Travel Stories: Post-Travel Blues After the Americorps NCCC Program
“Everything I read before I applied said that AmeriCorps was the best thing they’ve ever done and talked about how much they loved the experience, but no one really talked about how hard it is when it’s all over.”
Guest post from Laura Schneider: What the 10-month Americorps NCCC program is really like, how hard it is to come home after long-term travel, and how lonely it can be when no one talks about it.
Travel is one of the best things you can do in your life. Whether you’re just driving a few hours away to see a new part of the state you live in or flying over the ocean to see a new country, it gives you a new perspective.
I have been so incredibly lucky in my life. I sat down and made a list of places I’ve visited in the last 10 years, and I came up with a list of almost 40 places that I have visited. That’s insane. I’ve been traveling with my parents and grandma since I was about 6 months old, and I never slowed down after that.
As a kid, my grandma would take on my trips with her camping club during summer breaks. For the celebration of the new millennium we went to Costa Rica to visit her. My grandma has always encouraged me to travel as much as possible, and I have.
When I was 19 years old, a friend from high school texted me and said “do you want to take a bus to Vancouver with me?” and honestly at the time we weren’t super close. I obviously said yes. Planning the trip brought us so much closer, and I have never known excitement like I did planning that trip.
We bought big ol’ hiking packs and overpacked for a two week trip across the US and up to Canada. Think that scene in Gilmore Girls when Rory and Lorelai come back from Europe and are walking around Stars Hollow with their packs on. When we arrived in Seattle, our last stop before flying home to Buffalo, I felt the dread of going home sink in. We just had one of the greatest adventures of our life, and it was already almost over.
We had spent time in Columbus, Boise, Seattle and Vancouver. I could talk about how important this trip was and how much I loved it for days. I remember getting home and being really happy to sleep in my own bed without strangers sleeping around me, and I was so happy to shower in my own shower, but the post-travel blues definitely hit hard. The worst part is trying to tell your friends how much fun you had without feeling like you’re bragging or looking for attention.
After that trip it was so hard not to be that person who posted photos of it every week captioned “take me baaaaack” or “wish I was here” or just the classic “#tbt” but I really, really wanted to go back West. Honestly, it’s been six years and I’m still stopping myself from posting pictures from this trip with annoying captions. My boyfriend at the time even wrote a song about how much I wanted to be out West, it was that apparent to everyone around me.
The next year was spent doing short little day trips here and there, exploring New York State and learning to love where I lived. Pro-tip: when you’re really feeling the post travel blues take a day trip, it helps. Some friends and I even took a trip out to California where we spent time in Los Angeles, San Diego, and Yosemite National Park.
It was during this year that a family friend of mine told me about this program called AmeriCorps NCCC. She said she was accepted in, and would spend the next 10 months traveling and doing community service work throughout the Southwestern US. I immediately looked this up on Google and sent in an application as fast as I could.
A lot of factors led to me not doing AmeriCorps the first year I applied, but a lack of support and a nervousness to leave home for that long led to me declining a position I was offered in the Southern Region.
Wait… what is AmeriCorps NCCC??? I’m so glad you asked! The acronym stands for National Civilian Community Corps, it replaced the Civilian Conservation Corps that was set up by good ol’ FDR during the New Deal days.
Basically, you spend 10 months volunteering and working for different non-profits across the United States. The 10 months is typically split up into 3 major projects. Depending on which region you’re assigned to, they might do things a little differently.
I won’t bore you with all the gritty details of how it all works, but fast forward a few years. It is now 2017: things in my personal life aren’t really going the way I want them to and I can’t seem to break out of this routine I’m in. I found myself in my favorite coffee shop, desperately job hunting and then it hit me: just reapply. It was the last year I could do it before I missed the age range.
The wait from February until I heard back from them in July felt unbearable. But great news came at a really inconvenient time. I was accepted in! On top of that, I was accepted in the the region I wanted. In a few months I would be moving to Sacramento, California!
The months leading up to leaving were incredibly difficult. Trying to spend time with friends and my boyfriend while also trying to work enough to save up some money was exhausting. In the shuffle of it all, I lost time to be excited about it. I didn’t feel the same excitement I felt when my friend and I crossed the US on a Greyhound bus, but honestly I don’t think any extreme level of excitement would have prepared me for the next ten months.
October 11, 2017 was when I was supposed to meet the 13 people I would be spending the next ten months with, however, I missed my layover in Chicago and instead of arriving in Sacramento at 10am local time, I arrived at 11pm. So on October 12th I met the 13 people I would be spending the next 10 months with. Our first project sent us from California down to Florida, and the drive took us an entire week to get from point A to point B.
If you’ve never spent 12+hrs a day in a van with 13 people you’ve only known for about 3 weeks, I recommend it.
After Florida we lived about a mile from Yosemite National Park for 3 months, then we moved to Laramie Wyoming for a few weeks, then finished out our year living in Kamas Utah.
I could write a book about my time spent in AmeriCorps, it was such a wild experience, and those 13 strangers became like family. Everything I read before I applied said that AmeriCorps was the best thing they’ve ever done and talked about how much they loved the experience, but no one really talked about how hard it is when it’s all over.
I’ll be the the first to admit that it was not all wonderful happy times- when you’re living with your coworkers, there’s bound to be problems from time to time, and when you’re surviving on a salary of approximately $12 a day, it can get a little stressful at times.
Towards the end of my time in Utah everyone kind of started to get antsy to get back to a normal lifestyle. The fact that we had to drive an hour into town just to have cell phone service, or park in front of the grocery store to use their wifi to apply to jobs for when we all went back home in a few months really started to weigh on people, and I kind of found myself counting down the days.
The minute my plane landed in Buffalo though, I felt a kind of regret for the way I was counting down the days instead of just really trying to enjoy every last minute of my service year.
Adjusting to life back home from all that time away is still one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, and I still catch myself feeling exceptionally homesick for other places and people. The 13 strangers that made me miss my friends back home became the people my friends back home made me miss. I’ve never really been a great texter, but now I spend all day checking in with the teammates I was closest with. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m the friend that will send your call to voicemail and then text you back “can’t talk now, but what’s up” but now I’m that person who is always on the phone for hours.
Another thing I’ve really struggled with after coming home is trying to keep the momentum of living my life with the good habits I set up while I was away. I found myself sliding right back into my old ways in the life I left. I came home feeling so different and now that I’ve been home for 6 months I feel like I’m right back where I started.
“It's a funny thing about comin' home. Looks the same, smells the same, feels the same. You'll realize what's changed is you.”
-The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Film)
As hard as it was to leave, it was way harder to come back home. In the 3 years I spent researching the program, reading Reddit threads, and watching YouTube vlogs from people who have done the program, not a single one mentioned how hard it is to come home. At first I felt like maybe I was in a unique situation.
When I came home there was a very clear shift in how I viewed the world and how I had changed in my year away. My group of friends had continued on without me around, and it was honestly really tough to try and fit myself back into the space I left. It was really difficult to come back not wanting to pick up old habits and views but still wanting to spend time with the same people. Continuing to feel out of place and really lonely at “home” I posted on Instagram about how out of place and funny it felt to be home, which resulted in a lot of my teammates reaching out saying that they had been feeling the same way.
I find it really difficult to talk about these feelings with people in my day to day life without seeming ungrateful for the opportunity I had, or feeling like I’m bragging about how much better thing were when I was somewhere else, or making it seem like I’m not enjoying my time with them. I also find myself really wanting to talk in detail about my travels, the highlights and struggles, but the hard honest truth is that people who didn’t share those experiences with you don’t really want to hear ALL about it.
They’d rather just like the Instagram post.