“Home” is a loaded word with many meanings at the simplest of times; and a term that becomes even more complicated when travelling long-term or full-time.
What is home on the road? You’ve been travelling a long time now – do you ever feel like you’re home? Or maybe you’re travelling because you’re looking for home? – Dan
I’ve been proverbially homeless for over 10 years. And during that time, I’ve let the “h” word fall from my lips in a variety of contexts, some of which have been a bit contradictory. I don’t think it’s necessary to select just one prevailing definition of home; rather, it’s interesting to explore the various ways and means we find home on the road.
Below I’ll explore a few different definitions of home on the road, as purported by fellow long-term travellers who shared with me their own definitions of home.
Home: Where You Grew Up
A common definition of home for many people (travellers and expats alike) is the place where we grew up, assuming we spent the majority of our childhood in one place. This could be as broad as the town or even country of our childhood, or as specific as a house.
For me, Toronto is that place, but because I have no burning desire to return there to live again, I tend to refer to it as my hometown rather than my home. But it also bears noting that for legal purposes my home and permanent residence remains in Toronto.
(See also: Managing Canadian Legalities While Travelling Long-Term)
“In my case, I’d have to say it’s Montreal. I returned there for two weeks in late October after being away and travelling non-stop for over three years…and I did get emotional when for the first time in years I changed cities and I wasn’t lost.” – Sylvain
Home: Where your Family Is / Loved Ones Are
As an extension of the above definition, many people refer to where their immediate family is as home. It’s that safe place you can always return to whenever the proverbial crap hits the fan and you need to retreat to a place of comfort. There’s nothing like a hug from mom and some home-cooked comfort food to cure all that ails.
“Home is where my mom resides. I don’t need to worry if I’m sick, I can watch movies or read some books for the whole day and will always have my favourite food ready. The most peaceful place in the earth…” – Munmun
“What I didn’t lose during the great recession I gave away. I’m retired now and as free as I was when a young man. My adult son keeps a room for me in his home in CA that allows me to travel the world. I do grow travel weary and go “home” every few months to rest. When I’m out in the unknown it’s nice to have that spiritual connection.” – Thomas
Home: Where you Feel Comfortable / Who You’re Comfortable With
Maybe home is simply somewhere you feel comfortable, where you can let it all hang out and don’t have to maintain any pretences. This could be a place in the world that resonates for you, or a specific person who can offer that comfort.
Last year while I was busy living in Peru and calling it “home” (I was getting my residency and was right into the nesting process), my entire life was pulled out from under me in one fell swoop. After a couple of months of feeling sorry for myself, I realized I needed to leave Peru – the change in circumstances had decimated any feeling I had of being home. I had no idea where to go. A friend suggested I go “home” – or at least to a place where I felt at home, in a nurturing environment. That place ended up being Florida, where I had a close friend with open arms and an extra room for me to stay as long as I wanted to. It was absolutely perfect; I had lots of autonomy and alone time, as well as lots of fun and healing time with my friend. The six weeks I spent there were invaluable for getting me emotionally back on my feet; I even returned later in the year for another couple of months to spend the holidays. In fact, my experience there was so powerful that I plan to return to Florida (or rather, to my friend in Florida) regularly.
“Home is a private space, somewhere that I can sleep at night without having to consider others. A space where I am free to selfishly put me first. It can be a bedroom, a tent, a mattress in a living room, or even a couple of pods in container hostels. It’s somewhere I feel safe leaving my pyjamas under the pillow, and I don’t have to think about when I turn on or off lights.” – Hannah
Home: Where you Are / Where you Sleep
An easy and common contextual definition of home on the road is often wherever you’re sleeping; a definition that strengthens the longer you stay there. Let’s say you’re staying somewhere on the road for a few weeks; few people would call that a home-like scenario, but by the same token, if you’re out for the evening it’s easy to cap off the night with a statement like “it’s time for me to go home and get some sleep”.
In this case, it’s not so much that you feel like the place you’re staying is home with a capital H; but it’s an easy reference, and some travellers indeed feel that home is wherever they lay their head for the night.
“We’re full-time travellers. It’s my girlfriend, our two cats, and me. For me, home is wherever we are, as long as we’re together.” – Lance
“My home is wherever I have my personal space on the road. I am from NZ and I have my property rented out for income….it doesn’t feel like my home anymore. I don’t have family there as they passed away. I make my home and family as I go. For the last four months it has been Gili air, Indonesia.” – Deborah
Home: Where your Stuff / Backpack Is
This definition of home on the road is a bit different from the one above in that it is more related to stuff than it is to where you sleep. It’s commonly used by long-term travellers who lack a solid definition of a specific place being home, or who simply feel comfortable on the road (and in their own skin).
