The Strange Feeling of Coming Home After a Year Traveling the World

The Backpacker Diaries: A Junior Doctor’s Year-Long Journey Around the World

A continuation from my previous chapter:
Why I Quit My Job – A Partial Explanation

Chapter 1: Adelaide, Australia

February 2nd, 2019

This is not a story of heroic feats, or merely the narrative of a cynic; at least I do not mean it to be. It is a glimpse of two lives running parallel for a time, with similar hopes and convergent dreams.

In nine months of a man’s life he can think a lot of things, from the loftiest meditations on philosophy to the most desperate longing for a bowl of soup — in total accord with the state of his stomach.

And if, at the same time, he’s somewhat of an adventurer, he might live through episodes of interest to other people and his haphazard record might read something like these notes.

The person who wrote these notes passed away the moment his feet touched Argentine soil again. The person who reorganizes and polishes them, me, is no longer, at least I am not the person I once was. All this wandering around “Our America with a capital A” has changed me more than I thought. – Dr Ernesto Guevara, The Motorcycle Diaries


So in a like-minded fashion,  I write from the soil of my “homeland” after a year traveling around the world with a backpack.

But I wonder whether I have a home here anymore – because it doesn’t feel like home anymore.

I have been back in my hometown of Adelaide for three weeks already. And still, I feel like I am walking in a dream. I recognise this place that I grew up, but it is as if the scales have fallen from my eyes and I am seeing everyone and everything for the first time. Everything is so familiar yet so foreign at the same time.

I was so excited to return home. But instead, I feel out of place, like nothing and everything has changed at the same time. I’ve come back to a parallel universe, where everything is subtly, but distinctly different. I study the funny architecture of this country, the dress and colloquialisms of the people. I hear the voices of my friends and marvel – their accents seem so strong to me now!


I thought these feelings would pass quickly, but I still feel … strange. My soul is unsettled. I’ve been waking up with clenched teeth, my mind trying to recall the ghosts of the night that teased my mind in my sleep. It’s like there is a subconscious anxiety that cannot be explained or fully identified. I feel disoriented despite knowing exactly where I am.

I had a strange experience the other day when I went to get a haircut from the Korean hairdresser. As she talked to her colleagues in Korean, I suddenly felt at ease. I suddenly realised that I have become comfortable to the sound of foreign languages around me. Without the ability to understand what they are saying, my other sense become sharper – my eyes studying my surrounds and soaking in all the details, the sounds and smells around me. I felt at peace.

To hear English conversations around me again is a sensory overload. And to have constant internet, technology, convenience and suddenly a houseful of belongings seems nauseating and alluring all at once. I still wear the one or two articles of clothing that I had in my backpack – having developed a strong attachment to the few possessions that I had access to during our journey. I’ve become accustomed to a minimalist lifestyle and I feel shocked at the amount of stuff I own in my house!


I can guess at why a returned traveler might feel this way. With my return is an end of a period of escapism, a forced confrontation with the realities of enduring problems – a return to the reality that all the same issues I left behind in Australia are largely still here. The ghosts of past issues and past grief still lurk in the back of my mind.

But I also know that these issues were never far from my mind when I was overseas either. I’ve learned that our history travels with us no matter how far we go.


Yet, I have hope that this feeling will pass over the next few weeks and months. And I embrace this discomfort, this feeling of being unsettled. To me, it is a sign that I am still on the journey. I love the clarity of thought that comes with travel, the revelations about humanity and one’s own life. So if I feel like a traveler in my own country then I welcome that with open arms.

For what is it to travel and not bring back with you what you have learned or changed in your life? Maybe the struggle should not primarily be about how to fit back into the routine of life at home. The struggle is to articulate and sift through the emotions and learned lessons, and to somehow share and convey the richness of this world and this humanity to the lives of those around us.

When my wife and I left our home almost 1 year ago to the day, I thought I was taking a break to overcome burnout. I didn’t realise that during my journey I would be wrestling with the deep questions of life, of purpose, of humanity, of racism, of creation, of happiness, of inequality, of materialism, of heritage, of identity , of family, of home and of God.

I write to capture these feeling – the thoughts and dreams and aspirations and experiences of a year spent exploring the vastness of humanity and this impossibly diverse world of which we can only hope to take fleeting glimpses.


Next Chapter of The Backpacker Diaries:

Chapter 2: My First Impressions of South America

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My First Impressions of South America

The Backpacker Diaries: A Junior Doctor’s Year-Long Journey Around the World

A continuation from my previous chapter:
The Strange Feeling of Coming Home After a Year Traveling the World

Chapter 2: Santiago de Chile, Chile

20th May, 2018

My journey to South America started with fear.

