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Coming Home After A Year Abroad At 16

Overthinking things

Overthinking things

Editor's Note: This is the first in a short series of guest posts by Leif, the blogger behind The Runaway Guide.

[M]y hands are clammy, my legs are twitching and my neighbor probably thinks I’m suffering from severe airplane food flatulence. I just can’t help it though. All the unknowns that await my arrival plague my consciousness.

How will my mother and sister react? Will any of my friends still be around? Will I be able to find myself in society again? What am I going to do when I get home? The anxieties are endless.

Suddenly, the sound of the planes screeching wheels wakes me from my distressed daze. I am instantly struck with joy, fear, relief and apprehension all at once. It is a feeling of a new journey, a life altering change, and I realize that I am truly home at last.

Reuniting with my mother at Newark Airport

Reuniting with my mother at Newark Airport

The Reunion

I wasn’t sure how my family would receive me. My mother never condoned my trip. In fact she sent out the world's police forces to put an end to it. However, more so than being angry, my family lived in fear and worry. As a result, I was terrified that they would not forgive me and maybe even ask me to leave.

To my relief, they welcomed me home with open arms. In no time, the familiarity and comfort of being home returned.

The great thing about coming home is that no matter what you do or how long you are away for you can always return. Being away makes you appreciate your family and hometown that much more. I sometimes wonder whether part of the reason why I travel is simply to renew my appreciation for home.

My Albanian beach fort

My Albanian beach fort

Finding The New Me

For an entire year I had existed on the fringes of adopted societies around the world. I defined myself and drew confidence from the fact that I was a world citizen, a nomad and a rebel. I felt as though there was nothing I couldn’t do and nowhere I couldn’t go, except…my own home.

During the first few weeks, the culture shock, solitude and fear of returning to the person I once was sent pangs of anxiety through my heart. I didn’t know how or where to fit into a society so familiar yet now so foreign. I refused to leave my room while I struggled to create a new me.

In time I learned how to incorporate the old me with the new. I found balance. I realized that I could be both a traveler at heart and still have a place in society. I didn’t have to submit to cultural norms unconditionally and I could forge my own person. With no one to look up to, I decided I would become my own role model.

My experiences abroad, that so many people assumed were a misguided waste of time, taught me a profound confidence. The things I learned through my travels irrevocably changed who I was and who I believed I could be. The new me was stronger, surer, and had the courage to take greater risks in my day-to-day life.

Travel is life altering at any age. This can be frightening to say the least. It can often uproot conceptions of the self, but in the long run it will make you stronger, more unique, and ultimately happier.

Achieving my goals

Achieving my goals

Purpose Through Perspective

Although I had gained confidence, I still wasn’t sure what I was going to do next. The prospects of returning to a sedentary and predictable life dictated by a routine was anything but attractive to the new me. I chose to carve my own path.

I harnessed my new perspective and decided I would become my own boss. My travels in the developing world had made me appreciate the relative wealth and resources I was blessed with. I had a car, fast internet, and no overhead. I took business courses at a community college and started my own delivery service, All Kind Delivery.

After a year though, I realized that making deliveries would not suffice my growing thirst for knowledge. I sold the business in exchange for an education.

My decision to attend University and later graduate school with the United Nations was based on my ambition toward gaining the necessary skills to one-day ameliorate the human suffering I had witnessed.

At the University of California Santa Barbara, I became a Global Studies major, specializing in subjects such as economic development and conflict resolution. The potential practical application of what I learned excited me and this led to my academic success.

Finally, 7 years later, with a wealth of world knowledge and travel experience, I decided to start my own travel blog. I had seen Nomadic Matt’s Travel Site, and was irrevocably inspired.

Not only would it allow me to be my own boss and travel the world, but it would provide a medium by which I could share my love of travel, my story and the issues I felt strongly about. To me, nothing was and still is more ideal than becoming a successful travel blogger.

All of these accomplishments and ambitions were a direct result of the perspective granted from my very first journey and subsequent homecoming.

If I Can Do It, So Can You

As far as homecomings go, few are under such intense circumstances. If a psychologist had diagnosed me at the time, they would have probably destined me to a life of drug use and failure.

But despite all the statistics against me, I overcame and even flourished. My relationship with my family grew even stronger, and after overcoming culture shock, I became a more self-assured person.

Finally, with my newfound courage and perspective, I started a business, went to college, and started my blog, The Runaway Guide.

Yes long-term travel is frightening and it is a leap of faith, but I assure you, as long as you stay positive and trust in the universe, everything will work out in the end.

As Honore De Balzac so truthfully states, “Our greatest fears lie in anticipation.” Stop worrying about the future, live in the present, and go travel! I guarantee you won’t regret it when you finally return home.


Although I managed to survive for a year alone with no money at 16, I wouldn’t want to re-live it. It was a tough year, full of suffering for both my parents and I. Yes, it all worked out in the end, but I could have met my death on multiple occasions and not returned home at all.

I hope that everyone will go travel at some point but I highly recommend you do so with your parents support and with sufficient funds.


About the Author:

The Runaway GuideWhen Leif was 16 he ran away from home and explored much of Europe and the Middle East without a dime. He is currently working on a book about this adventure as he continues to make new ones traveling the world.

Through his experiences, advice and adventures, he hopes to prepare, empower, and inspire others to travel. Follow him on Facebook or visit him at

Planning a trip? Go Backpacking recommends:

Shalu Sharma

Thursday 21st of February 2013

Welcome back. There is no place like home. You can be away at the best and exciting of places, but at the end of the day, home is home. Did you really run away from home and went round the Middle East without any money?


Tuesday 12th of February 2013

I'm about to begin my extended adventure and I have some family that try and scare me out of it every time I see them. It's become taxing and I have a hard time being polite.

I'm excited for my adventure and how the world will change me.

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