It’s been two-and-a-half weeks since we returned to the U.S., and with all the family functions, meeting up with friends, and more long-distance buses, I’ve hardly had time to really process the fact that we’ve been back. Our plan of traveling up the west coast slowly has proven to be a good way to transition back to “real life”, but I’ve been so busy and tired that I haven’t really given our homecoming much thought.

Of course, there is the constant undercurrent of stress related to those mundane, little details like finding a job, finding a new apartment, and figuring out how to navigate the incredibly complicated world of cellphone plans… but for the most part, it sort of feels like we’re still on the road (because we are!).

When I do find the time for a little reflection, it’s difficult to answer the existential questions that started lurking in my mind as soon as we bought our return flights four months ago. Will I have changed? In a good or bad way? Will I be content to resume normal life, or will I be afflicted with the consuming wanderlust that seems to make chronic travelers unhappy with an everyday existence? Will I be one of those insufferable people who drone endlessly on about “Down in South America…”? Will the transition make me wish for an escape to the carefree times of the trip? Or will I settle down quite happily back in Seattle?

Early on in our journey, I remember saying to Craig, “I hope this doesn’t change me in ways I don’t want to be changed.” Why was I so worried? Well, I loved living in Seattle, I loved my job and coworkers, and I loved hanging out with my friends. I really didn’t want the trip to mess with my bubble of contentment. But since I loved Craig more than all of those things, away we went. And although the realities of coming back keep me awake some nights, I don’t regret my decision to go on this crazy adventure with Craig, and I don’t think I ever will despite any changes it might have wrought. Besides, I can’t really say that traveling for a year didn’t have its perks!

But will my fear come true? Will everyday existence pall in comparison to one year of constant travel?

I’m sure it will at times. It does for everybody, even without a year of South American memories to compare it to. But on the whole, it’s been good to be back. It’s been wonderful to see my brand-new niece, and get to know her older sister a bit better. Lovely to see so many family and friends, who have all genuinely supported us through the year. Their continued generosity and care only reinforce the belief that there’s really nothing that can compare to the people that love and care for you. It’s been good for me to heighten my appreciation for them.

As for work, I’m strangely very interested in returning as soon as I can. It might be something that I’ll regret later, but I’ve honestly thought a lot about work while I’ve been gone, and I’ve missed the beauty of nursing. There is a lot of ugly in it too, though, and it’s definitely possible that I’ve been remembering my work through rose-colored glasses. Still, I’ve been lazing around South America for one whole year and it’ll be good to feel productive again, I think.

And then there are the many other things I look forward to that only have to do with the prospect of not moving to a new place every few days, and not living out of a backpack. I imagine unpacking my clothes and feeling as if I’ve just been on a huge shopping spree with no cost. I’m remembering all my books, DVDs, and yarn. I can’t wait to be back in my ‘hood, and knowing my city so well that I can name which bus to take from point A to point B without looking it up in a guidebook or asking a tourist office. Calling up a friend to go have a drink in a local bar is no longer a pipe dream. And we’ll be speaking English! All the time! After feeling unmoored for a year, the thought of being settled and having a routine again is intoxicating.

There will be changes. I can’t promise myself an entirely smooth transition. The possibility of disappointment, disillusions, and reverse culture-shock is still very present. We haven’t even reached Seattle quite yet, and there might be a lot of unpleasant surprises waiting for us there. But I went through that entire year in South America with a (sometimes misguided) sense of fierce optimism, and I’m hoping it won’t desert me here. After all, there’s a lot to look forward to in the Wongenberg future!

Fooling around with Ainsley Pi, the winner of The Cutest Niece on the Planet award for 2015, with an honorable mention in the Cheeks category.



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