Fear about leaving the city I grew up in. Fear about leaving my material comforts and  living with a few select possessions out of a backpack. Fear that I would lose the motivation to ever return to medicine. Fear of not knowing the language. Fear of all the horror stories I had been told about crime and safety in Latin America. Fear that I had made the wrong choice to leave my job. Fear that I would be simply bringing the grief of my sister’s death to a place I had no supports and knew no-one. Fear of being alone.

But if my wife was feeling the same, she didn’t show it. PK’s constant chirpiness exuded an unshakable hopefulness. Her happy smile was a light leading me through the mundaneness of customs and airport terminals…and soothed the fears in the pit of my stomach.

After a long-haul flight from Adelaide, we finally arrived at the first city of our journey: the capital city of Santiago de Chile. “Welcome to Chile, pay up!” was our greeting. Australians are charged a $117 USD “reciprocity fee” upon entry, presumably because of the similar greedy greeting that our government extends to Chilean visitors.


Feeling the sting in our wallets, we made our way through the hordes of taxi drivers in the main terminal. “Taxi, taxi!” they shouted, hoping to rip-off weary travellers like us.

We were expecting to be met by our Airbnb host but they were no where to be seen.

Eventually an unshaven and friendly Irishman named Dom approached us. He was our man, apologising profusely for his tardiness. I didn’t care. I am embarrassed to admit it, but it was nice to hear a welcome from an English speaker in a very foreign country.


“Wow, you guys packed light!” he remarked. I felt proud – I had gone to great lengths to ensure that we only brought the bare minimum of belongings in order to be lightweight and mobile: a single T-shirt, two pairs of underwear and pens sawn in half to make them more compact (I am embarrassed to admit that I am not joking)!

We sped off in his little car through the streets of Santiago. Dom was a friendly but hyperactive host, jumping from topic to topic as he tried to explain the city of Santiago in a single conversation. But I wasn’t listening.


My eyes were glued to the window. These were my first glimpses of South America and I was in a new world. My first impressions were of fruit-filled markets, tall and colourful buildings, bizarre Chinese imported cars and the sun setting behind the Andean mountains. It dawned on me that here exists a huge sprawling mass of humanity, far beyond the Western world I knew. It was like another universe to me. All of the pre-conceived ideas I had about Latin America began to collide with what I was seeing around me.


We arrived at our apartment in Barrio Lastarria, a historic and beautiful part of the city. Cobblestone alleyways, grand buildings and numerous restaurants and musicians abound. To afford staying here, the trade-off was space: our apartment was very tiny.

But this was the beginning of a truth I would take to heart in my South American journey: as long as I had a clean bed and a clean toilet, I was happy.


Our apartment was part of a very tall block of buildings: endless rows of similarly tiny apartments extending far into the sky over a communal square. There was no air conditioning and the heat could be oppressive, so the locals had their windows open constantly. We did the same. As a result, it was never quiet – noise from the different families filtered between the apartments across the square. Adding to the cacophony was traffic and barking dogs who roam with impunity in the streets of Chile, proudly proclaiming their freedom at all hours of the night.

But I was happy to be living amongst the people, not in some fancy tourist hotel. What is the point of going to a foreign land if not to learn from the locals by living with them?


I couldn’t sleep due to the worst jet-lag I had ever experienced. But as those first few nights went by, I began to notice a new life in me. Excitement is not the right word. Nor is the word healing. But perhaps a sense of coming alive. A sense of becoming aware of one’s surroundings and of entering a new chapter in one’s life.

Perhaps it was the journey into the unknown, or the journey into a new world. I think there is a hunger in the heart of man to see something new, to create new memories. My soul still clings to the traumas of the past, clamped down tightly on the darkness of my grief and hardened in order to survive the daily grind of hospital work.

But to see humanity afresh with a new lens… perhaps this begins the process of slowly wrenching the heart open again, bit by bit. I began to forget the fears that I had taken with me from Australia. Not conquer, but forget (there is a difference). I was thousands of kilometres from home but I was not running away from my issues. Maybe with physical distance, we are given space to reflect and look inward. We were at the start of our journey – lying before us was the open road, and the supreme feeling of an open future with infinite possibility.

Maybe what I am describing is the feeling of hope.


Next Chapter of The Backpacker Diaries:

Coming soon

Social Media:

Instagram – @nathan_and_pk

Photography Blog –