What it feels like coming home After a Year Travelling the World Solo

brooke saward
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brooke saward

A few days ago I came home after a year travelling the world solo. To throw in some perspective, I visited just shy of 50 countries across 6 continents in the course of (a little under) 12 months.
Until this day, in the past year I have only seen one of my family members once. Being someone who is indescribably close with her parents and siblings, this was a big step in the right direction in my early twenties, having now graduated university and with a desire to step out and create a life for myself outside of what I know.
Although I have only been home for a few days, many people have been quick to ask what it feels like ‘being back’.
My heart kind of sinks a little, I forge a smile and politely claim “it’s great!”. But its not because it isn’t great – it is. Tasmania is one of the most beautiful places I have found myself out of all my travels, my family and friends are incredibly hospitable and caring, and I can’t describe how fond I am of my local burger joint. But to be honest, if it weren’t for my older sibling’s wedding, I probably wouldn’t have come home. I know I wouldn’t have. 
This year travelling the world from one continent to the next sparked a change in me that I can’t quite put my finger on (when I can I promise to share my thoughts on this, too). But for whatever reason, home doesn’t feel like home anymore – at least not right now.
Whilst it was never an easy feat setting off to travel around the world solo, in the modern age of technology it was far from a year of solitude or suffering… so what exactly was it like?

Travelling the world solo in the 21st Century

It should go without saying that travelling in the present day and age is inherently different to travelling the world a year ago, let alone a decade ago (when I first travelled overseas).
Everything – every single aspect – every single notion of travel has changed in the past few years… and it shows no signs of slowing. Overused phrases such as ‘off the beaten path’ no longer mean seeking out lesser-known neighbourhoods in Paris or wandering East in Europe… in fact, close to none of the world is truly ‘off the beaten path’ in our current age of technology. 
Travelling today is reminiscent of a Star Wars film, where everything and anything has already been done for you, even the thoughts you haven’t yet had are just a short google search away when they do arrive. Travel today looks like apps and apples, digital screens and becoming a DIY travel agent. While for some planning can be half the fun, for others, the fun of simply arriving and going with the wind is all but gone in an age where booking deals online will lead to savings hundreds if not thousands of dollars and with so many people moving around globally, not booking in advance can often lead to difficulties in most parts of the world.
Travelling today means the dissolution of borders. Countries that were once closed to tourism have opened their doors, visas and tourist visitor rules have mostly relaxed to allow for the influx of globetrotters moving about on their own road to discovery.
But not all things have changed.
Travelling today still means long lines to popular tourist attractions, bad meals at restaurants with a chalkboard claiming to ‘SPEAK ENGLISH’, mass tourism spoiling once hidden treasures, and many a bad deal to be had.

brooke saward

…as a woman, solo, in the 21st Century

Feminism is nothing new. Strong, independent females are however much more common in the present day as much as they are accepted. Whilst it is still true that at least one out of two people you encounter will think you are suffering some form of mental instability for travelling the world solo as a female, the percentage of people willing to endorse female empowerment has certainly risen. 
Hotels are making waves in their acceptance of solo travellers and especially solo female travellers in the present day. One hotel I visited even had a dedicated women’s suite to cater to the rising number of solo female business travellers. Sure, it didn’t even make a dent in the number of masculine James Bond-esque corporate rooms around the world in the present day… but it was, at least, a step in the right direction. A gesture of good will. 

Brooke in Ireland

Finding yourself vs. Creating yourself

But if there’s one thing I have struggled to come to terms with in the past year, it’s the perception that all solo travellers (female in particular) are on a journey of self-discovery. A perception that I’m sure is more than partly due to Hollywood’s portrayal of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love.
In the film (and originally the book), a young Elizabeth Gilbert (played by the likeable Julia Roberts) endures a mid-life crisis where she decides to uproot her life, leave her husband, and go off on a worldly journey to Italy, India, and finally Bali, Indonesia.
I can’t think of a better rebuttal of this assumption than to quote the likeable J. R. R. Tolkien:

“Not all those who wander are lost”.

