The journey home after a perfect trip away is the best, bittersweetest bit

Hannah Jane Parkinson
Photograph: Getty Images

There is a reason plenty of feelgood films close with a completed trip; the end of a journey. A wide-angle shot of a bunch of festival-tired friends, heads leaning against one another; the close-up of a protagonist looking out of a plane window, a smile spreading across their face. Unlike so much that appears on screen, I know both these shots to be tangible and true.

A lot of people associate the good feeling of returning from a trip with switching the lights on, dumping luggage in the hall, putting the kettle on and breathing in the marinade smells of home. But that isn’t coming home; that is arriving home.

No, what I love happens before that, the transition mixed with reflection. Last summer, I was at Glastonbury festival for work. I am extremely lucky in that I work with many of my best friends. After what I can only describe as the perfect five days, a few of us drove home.

Sometimes I would look over at my beautiful pal, her sleepy head rolling off the window, thinking about the new memories we’d just made. Or the four of us would rouse and have a singalong shot through with exhaustion; burst out laughing at a memory. It was the perfect coming home. The train journey on the way to the festival with a friend had been full of excitement (I also love going to places) and laughter; but the journey back is after a life changed, even if just a tiny bit.

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I don’t know what it is about watching countryside roll along on a solo train trip across Europe; piling out with mates at a service station for disgusting coffee (then sunbathing on a grassy bank at the edge of a car park); or that final butchering-of-a-language conversation with a congenial cab driver taking you back to the airport, that makes me contemplative and deeply satisfied.

Satisfaction, I think, in the pleasure of feeling grateful. Grateful for whatever one has experienced; whether it has been dancing at 4am with people you love, and then rising to the cool, bright morning; swimming in ludicrously clear waters; meeting people from around the world and hearing their stories; triumphing at the top of mountains. Gratitude towards life.

The overriding flavour of coming home is bittersweet, because often I don’t want to. But it is knowing that nothing can last for ever, and that while it did last, it was glorious. Knowing that the fruit was not allowed to brown, no welcomes were outstayed. The most wonderful time, even with any imperfections, was had. So I am not sure home is where the heart is; I think the heart is in the bits in between.