When Travel Leaves You Longing For Home
One of the most difficult parts of living abroad is the feeling of never quite being at home. It’s helpful that my spouse and I are from the same hometown because I always have those familiar roots with me. But I have to admit I’m still not 100% at home here and that is an annoying feeling to live with for any duration of time.
I sometimes think “home” is where family is but people leave home all the time and plant new roots somewhere else. Other times I think home is where my stuff is. Is that a terrible thought? I almost think it is; that I would equate an “at home” feeling with where my material possessions are.
Author Timothy Ferris, in his book The 4-Hour Work Week, wrote something that resonated with me:
Extended travel is the perfect excuse to reverse the damage of years of consuming as much as you can afford. It’s time to get rid of clutter disguised as necessities before you drag a five-piece Samsonite set around the world. That is hell on earth.
I’ve moved a lot in the past four years, the motivation always being the opportunity to travel. For my home, I’ve had to get rid of a lot of things as well as learn to stop myself from buying things I couldn’t justify. It really is much more pleasant to move around when you don’t have a lot of crap holding you back. Just look at kids and their parents. Who looks bogged down and exhausted; the mother with the gigantic, snow tire stroller with all kinds of crap loaded onto it plus a giant handbag, or the toddler walking next to her with nothing more on him than the clothes on his back and the shoes on his feet? It doesn’t matter why the mother has all of that stuff or how prepared she is.
I want to be the toddler.
A big part of being an expat and a traveller is moving and being on-the-go. The fewer things I have to move with me, the easier it is to actually move. In fact, I wrote a post recently proclaiming the benefits of travelling with as little as possible. As for living a less encumbered life, Ferris writes:
There are tons of things in your home and life that you don’t use, need, or even particularly want…Whether you’re aware of it or not, this clutter creates indecision and distractions, consuming attention and making unfettered happiness a real chore. It is impossible to realise how distracting all the crap is —whether porcelain dolls, sports cars, or ragged t-shirts—until you get rid of it.
I try to live by that statement daily. My current apartment isn’t completely clutter-free but it is definitely on the minimal side. At all times I am ready to move again, at the drop of a hat, whether it’s to a new apartment or a new country for just the weekend. Everything is sort of already packed, it is so orderly. Being clean and clutter-free makes this sort of thing much easier. My “on-the-go” mindset is almost always on while my “at home” mindset rarely is.
Which is the problem. I’m always ready to go somewhere else because wherever I am right now isn’t it. This is the sort of feeling you might be called ungrateful for because of “all the people who would love to be as lucky as you!“. But there are pluses and minuses to any decision and it doesn’t make sense to to be in denial or pretend the negative aspects don’t exist.
So I’ll just say it: while travelling, living abroad and “being the toddler” is fun, exciting and sometimes life-changing, that feeling of being at home is just as priceless. Relish in that feeling whenever you can.
I still don’t know what makes a place “home”. At the moment, I think: Home is where you leave all of your stuff, because you can. It (the home, not your stuff) will be there when you get back. Not bringing it with you is the point, but knowing it will be there whenever you decide to return is also the point.