There are many things this year travelling the world solo at 22 years of age has been about, but finding myself or running away from my troubles has never been one of them. Sure, I changed a lot in the past 12 months and slowly but surely evolved into the happiest, most confident and collected version of myself to date. But at no point do I feel that I was at risk of being lost in my inner-self.
Rather, I’d like to think this year has been about creating myself.
The day I booked my one-way ticket to London departing at the beginning of this year was on the day of my university graduation. On a day where I was supposed to feel like I completed and achieved something from my tertiary education, a day of perceivable certainty, I couldn’t have felt any more confused by the whole ordeal. Lost? No. Okay, maybe a little. But more confused? Yes.

brooke saward

Coming Home After a Year Travelling the World Solo 

This past year has taught me a lot about myself and others around me. It has taught me to be patient in a sense that falls deeper than not tapping my foot in a line that seemingly never moves forward for the better part of the hour. It has taught me to be kind to others, especially those who can do nothing for me. Just the mere response of a gentle smile is worth more than any dollar figure anyway. It has taught me to be understanding of others, even if their beliefs, traditions, cultures and understandings directly conflict my own. It has taught me to be open and embrace every offering – from food through to karaoke at a dive bar in Boston, all the way through to facing my fear of the ocean to the point that nowadays you’ll struggle to pull me out of there whenever it is nearby.
Coming home feels like a complete contradiction. On the one hand it brings me indescribable joy to see my family and friends after a year without them, hearing their voice and just being in their presence.
But on the other hand it is completely overwhelming how little has changed. How little everything has changed… but me.
I’m no longer the sheltered, insecure and indecisive 22 year old that left one year ago. For starters I’ve added another year to my running tally… but the change I have experienced in the past year runs much deeper than any number. Its in the way I look at things. Its in the way I perceive my reality and that of others. Its in the way I read, write and speak.
Change is often a scary thing when considered as a distant ideal or something you wish to achieve. But when you take a look back at how much change has occurred within yourself over a period of time, there could not possibly be a more comforting feeling.

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    December 24, 2015 at 1:12 am

    Thank you so much for sharing.I wish to change so much.What you did ..travelling a year solo is incredible.I think I now need to pin point exactly what I want and go after it which i know is close to travelling.

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    June 27, 2015 at 9:12 pm

    A year in hotels? After college? Hmmm Paid Vaca me thinks

    May 13, 2015 at 4:43 am

    Great post. You are an inspiration. Coming home is such a conflict of emotions. It’s always great to know when someone else has experienced this. I spent 2014 in Australia where I learnt a lot about myself, and became more determined than ever to keep moving. Going home shows you that if you want to travel as a lifestyle then you have to do it yourself. No one is going to do it for you.

    I’ve written my first blog on returning home from a trip. I’d appreciate some readers and some feedback!

    February 28, 2015 at 9:35 am

    How were you able to travel to almost 50 countries in less than a year? What are your sources of income while traveling?

    Priya Puri
    February 25, 2015 at 10:48 am

    Such a a great post. Thanks for putting so many thoughts into such clear words! I also travelled overseas for almost 2 years when I was 23-24 after graduating from uni and then working for a year to save up. I grew so much, saw so much and changed so much. When I came back to Brisbane I felt it was time to focus on a career and was generally excited about the possibilities of life and hoped to keep mixing work with travel. But I found it so hard to readjust. I had changed and nothing else had. After a while, living off the memories and stories of travelling wears off. Everyone just expected me to go back to a “normal” life. My friends and family often even commented that I should now be making up for the time I had “wasted” travelling and catch up on building a career and life in one place. All this left me quite miserable…but unfortunately convinced that people around me were right and I just needed to focus and make an effort to enjoy everyday life in Brisbane like they did. All those around me over the years were buying houses, getting married, having babies…to me it didn’t feel like I was in the right place. After doing this 4 years I had enough…I realised I was completely losing myself in the effort to be what people expected me to be…on the outside my life looked typical and good, but on the inside I was miserable, and the feeling that life was passing me by as I lived vicariously through the adventures of other travellers, and I had lost confidence in the ability live my life well. One day it hit me, I finally had enough. I wrapped up my business, sold lots of things, organised a trip, packed one suitcase for 6 months on the road, and decided to make my life about adventure and travel again, and to believe that it’s possible to life a life that is both successful and fulfilling to me. For the second time in my life, it’s the best thing I have done. And I have learnt a valuable lesson. Like you said for me travelling is not so much about finding myself. It’s about creating myself and taking active steps to create my own life rather than just watching as life happens.

    January 27, 2015 at 3:48 am

    Definitely know how you feel – after 4 years of being away from home, coming back to Australia is always weird. I went from being a solo traveller, to a tour guide (surrounded by people all the time, but very often lonely) and now an Expat living in Austria (which was NEVER the plan) and have changed so much from the person I was back in Melbourne. I love home, I love my friends and family, but I now love even more the peace I have within myself, my drive and the person I am overseas. Being home feels like a timewarp and I’m actually afraid of what might happen if I did move back – would I go back to that slightly less confident, stuck on a one way train to suburban life person? I don’t know, I guess there’s only one way to find out – but its so so great to read about someone going through a similar experience on returning home! Thank you!