“I’ve travelled and/or moved a lot over the last 35(plus) years but I’m a Newfoundlander by birth so it is still “back home” to me…as it is for almost every NFLD’er I know. Quite frankly, I don’t think this will ever change. That said, and through all my moves/travels, there is also a pull for wherever it is that holds my limited ‘stuff’ – art, memento’s, treasured Knick Knacks, etc.” – Sherry
“I have learned through downsizing that home is where I have a FEW things that make me happy (books, art-related items, my dog) and basic creature comforts, such as food, and a comfortable place to sleep.” – Cathy
Home on the Road – A Combo Definition
As I was writing this article I was chatting with a travelling friend about the topic. I realized that for me, home on the road is a multi-faceted combination of all the above definitions.
- Toronto was home for 30 years and is where my family lives, so it’s a kind of home, even if I don’t foresee myself living there again.
- My friend in Florida is home as well; her company and her spacious house being a sanctuary for me.
- When I’m staying somewhere for a long while, I generally choose comfortable places, and thus most places where I sleep are also home.
- I also like my stuff, and given that just about everything I own fits into a suitcase, it’s also a home of sorts since it goes with me wherever I go.
I don’t think it’s necessary for any one place to be home, or for that home to be a forever kind of place. In my last 10+ years on the road, I’ve had a few home-bases; these places were home for the time that I lived there. Just because they aren’t home for me now doesn’t detract from the fact that they once felt that way.
“Home is where I have lived the longest out of my own volition – I have two cities that keep drawing me back to them, and have lived some years in both. Both are not in the country where I grew up, one is a few hundred, the other a few thousand miles away. I also feel strangely at home at the place my family originates from, although I have never lived there and none of my family has lived there since before I was born. All three cities are multi-million, melting pot harbour cities, looking back on more than 2,000 years of history. So I now feel I have three homes to choose from, and recently have decided that this doesn’t have to be conflicting at all.” – Stephanie
If I were to boil home down to an even more concise definition for myself, I’d say that home on the road for me is a place where I feel comfortable (physically and emotionally) – comfortable enough even if I’m sick, which is never fun! It’s where I have freedom and autonomy, near people I love to spend time with, and with access to a healthy diet and lifestyle. It’s a place with love and laughter, social time and solitude alike.
Epilogue: Travelling to Find Home
Some people believe that many long-term/full-time travellers are searching for something, and that something is often home. When I started travelling full-time in 2007, I am quite sure that I wasn’t looking for home (nor was I running away from anything). I was looking for adventure and I wanted to explore and discover the world. I felt quite at home in myself; at home enough to sell everything I owned and go against societal norms (at the time) by leaving all traditional definitions of home behind me.
Now, in my 11th year on the road, I must admit I’m tired of bouncing around. Now, I am searching for home – or at least the next place to call home for as long as it feels good. I get a taste of it here and there in each of the above definitions, and now I’m ready to combine all these definitions into a place where I can plant some roots. It may not be forever, but I’d like it to be for now.
Quotes about Home on the Road
Please enjoy these famous quotes about home:
“The ache for home lives in all of us. The safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.” – Maya Angelou
“A man travels the world over in search of what he needs and returns home to find it.” – George A. Moore
“The best journey always takes us home.”
“Home is a place you grow up wanting to leave and grow old wanting to get back to.” – John Ed Pearce
“Home is not a place….it’s a feeling.”
“A house is made of bricks and beams. A home is made of hopes and dreams.”
“Home: a place your feet may leave but your heart will always be.”
“The magic thing about home is that it feels good to leave, and it feels even better to come back.” – Wendy Wunder
“Home’s where you go when you run out of homes.” – John le Carré
“At the end of the day, it isn’t where I came from. Maybe home is somewhere I’m going and never have been before.” – Warsan ShireDear Nora, home on the road
4 comments on “Dear Nora: Home on the Road – What IS it?”
Excellent question and I connected with many of the responses. I also struggle with the question “where are you from?” Some people are content just to be able to place my accent within the borders of a country (Australia). While others roll their eyes and say “I know that, but where in Australia?” – they don’t realise the answer isn’t that simple.
Ha ha – amen to that – the answer isn’t so simple! When asked where I’m from, I generally say I’m originally from Canada, but that I haven’t lived there in 11 years. The followup question then becomes “where have you been living”…which is where it gets trickier! 😉
Great article! 🙂
I sill stand by what I said but I really liked some of the other answers as well. It’s true that the definition of home can get complicated. We’ve started answering “Where are you from?” with “It’s complicated.” We haven’t been at it for nearly as long as you have but we’ve learned so much in the time we’ve been at it. We just realized one day that the measly 2 weeks of vacation we were getting, would never be enough to see everything.
Yes, “it’s complicated” is also a great answer – ha ha! Glad you’re on the road and enjoying more than 2 weeks of traveling per year now! 🙂