Back to Sweden after years abroad – a total shock


For the first time in five years, I’ve moved back to Sweden after a long period of solo travelling the world. Every day on the road has been an adventure full of new experiences, human interactions and surprises.

I’ve finally started adapting to my new life as a student in one of the safest, cleanest and most prosperous countries in the world. Together with positive insights, returning to Sweden made it even clearer there are parts of our society I’m less fond of.

I’m one of the luckiest persons in the world
Being born in a country like Sweden is a privilege most people on earth could only dream of – my citizenship brings endless of opportunities and freedoms. It’s one of the safest, most equal and peaceful counties in the world. The security of a house, food on your plate, clean water, social security and absence of war are things most of us Swedes takes for granted. I’ve seen how harsh life can be in other parts of the world. Never forget to be grateful for what you have.

After the devastating earthquake in Nepal 2015, I lived outside with the locals under a simple tent construction. Over two million people are still homeless since the disaster. Photo: Josefine Nilsson

Appreciating the Scandinavian climate
Maybe it’s because I haven’t experienced the Swedish seasons for a while, but I’ve been positively surprised with the weather since I got back. The summer went of quick, while autumn was stunning with colourful leaves, crispy air and sunny days. Sure, the days during wintertime are dark and short but so far I’ve been able to bicycle 10 km to university every day without freezing to death. All seasons having their own charm, though I can’t wait for spring.

Stunning Swedish autumn
Stunning Swedish autumn. Photo: Josefine Nilsson

Dressing however I want
While travelling for years through countries where I had to dress in respect to the local customs, I’ve missed wearing clothes like skirts and jeans shorts. On the other hand, I love the comfortable travel outfits of mine. I do feel more free without makeup wearing loose fitting clothes. In a small village in Morocco I was walking around in pyjamas-like outfit for days. Super comfortable!

No longer the centre of attention
A blond, young woman travelling alone in remote areas on the other side of the world draws a lot of attention. While people being curious about me, I’ve gained loads of new friendships. Though, it’s quite energy draining always being the centre of attention. Back in Sweden life couldn’t be more different. No staring, no children running after me wherever I go and no strangers asking me where I’m from. I miss the genuine interaction with kind and helpful people on the road, however it’s nice to have a period in my life where I blend in.

During my travells I made loads of new friends. Photo Josefine Nilsson
During my travels I’ve made loads of new friends. Photo: Josefine Nilsson

Sweden has its own beauty
In a Scandinavian beauty contest Norway would outnumber Sweden by far. Even though, Sweden is incredibly beautiful, in its own unique way. Where I live, I’m surrounded by quiet and unspoiled nature, mostly in the form of deep forests, lakes and small islands.

Wherever you are – it’s possible to make the world a better place
You don’t need to travel abroad to do good. There is loads of ways to engage making our world a better place through your local community. For example, since a few months back I’m involved in student organisations, participating in an integration initiative for newly arrived people and have started up a project for earthquake victims in Nepal. According to your interests, find out what organisations and initiatives are available to join in your area. There are loads of opportunities to engage!

Sweden by the sea. Photo: Josefine Nilsson

Waiting before entering university
I’m a completely different person now than in 2010, being newly graduated from upper secondary school. Travelling has taught me loads about life. I’ve met people from various backgrounds and cultures showing me world views, beliefs and customs completely different than the West’s. Even if it’s hard getting into university life, I’m forever thankful waiting a couple of years before studying to realise what I’m truly passionate about.

I’ve realised what kind of lifestyle I don’t want
It’s been a bigger challenge trying to adapt to a ‘normal life’ in Sweden than most of the hardship I’ve encountered while travelling – and I’ve been through a lot. The life of a student is the opposite than the life I’ve lived on the road. Instead of being free like a bird there is expectations of how I should spend my days, what I should do and how I should do it. I face trouble spending precious time on things which are not giving me anything valuable in return. Luckily, my field of study is interesting and enriching. Studying is as an investment for the future, though I can’t wait getting back out in the world again.

In the West, it’s hard to live in the present
Since moving back to Sweden I’ve lost contact with myself. It’s been hard maintaining the mentality of living in the moment, taking every day as it comes. Instead of putting focus towards what is happening right now, my mind is all over the place. Meditation helps, and it’s only when I’m closing my eyes I realise what a disturbing tornado of thoughts are going on in my mind. While living a hectic Western lifestyle, little focus is put towards listening to your body’s signals of how certain situations makes you feel – until it’s gone too far.

By lakeside in Pokhara life is slow-paced. Photo: Josefine Nilsson
By lakeside in Pokhara life is slow-paced. Photo: Josefine Nilsson

Easier to live on a budget while travelling than as a student
I have no trouble living on a budget while travelling, but it’s harder than I imagined studying without a student loan. Course books are expensive and forget buying coffee at university, which costs ten times more than a local meal in Nepal. To make it work, I must restrict myself from spending money on stuff which I don’t necessary need. I have a part-time job, renting an affordable room 5 km from campus, bicycling everywhere I’m going, staying away from clothes shops, borrowing or buying course literature second hand, rarely eat out, limiting my partying and planning my grocery shopping. Even though the limitations, I must say I’m doing pretty fine.

The society of want
The message of consumerism is hidden in every corner of the western society. Consuming more than you need have proven to be harmful towards our environment, yourself and the people, many working under slave-like conditions without any rights, producing our huge demand for cheap, affordable items. If we could see the suffering behind the clothes, food and other stuff we buy – there would probably be a lot which would never leave the store shelves.

While travelling, everything I need fits in my backpack. Photo: Josefine Nilsson

Time – my worst enemy
Life is fast paced in the West, with little opportunity to fully enjoy and appreciate small and precious moments. I haven’t owned a watch for years. Time haven’t been a big thing for me while travelling. I have normally no clue what time of the day it is, or if it’s Monday, Thursday or Saturday. Moving back to Sweden my days looks way different, with a full schedule from morning to evening. While trying to be structured, the feeling of not having enough time is stressing me out. For me, the best days starts with no plans and ends up with the most amazing adventures. I also love the days you decide to spend by doing… nothing productive at all.

Restrictions on my ‘travel mentality’
While travelling I’m used to meet new friends literally everywhere – on the roads, in shops, during hikes, at restaurants, on busses and in temples. Eating alone at a restaurant may result in someone you shared a few words with in a coffee shop earlier during the day walking by, joining you for a meal ending up in hours of deep conversations about life. People you’ve just met in a temple could invite you to stay with them in their family home. And not to talk about hostels where it’s easy to get a temporary family in hours. In Sweden, the social climate is restricted – if I would act in the same outgoing way as during my travels most people here would think I’m crazy.

University is a new experience, but I miss being on the road. Photo: Josefine Nilsson
University life is a new experience, but I miss being on the road. Photo: Josefine Nilsson

“Is it all worth it?!”
I get this feeling fairly often. “Is it worth spending three years at university where I could be out in the world travelling, experiencing and learning?”. “What am I ACTUALLY doing here?!”. “There are parts of the world out there ready to be explored, which may enrich me more than attending a few lectures a week!”. Most people returning home after long-term travelling are facing some kind of post-travel depression. I’ve been away for five years – which may be the reason why it hits me hard. I have mixed feelings about university life, but the truth is during my first semester I’ve gained loads of new and valuable knowledge. I’m thankful for this new experience of mine, and I’m looking forward to my opportunity of spending autumn semester abroad.