    January 14, 2015 at 11:55 am

    This is incredibly well said. I’m currently traveling and living in Europe and have been for nearly 7 months and do wonder what it would be like to go home. I’ve lived abroad in the past a few years ago,in Italy for 4 months and returning home everything was painfully the same, but I feel as though this time will be different. Reading this post I can already relate but also imagine how strange it must feel. I’m trying not to think too much about it, or expect too much, but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous about the prospect of returning home. I too have noticed myself change and grow, becoming the happiest and most fulfilled version of myself to date. I am worried that by going home to where nothing will have changed I will somehow lose some of that or the new me will no longer be satisfied with life in Melbourne. I would love to know how you felt after the few weeks back home, just before you left for Bali. Did you feel a little more at ease at home in Tasmania or were you well and truly ready to get on the road again? Thank you for your insights on this, it helps.

    Dulce Taylor
    January 10, 2015 at 11:25 am

    I completely understand, Brooke. My parents sold our house while I was living abroad for two years, and it’s been both nice and strange not having a home to go to. It has made me realize that I am not bound by a place. The entire world is my home, and I can belong anywhere.

    January 6, 2015 at 1:38 pm

    Wow! Its so nice that you have been able to travel like this!

    January 5, 2015 at 3:49 pm

    Very inspiring post! It’s amazing how travel changes you, in a good way. I look forward to following you around the world in 2015 Brooke!

    Chalsie | The Workshop Co. x

    January 5, 2015 at 6:59 am

    Wonderful and inspiring post. I recently came back home to Canada from studying abroad for 3 months in England, and even from this short time, I have similar thoughts on how travelling has changed me. I’ve never travelled outside of North America so travelling has been really good for my own self growth. I can relate to how you said you feel like you changed, while everyone else hasn’t. It’s a weird feeling – but I see this as an opportunity to pursue goals with a clearer mind and put what’s important to me in perspective.


    Clipping Path Outsource
    January 4, 2015 at 10:55 pm

    It’s only nice if had faced no unexpected situation. Have fun I know.

    Raphaela Angelou
    January 4, 2015 at 6:10 pm

    You are an inspiration. xxx

    January 3, 2015 at 8:52 pm

    That is soooo amazing!!!! Wow!

    Marie @ Marie Away
    January 3, 2015 at 5:41 am

    Beautiful post. I spent 16 months living and travelling abroad and returned home last year. It was a strange thing to be back in the same place, but a completely different person from who I was. I completely understand what you mean when you say it doesn’t feel like home anymore. Travel really does bring out this new person with bigger ambitions and the sense of adventure only grows stronger. Maybe somewhere will be home some day, but you owe it to yourself to let adventure flourish while the mood is there.

    January 3, 2015 at 5:16 am

    Reading your posts throughout the year have really inspired me to travel and I am so excited to see what 2015 has to bring for you and your adventures! Happy New Year and enjoy being home while it lasts!

    Mary Lyndall
    January 2, 2015 at 1:49 pm

    You have inspired me to travel solo for a year. I have always wanted to travel since I was little, but was so scared to do it on my own. After reading your posts (especially this one) throughout the year, you have given me a little more confidence to travel by myself and I thank you! Have a wonderful New Year!

    January 2, 2015 at 7:59 am

    I moved overseas from the US when I was 13 and constantly travelled back to the States for Christmas and summer vacation (still do, in fact). But now it feels like “home” can’t be one simple location. Whenever I leave Manila to come to the States, I say “I’m coming home.” But I get here and….it’s not home. I don’t have a home here. I’m in a constant swirl of changing locations. And when I go back to Manila I say “I’m coming home.” And that’s not completely true either because home to me always was where my family was and they aren’t there. It’s a contradictory feeling, this feeling of “home” and why I (not always jokingly) say “airports are my home” because they’re a middle ground. I completely understand what you’re saying, kudos to you for putting it in words.


    LEE @ Modern Granola
    January 1, 2015 at 7:07 am

    Love this post. So inspiring! Thanks for sharing this.

    January 1, 2015 at 6:18 am

    Love this… Love your blog!! Happy new year!

    New Post:

    Taylor Sharp
    January 1, 2015 at 6:17 am

    I completely agree with what you are saying here. I spent a year studying abroad in Japan and coming home was also confusing for me. My friends were the same, my family was the same, my house looked the same, only I was different. I am so inspired by how you spent this past year and I can’t wait to see your posts in 2015! Have fun at home and don’t let the strangeness take away from time with your family and friends ^_^

    January 1, 2015 at 3:42 am

    I couldn’t agree more. I came home from Hong Kong for Christmas and seeing my family and friends has been amazing but nothings different here. Nothings changed. You come home expecting something.. more but in reality the hugs and story telling fades as quickly as they’ve started and then everyone continues their daily lives and sits around the TV till its time to go to bed. Its weird.

