Back in Sweden but with a new perspective after our gap year

Beautiful Sweden, my childhood home

Summer days in Sweden
Happy summer days in Sweden, just as I remember them.

Landing in Sweden felt just like it always does, great happiness to see my childhood country and all the fun memories it brings back. The vast green landscape you can see already from the airplane is filled with pine trees, lakes, farmland and cute red wooden houses. This is the land of plenty, a land of outdoor adventures and a country geared up for families just like ours.

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Love being together with Grandpa again

As we came out of the arrivals gate Ingrid and Scott spotted grandpa straight away  and ran into his arms in a happy hug and reunion. Last time we were together was 6 months ago in Koh Chang Thailand, where we spent 2 weeks together enjoying amazing tropical beaches and glorious Thai food.

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Koh Chang beach at sunset

Although I have not lived in Sweden for 20 years, it still strangely feels like coming home. Its the scent of wet tarmac and wild flowers, the silver birches rustling in the wind, empty roads and wild berries, wide open fields and forests and the sound of chirping of birds and happy children that brings it all to life. A year of travels did not change any of that, in fact it made the feeling of familiarity and recognition even more prominent.

This was also the first time in a year that we were going somewhere we actually already knew, somewhere we had been before and the kids were very excited about that and especially about seeing their Aunty, my sister, and their cousins.

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Cycling with the cousins

Less things, more time

Coming back to Sweden did feel slightly different than usual though….. After a year of living very basic lifestyle on the road I see things we take for granted with new eyes. I now clearly see the abundance of food in the supermarket, a fully functioning and superbly equipped kitchen, reliable electricity and plenty of hot water, houses that are safe and well insulated, endless amount of toys and many fantastic leisure facilities right on your door step.

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Comfortable living in Sweden

This is the amazing life people live in Sweden and in many other European countries and on the surface all these material things make our life look very different from typical family life in Bolivia, Nicaragua, China or Vietnam.

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Typical street in Nicaragua
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Common mode of transport in Nicaragua
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Paper airplane session in China
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Chinese family we made friends with in Pingyao without speaking or understanding eachother

But in visiting these countries it has clearly showed us that underneath these material differences people are very much the same in that we all want to live a happy, healthy life among friends and family. The material abundance we typically strive for in the west make little or no difference to peoples general happiness.

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The 4 bags with all our belongings for our year of travel

While travelling, we have experienced this first hand living out of 2 suitcases with very few belonging and not really missing or pining for any material things. The truth of the matter is that we have actually felt freeer without the burden of owning so many things.

With low cost travel and cheap accommodation we have also learned to make due with less convenience and practicality in living, getting around and doing things.  

What may seem arduous, mundane time wasting at home has many times been part of the adventure and the fun while away. Simple getting from one place to another that can seem like a waste of precious time in our busy London life was typically the best way of discovering and experiencing new things and places while travelling.

Moto taxi in Bolivia
Moto taxi in Bolivia is the best way to get to where you need to go and a great way to enjoy the scenery at the same time

As I think about it and try to understand the difference in how I have come to view and experience these things I keep coming back to time. It is the time we put to our disposal that make all the difference in how we appreciate what we do with it rather than the actual actions themselves.

So, although we have managed with less things over the past year we have had the luxury of more time. With more time comes less of a need to do things quickly and make the most of every minute. Instead, we filled our days with more mundane things such as finding the best playgrounds and fruit stalls, wandering without a destination in mind, looking at insects and animals along the roads, mending our clothes, going to the market and cooking together, playing tickle fights and games etc. In taking our time doing these things we found that we actually enjoyed them more and the need to always use the time wisely and effectively to see the sights and visit the typical tourist attractions decreased.

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We preferred cooking together in Bolivia to eating out
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Looking for fruit in Xian, China rather than temples

Simple pleasure that cant be bought

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Wild strawberries

The other change I have started to notice is that counting the pennies on our travel really changed the way we look at consumption and buying things. I increasingly find that I only want to buy what I really need, Paul is doing the same and the kids ask for less too. The endless options and variants in the typical western shops bring no or very little added value to our life and with that insight we are happy to do without it.

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Endless choice of dairy products in a typical Swedish supermarket

It is not the things or food itself that provide the pleasure but simply how we view it and what we make of it. None of the food we bought in the huge supermarket (bar the delicious crisp bread perhaps) could provide any more pleasure than the Perch we caught, gutted, fried and ate while hanging out on lake Hjalmaren with my family.

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Fishing and catching a Perch

The pleasure is not really in the size or the taste of the fish but simply having caught it and then sitting down together eating it regardless of the actual taste…something that cannot be achieved with any fish bought in a shop.

No berries could be more delicious than those picked and eaten on my friend, Marias land, or the oranges in our own garden in Bolivia 2 months earlier..even if the actual taste is better when you buy them.

So, having done this amazing trip on a shoestring I take more and more pleasure in the little things. The same is true for the time spent in Sweden where I most enjoyed picking wild berries and eating them, digging for worms, fishing, rowing the little rowing boat, digging trenches in the sand on the beach, enjoying a coffee in a sunny sheltered spot and reading Swedish comics to the kids.

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Doing nothing much and loving every moment

The thing that always makes time in Sweden even more special though is just doing all of the above with close family and friends. So I guess this is a good warm up for our next stop and adventure, Glasgow, where we will try living for a year close to family on my husbands side.

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Glasgow

There will be exciting and challenging times ahead as we will try to apply the things we have learned on our travels to our everyday life in Scotland…living simply, enjoying the little things in everyday life and freeing up time to do more of the things we really love.

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