And then we were back – our return after two years of travelling

In the end of April 2016 we returned to Switzerland after some two years of travelling. We arrived the way we left: by train and without much fanfare. Had we been looking forward to getting back „home“? Have we already got itchy feet again? How did it feel to return to Switzerland after such a long time?

Like after all our travel sections (Europe, Southeast Asia, Australia, New Zealand – Te Araroa), we wouldn’t want to fail to write a conclusion after finishing our travels.

Travelling without end as long as the money lasts

The night we boarded the train to Berlin in April 2014 we didn’t know how long we would be away for. Our jobs were quit, our apartment empty, our belongings put into storage.

We numbered all our boxes and prepared and extensive inventory list. Should we want to stay somewhere we’d have had the possibility to have single boxes sent to us. A lot of organizing that turned out to be superfluous.

It wasn’t at all the case that we didn’t like it anywhere that much or that we couldn’t imagine to live outside of Switzerland. Quite the contrary. At the moment, New Zealand and Tasmania stand at the top of the list of possible domiciles. One day we want to live and work abroad (yes, not “just” travel). But for the time being we’ve got other plans. The two main reasons for our return were my studies (I suspended them before travelling and now would like to resume and finish them), as well as our empty bank accounts. And besides, in Switzerland studying is cheaper than abroad, working more “fruitful” and a social security net (dear parents) existing.

Our old life catches up

In the first days after our return to Switzerland we could stay with my family. Even after two years I could have told you blindly when I stepped into my childhood home. The smell and the atmosphere are rooted deeply in my memories.

But soon we moved into our own new home: the unoccupied century old house of Philippe’s grandfather in the agglomeration of Zurich.

The size (four stories incl. basement and attic) was quite overwhelming at the beginning, since we’d dwelled for a long time in a tent, a campervan or in a double room or dorm. But as we just are, we got used to it pretty quickly and soon felt very comfortable.


Philippe unpacking some boxes

Now began the tracking of our old selves. To unpack the moving boxes was surreal. Did we really possess so much stuff? It also felt a bit like unwrapping presents. Because of course we couldn’t remember all the items in the boxes.

We celebrated joyous reunions with cuddly toys, were amazed by our selection of glasses (water glasses, wine glasses, beer glasses, shot glasses, champagne glasses, schnapps glasses (?)) and wondered at some pieces of clothes.

Some items we consciously left packaged. Should we not get them out within a couple of weeks we’ll sell or bring them to the second hand shop. We also came up with a system for our clothes. We only put pieces into the closet that we’ve worn since our return. The rest stays in the box. The pieces that are still in the box after some weeks/months probably won’t be worn in the future anyway so we can give them away with a good conscience.

It’s a funny thing coming home. Nothing changes. Everything looks the same, feels the same, even smells the same. You realize what’s changed is you.

– Scott Fitzgerald

We’ve learnt that we can do with less and want to keep that mind-set in favour of minimalism and simple living. Because when we have learnt one thing back in Switzerland than it is this: The huge variety of possibilities is tiring.


Overwhelmed we weren’t only by the size of our new house but also by the number of decisions we had to make directly after our return. Surely, while traveling we had to make decisions too. But they mostly had just immediate effects and only affected the two of us. But now they reach further: studies, residence, work, insurances, mobile plans, coordination of social gatherings, etc. Decisions after decisions. With clearly structured to-do lists and the attitude “One thing after another” we try to tackle this flood of decisions.

Other Challenges of a return

“Why can’t it just be easy?” The complexity and many dependencies of daily life surprised us. We couldn’t be by far as egoistic and non-conform as we had gotten used to in the last two years. Decisions have far-reaching consequences and suddenly there are people around us whose feelings are important to us and whose calendar has to be brought into agreement with ours.

