The Journey Home: How to Decompress After Your Appalachian Trail Thru-Hike

The journey home after an Appalachian Trail thru-hike is just as important as the hike itself. Take time to decompress and transition back to everyday life.

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Josh Koop

I live with my wife and daughter in Katy, Texas and my local trail is the Lone Star Hiking Trail which is an amazing way to experience the Sam Houston National Park!

The final sign at the top of Katahdin signifying the completion of a NOBO Appalachian Trail Thru-hike
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Once you have reached the summit, prayed to the Katahdin sign, and completed your Appalachian Trail thru-hike, what is next? You may think, how do I get home from Katahdin afterward?

Most choose to find rides to an airport for a quick home trip; this gets you back into your area effectively, but many would argue without allowing you to decompress. An interesting argument is that taking slow ways home, like a car rental and exploring the country, may better help you readapt to society.

Now, it may seem crazy, but for many, the cost of purchasing a plane ticket could provide a week or more to drive and explore.

Much of this would depend on your prior budgeting and preparation but could allow travel to explore favorite sections of the trail, unique views, or just unique sites.

Just note that planning before you leave will be nice, but in six months, you will likely not follow any pre-planned versions of how you will get home; embrace it and flow.

Be Flexible & Any Initial Plans Before You Start a Thru Will Change

You have already taken six months to complete the trek, so don’t feel like you must be home the next day.

Instead, provide yourself a chance and explore the world a bit so that your brain isn’t going from one life to your old life like a light switch.

Some good things can come from a more relaxed approach to traveling: you get time to decompress, and you can explore the historic towns you passed through with more time and many other things.

Take Time To Get Home It Helps To Decompress

Many rush home and try to jump from trail life to the real world, but this change can be challenging. A significant difference you will find is how people treat you.

On the trail, everyone is friendly and helpful, but in the real world, it is frequently not that way.

Instead of coming home and getting overwhelmed, take your time in the journey, much like how you approach the hike.

It will help you to transition and reboot yourself, which will help you be more successful when you return home.

Visit Historic Landmarks That Exist Over The Length of the AT

Another good way to help you begin your transition back to the civilized world may be to take time and visit some of the landmarks you have heard about but didn’t have time to see.

Here is a good list of 13 not to miss East Coast Historical Sites located around the Appalachian Trail area, nice trips to take to see some history, and views to live with you forever.

These sites will help give you some perspective on how much history surrounds you and that you can continue the mindset you built on the long trail into your normal day-to-day life.

Revisit Favorite Parts of the Trail

Another path to start your rebirth into everyday life may be to stop and revisit your memories of the trail.

This will help you clearly understand what is ahead and how you should approach your goals by understanding how you accomplished such a large feat.

You can use this hike to change how you perceive and approach difficulty in your life, so it may be worth the time to reflect on how the journey changed you before you take on the next adventure.

Transportation Options For Getting Home

Once you know what you want to do or need to do, you can look at options for getting to where you can begin your travels.

There are a few general ways to get home from your final destination, but initially, from Katahdin, you will need to hitch or get a shuttle out, and this is where many will choose to spend a night or two at the AT Lodge Hostel.

From the hostel, you can travel wherever you need to to get your plan to get home in motion. Let’s cover why people love to use the hostel after their successful trek.

Hike Down and Plan For a Night at the AT Lodge Hostel

A key for most is that the hostel is less expensive than a hotel. But it also makes for a simple and familiar place to rest up and sleep after your incredible day when you are worn out physically and emotionally.

The AT Lodge Hostel also has a shuttle that can take you to Medway, and from Medway, you can catch rides in many ways out to Bangor or Portland, both with airports to help you start to travel.

If You Plan to Skip the Hostel

If you are in a hurry and want to get moving, you can look to hitch out to Millinocket or catch a shuttle if they are running. Then, from Millinocket, you can easily use a shuttle, Taxi, Uber, Lyft, or a similar ride to Medway.

Once to Medway, you can easily use many transportation options to get where you need to be.

Flying – The Most Common Option

The way most thru-hikers get back home, airplanes have become the easiest way to travel long distances quickly.

You can fly into either Portland or Bangor and from those airports, you will have many options to get home. If you take an international flight, you will likely have to go through Portland as your first US stop.

Bangor Airport

Bangor is a smaller airport, so the flights are more expensive. In addition, as they are smaller, you will have much more limited options on choosing a flight and frequently have no non-stop options.

Portland Airport

The Portland airport is much larger than the Bangor airport, so many more flight options exist. In addition, they are cheaper, and there are far more choices for non-stop flights to many major city airports, depending on the airline you choose.

Logan International, Boston, MA

If you need an international flight, you could fly from other airports above, but the better option would be to catch a ride to Logan International. This will give you much better flight prices and more options for times and airlines.

You will want to take the shuttle to Portland and then a connecting flight or another transportation from Portland to Boston. This is a longer trip, but it may be worth it depending on how much your ticket is and where.

Take the Train for a Unique Experience

If you want to take a more stimulating way home, the Amtrak system is something you can catch in both Portland and Boston.

This will give you a unique way to see the country on your way home, but it will likely take longer than flying or driving.

The train goes through unique areas that can’t be seen any other way, making it a perfect pairing for a thru-hiker who wants to keep adventuring.

Unique Choice: Drive

You could always drive if you have the time and don’t want to spend the money on a flight. This is a great option if you plan road-tripping after your thru-hike or want to see more of the country.

This may not be the best option if you are hurrying home, but it could be a great way to transition out of your thru-hike and see more of America.

Hitchhike Home for One Final Adventure

While most people are generally concerned with hitchhiking, thru-hikers have a much different perspective. For most, hitchhiking was how they got to the trailhead or town, so it is a familiar and comfortable way to get around.

In addition, many feel like they have “earned” the right to hitchhike after completing such an incredible journey.

Of course, you should still be cautious and use your best judgment, but if you are feeling adventurous, hitchhiking could be a great way to build amazing memories on the trip home from Katahdin.

Slower Choice: Megabus

Another interesting approach would be to get onto a Megabus. Unlike Greyhound, these tend to be more comfortable and less full of sketchy characters.

This could be a fun way to see the East Coast and take in all the sites on your way home. It will likely take a bit longer than other options, but it could be worth it for the experience.

Final Thoughts

While there is no perfect way to get home from a thru-hike, how you choose depends on how you feel. Many people speed home, but I argue it may be better to take your time getting home to decompress and transition back into society more effectively.

While others claim that it is best to get home as soon as possible because the sooner you start working, the better, I think how you end your thru-hike is just as important as how you started it.

If you build up this huge sense of accomplishment and immediately tamp down those feelings by getting on an airplane for a few hours, keeping that feeling from sprouting into post-trail blues will be harder.

Instead, take some time for yourself, reflect on the experience, and enjoy that you just completed one of the most challenging thru-hikes in the country and something many will never even start, let alone complete.

Again, how you get home from Katahdin is up to you, and many options are available depending on your time, money, and how you want to decompress. The most crucial part is ensuring you take time for yourself once the journey is completed.

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