A Traveler's Definition of 'Home'

By Michael Bennett, Ed.D. | Originally published 4/7/2016

Home is where the heart is ... Or is it?

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to host a discussion about the transformational power of travel at the REI store in Santa Monica, California. As with most of the discussions I facilitate, this one took on a life of its own from the start. People shared incredible stories of travel, adventure, and transformation. One attendee met his wife while on a 4-year journey around the world. Another was moved to tears by a group of Russian students singing 'Country Road' to him as a thank you gift for visiting their school. And one man's entire outlook on life was transformed after he spent 2 years in Africa while serving in the Peace Corps. 

Perhaps the most interesting discussion we had that evening, however, focused on the concept of 'home.' As we shared stories of how travel has changed our lives, we began talking about the challenges and difficulties some people experience when returning home to families, friends, and the places we live after their travels had ended.

During the discussion, someone asked a profound and provocative question: 'What is home, anyway?' Intrigued, we chewed on that question for the better part of 30 minutes. In doing so, the group came up with 6 examples or definitions of what the term 'home' meant to them: 

Home is a Place: For some people, home is a physical location or building -- perhaps the house or apartment or town we grew up in. The smells of mom's cooking or the freshly mowed grass, the sounds of the dog barking or the rain falling on the roof at night while we sleep, and the memories we created there with our friends and family while growing up all hold special places in our minds and hearts. And though we may not live there any longer, that building or town is always going to feel like home to us.

Home is a Culture: Home could also be a sense of culture, a particular way of life and set of social norms that are common to a city, region, or country. This is why many people experience culture shock when traveling to a new part of the world: We leave one culture and enter another that is completely new and disorienting to us. Whether it is understanding the language, getting acclimated to social etiquette, or figuring out how to order food, traveling abroad and immersing ourselves in another culture can be challenging. And while a key part of traveling is learning about and experiencing other cultures, traditions, and people, returning 'home' to our own culture can feel better than that long, hot shower we take when we get in. 

Home is a Person (or People): As they say, 'Home is where the heart is.' Which is why for lots of folks, their sense of 'home' is really anywhere their family, friends, and loved ones are. For them, it doesn't matter whether they are traveling the world for a week or a year or a decade, living in one place, or constantly moving every few years. As long as they are with their loved ones, they feel like they are at 'home.'

Home is an Activity: The feeling people get from performing or participating in an activity can also feel like home for some. For whitewater rafters, there is no better feeling than being on the water, running a rapid, and feeling the water splash over you as you battle the immense power of the river; for art fans, exploring new museums can be both euphoric and serene; and for culinary travelers, indulging in exotic cuisines and wines offers a sense of the familiar and the sublime. Regardless of where they are, for some people, so long as they are doing what they love, they feel like they are at 'home.'

Home is an Experience: For some people, home may be the feelings they get and the emotions they experience from a specific event (or series of events). For instance, sitting down by a river and listening to the water rush by and the animals talking to one another can foster a sense of community and oneness with nature; for others such as myself, I felt an intense sense of being at 'home' while spending a semester abroad, making new friends, engaging in rich discussions about politics and religion and life, and reconnecting with my sense of self. 

Home is a Mindset: Finally, some people described 'home' as a mindset of peace and quiet and calmness that they carried with them wherever they went. They stayed open to experiences, went with the flow, and trusted themselves and others and the universe to take care of them. In doing so, they had a feeling of being at 'home' within themselves, whether they were hiking in Patagonia, dogsledding in Norway, or exploring food markets in Thailand.

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The common denominator for all of these definitions and descriptions is that 'home' -- in it's various forms and at its most basic -- can really be anything that brings travelers a sense of familiarity, balance, stability, security, peace, and happiness.

Which, of course, is a juxtaposition in and of itself: Travel is about getting out into the unknown, exploring the world and people and places that are unfamiliar to us, discovering new lands and new ideas and new perspectives.

So how is it that travel helps us find or feel more at home? 

Because travel is more than about simply exploring the world. Perhaps more importantly, travel is the internal and personal journey of exploration and discovery we undertake while roaming the globe that enables us to explore -- and ultimately find -- that sense of 'home' within ourselves.

And at the end of the day, isn't that what we are all seeking when we travel: The feeling of being at home in our own skin, of being at peace with who we are and with those that we meet along the way, and of having a sense of familiarity and understanding of ourselves while at the same time looking at the world with a wide-eyed sense of wonder and excitement?

Michael

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