    Rachel @ Vagabondbaker
    January 1, 2015 at 2:38 am

    What a wonderful post, I love how you’ve expressed your feelings being back home, that subtle feeling that you’ve changed.
    I’ve mostly travelled with someone, my fella, but I’ve just spent 6 weeks travelling around northern Europe and Nordic Europe by myself and it has been incredible. I’ve rediscovered my independence, and I’ve enjoyed being by myself, my own company. I feel stronger and I loved being able to do whatever I want, when I want. I’ve found it really strange being back as a couple again – of course, good for the most part. We are still (sort of) travelling, staying stationary for a few weeks in Germany, but I’m aching to set off solo again, that restless spirit in me, never satisfied.

    I’m totally used to people back home not being able to relate, thank goodness for Facebook and the such like: I can keep in touch with those awesome people I’ve met travelling over the years and we keep ourselves sane. In my real social circles I know who understands and I know they’re there!

    January 1, 2015 at 12:53 am

    What a beautiful article Brooke!

    December 31, 2014 at 9:55 pm

    What you’re saying about coming home to a small town again is really true, I have it the same way. Most of my change hasn’t only been from travelling but living other places as well the last 2 and a half year. Now that I meet the people that never left, it’s like they never really change and many are all settling down with children. When all that is said, I really do admire what you have managed to accomplish in only a short year.

    December 31, 2014 at 9:48 pm

    Really loved this post. I lived in Vienna for a few months & Dublin for a year and when I returned to Sydney nothing and no one had changed. So many people were like, “oh, did you go away?”. And the endless “How was Europe?”, got pretty annoying because no one actually wanted to hear more than “good!”.

    Jessica C. (A Wanderlust For Life)
    December 31, 2014 at 8:34 pm

    I may not be alone (I have my husband), but just living life abroad changes everything. When I Skype with friends now, I want so badly to get updates and stay in-the-know. And yet, all they say is that everything is the same. I think it’s a little upsetting for me because I am not the same and never will be. And more so, I know my life would be the same if I was still there. I don’t know if I want to be complacent. I want to grow and learn and see as much of the world as I can. I want to have friends from all over the world. I love my friends and family, but home doesn’t feel like home anymore. I feel guilty feeling that way, but while I read your post and those commenting on it, I feel like it’s just a matter of finding people who understand you. Then you know it’s not just you and it’s okay to feel that way.

    Thanks for the insightful read!

    December 31, 2014 at 7:53 pm

    I travelled solo at the age of 22 (now 28) and although I didn’t have the world following my every movement my thoughts and feelings were exactly the same as yours. I felt like an outsider when I returned home but you slowly find your place once again. I only wish I carried on travelling and bought another ticket rather than settling down into a job. I always wanted to make a living out of travel but never had the confidence; although I changed a lot in that year obviously my ability to believe in myself didn’t!!
    I can’t wait to see what you do in the new year, remember your family will always be there no matter where you are in the world. Sometimes all you need is familiarity and sometimes you just need to be as far away as possible from everything you know.
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this and your adventures, have an amazing 2015

    Eliza Stewart
    December 31, 2014 at 7:36 pm

    I totally agree having spent 3 months of this year travelling the US, Canada, UK, Ireland and Paris….I grew as person and become the best form of myself to date.

    Best holiday destinations
    December 31, 2014 at 5:24 pm

    looking fabulous. thanks for sharing nice views.

    Charlie B.
    December 31, 2014 at 5:05 pm

    I am so inspired by you, thank you so much for your words!

    December 31, 2014 at 5:01 pm

    Great post! Thanks for sharing!

    Courtney {Alkeks Abroad}
    December 31, 2014 at 4:56 pm

    This is beautifully written. You are wise beyond your years and I am so impressed with all you have done in 23 short years.

    December 31, 2014 at 11:57 am

    This was super interesting, Brooke, thanks for sharing.

    December 31, 2014 at 9:59 am

    Thank you for sharing your perspective on coming home after a year away. I left home over a year ago and went back for a visit in October and felt the same way as you. So little has changed in comparison to how much I’ve changed. Reading this blog has been very inspiring, I’ve found my cursor hovering over the ‘Purchase’ button for a Czech Republic trip (Bucket list) more and more often since I started following your travels.

    December 31, 2014 at 9:56 am

    I just got back from only two weeks alone abroad and I too have changed. It’s weird coming back, especially when you’re travelling alone, as friends and family are unable to relate. It can be isolating when others don’t understand, but exciting when you are able to sit around and share your adventures!