safe wandering, even at night. and the food! vegetable places, meat shops, cheese shops, bakeries. There were big stores, but i didn’t see many of them, and even so they were more like conglomerates of the little shops.

    The first thing that hit me as i sat in the plane for the trip home was the conversation – the first i had heard in English in a long time – of a few celebrity gossip loving ladies in the seat behind me. They went on and on about somebody or other. Ugh! And the food. i have a number of food issues, and everything i ate seemed to give me migraines. And of course i had to go back to work, after a month of museums and wandering.

    At least you are on 395 instead of I-5 ….. it just gets more and more gorgeous, too. Glad to have you back!

  2. We are DEFINITELY experiencing the food issue, our bodies are not used to American food anymore! 395 was really beautiful, we even found some remote hot springs on our way!

  3. I haven’t experienced reverse culture shock to the extent of which you write, so this is very informative. It would take some adjustment and I understand your dilemma. I live in a low populated area of northern Australia in a region affected by cyclones (hurricanes). We were hit by one in 2015 and were without power, communications and other basics for some time. It took some adjustment but we adapted to not having modern day ‘luxuries’. Funnily, once services were reinstated, I found I missed the quiet simple life we had adapted too. On my list of future places to visit is the beautiful protected wilderness of western U.S. – The Joshua Tree National Park especially! Thank you for this article, it provides insight into the world of difference between two divergent lifestyles.

  4. Doreen Valadez

    The life you guys have made for yourselves is so inspiring. We are retiring in one year and Baja is first on my list to spend a few months road tripping and camping. My retirement "plan" is to go to festivals, see awesome places, meet great people, and just live the life I wish I’d been living all along. Thank you so much for all the helpful information.

  5. Thank you so much for the kind words Doreen, and congratulations on your upcoming retirement! Your retirement plan sounds fantastic, perhaps we’ll run into you on the road!! 🙂

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