Years ago, I made many long cross countries (more than 1000 miles one way) via piston singles of varying kinds and varying speeds, from a 182 (130 knots) to a T210 (170 knots). Now the longest I usually make is the annual trip to OSH, which for me is about 750 miles one way, in my hot rod 172 (115 knots), although I have had one trip in it to Killeen, TX and return the same day, which was over 1300 miles, a 11 1/2 flight hour day (Angel Flight HSEATS flight). Like your experience in the much faster SR22, I have always found that the route one direction can be significantly different from the return route, even if you follow the same airways and stop at the same refueling stops. That can happen with shorter flights, but certainly with long ones. If they're extra long, such as a 1500 mile flight in my poky little airplane, with 3 stops for fuel and rest, I completely recheck the weather at the far end during the 2nd stop, as well as keep an eye on it enroute.
Our training scenarios are seldom very realistic, because they're all too short. That's why I often say to new pilots, "you now have a license to learn", because it's after getting the certificate that the real learning begins.
Thank you for taking the time and trouble to pass on your experience. As a recently qualified, low hours pilot, I'm grateful that experienced pilots such as yourself pass on your experience and knowledge so that I can learn from it, and am less likely to get myself into a situation that I cannot handle.
Great article and something I learned the hard way.
The takeaway from this is "Plan for your return trip as though it’s an entirely different experience."
I can say with humility that this is 100% true. Flying VFR long distances is absolutely an adventure; whether you welcome the adventure is another issue.
To add something to this story, consider two routes and two return dates to/from your destination. If the return trip turns ugly on your departure date, is route B also ugly or maybe less ugly? If yes, then what about staying an extra day then re-evaluating. Staying flexible is the key to safety.