Furthermore, we soon realised how our perspectives and focuses began to shift. Before returning we had a couple of ideals and ideas, which we wanted to put into action. We thought a lot about what we didn’t like about our previous life, what we wanted to avoid or with what we wanted to enrich our life. But in Switzerland some aspects had to undergo a reality check. We had to adjust or (momentarily) put some aside.


Hiking in the canton of Jura

To still not lose these insights in the vortex of normality, in the flood of requirements and the burden of the expectations of others is a personal challenge. We attempt to maintain a degree of egoism and non-conformity.

It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinions; it is easy in solitude to live after your own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

And every once in a while we’re overcome by wanderlust. While looking through pictures, while being threatened by an overload of trivial time-guzzlers, while peeking out of the window into the grey sky, while riding in crowded trains. “Can’t we just leave again?”

Another challenge had been the weather. During two years of travelling we hadn’t had such bad weather. The last weeks were predominantly grey and wet. So it’s easy to get dragged down, especially since we’ve spent so much time outside before. Now we spend more time indoors, on the computer (editing photos, seeking for jobs) or fitting out our new home. The daily new impressions are missing. We’re hoping for some better days, after all we’ve got a garden to enjoy and freshly planted vegetables and berries whose growth and flourish we want to observe.


Blackberry blossom and a busy bee in our garden

Has Switzerland changed or have we?

Basically we find that Switzerland hasn’t changed much since we left. But some things we did notice:

  • In the community where I grew up, and in many other places as well, whole hillsides have been built on.
  • The main station in Zurich is new and the train lines and numbers have changed too. With the result that we now feel like tourists at the train station. At least the ticket machines and the app of the Swiss Federal Railways still work the same way.
  • In many places you now pay one Swiss Franc to use the toilet! A step backwards for Switzerland. Such a scheme is mostly unheard of in Australia or New Zealand.
  • There are more sustainable products in the supermarkets but also more international ones.
  • The Swiss (or at least the ones from the lowland) seem stressed and heedless. They hurry through train stations and across streets without looking right nor left. They honk as soon as another driver takes too long to accelerate. They push into busses without letting other passengers disembark first.
  • In Zurich I coincidentally overheard a job interview in a restaurant. The employer tried to convince the candidate: “we don’t wear you out so quickly…”. So the idea is that sooner or later you’ll get worn out (just not everywhere as quickly)? That’s the way it works now in Zurich?
  • We also realised how many campervans and RVs drive around here. A further sign that our view of our surroundings has changed. We notice if many or few birds tweet, how the summer slowly finds it’s way into Switzerland’s forests, how people behave. 

FAQ after our return

  • Have you grown?
    Ehm, no. Is the memory deceptive? Do we appear more self-confident and thus bigger? Have we gained a better posture thanks to the long-distance hike?
  • Was it nice?
    Which is why we were gone for two years. Of course it was nice! It was totally awesome!
  • How does it feel to be back here?
    Sometimes as if we weren’t gone at all, sometimes as if we’re still away.
  • What are you doing now?
    Studying (soon), working/seekig jobs, earning money, gardening, enjoying our own four walls, spending time with family and friends, baking, cooking, reading, not loosing newly gained insights and attitudes, planning future (short) escapes.
  • Where do you live?
    In the agglomeration of Zurich (as “beautiful” as it sounds), in the house of Philippe’s grandfather with our own garden (yay!)
  • Which place did you enjoy the most?
    The favourite places from our travels: New Zealand, Tasmania, Norway. But every place had its appeal.
  • But now you’ll stay here, right?
    Well yeah, for a while…

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  • Patrice says:

    Was just getting caught up on some blog posts. I hear ya! Returning to reality is never fun. Especially with all the STUFF! Hope you guys are more settled now.

    • Nadine says:

      Hey Patrice
      Yes meanwhile we are more settled. But I still marvel at the variety of clothes that hang in my closet.
      Enjoy touring around in your mobile home!
      Cheers, Nadine

  • Yuri says:

    Thanks for this article. Same feelings after 3-4 month travels that i made few years ago. Greetings from Belarus.

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