Excerpted from LegalNomads.com. Jodi Ettenberg is from Montreal, a travel blogger and long-term traveller. She is a great writer and expresses things much better then me. I have edited the following piece quite a bit, but the ideas and wording are mostly hers. Thank you for writing so well Jodi.
One always feels some nostalgia for places you have been – memories of places that changed your world view. That nostalgia is also felt for home. Both home and foreign destinations change after leaving them for a period of time. But are we now also different from who we were when we set off? Have our values changed? Have the ways we relate to people (and things) shifted with time? And can we really get homesick when we technically have no fixed address?
You will have questions about life and happiness, about what home means and about the choices we each made to end up where we have.
Memories of places you have visited are tied to a former version of yourself, a version that is impossible to recover. And when you return to some places, the person you remember should have reappeared too. But of course people change. Life can be layered with each layer representing a place lived or a lesson learned. You will be constantly out of your comfort zone until suddenly you’re not.
It is difficult to understand feeling homesick despite having no city or place that felt like home. Maybe there is no point in understanding. Anywhere, certainly the places you become attached to as a traveller, can be “the place for you”. It is only on returning home that these questions often arise.
We leave a part of us in each of the places we visit. As humans, we have lots of parts to leave. The yearning for elsewhere and trade-offs we make to go there, are deeply personal to each of us as we travel: lack of stability comes from the traditional societal goal of having a home, or a physical community around you that remains more or less the same. But technology enables us all to have perpetually accessible communities.
When you think of your friends at home, you envy the consistency of their interaction, but in turn, they envy your wandering – the grass is greener…….. But probably, none of us would trade in the lives we’ve built for a different one.
As homesickness goes, you feel wistful for nothing and everything, all at once. The good and the bad are each knotted together into a safety net. What stands out above all else is the perfect storm of moments when everything aligns – people you care about, helping others, a place you love, delicious food, learning. If that’s not happiness, I don’t know what is. Perhaps it’s temporary, claiming that happiness as your own, but it happens often as you wander. As a result, you don’t have a wistfulness for a specific place or a specific person – though surely we each have memories that bring back those kinds of wistful feelings – but a more existential nostalgia for the confluence of great things.
How do you frame the consequences of your choices when you don’t yet know where they will lead? When first starting to travel, you have not yet learned all these lessons about yourself and the world, about adaptability and connection with others. Meeting an old friend can bring all this and more to the forefront, sifting out what has truly changed in the intervening years and how your movement has moulded you.
Your stories and travel experiences will change you, but that is not guaranteed. For some it doesn’t and there’s nothing wrong with that. And what travel is for you, learning a new language or skill might not be for someone else. A good part of this metamorphosis is simply getting older. But on reflecting on your years of being away from home, travel will be the primary driver of your change, give you perspective and make you stronger and excited to live each day as fully as you can.
Travel is a life of in-betweens, surviving without a plan for everything. It can be confounding for you and the culture you arrive in. Why would you leave the comforts of home or a very good job just to come and eat street food with a person from a different country? In the eyes of much more entrenched cultures with stricter gender roles you travel through, what you are doing is difficult for them to understand. “Where is you wife?” Don’t you have any friends?”.
In this feedback loop from East to West, the contrasts between both worlds are more apparent. The first time you come home for a few weeks, reverse culture shock can send you into a depression.
Home is Everywhere
Home is New York, Bangkok, Vancouver, Beijing. You build yourself a life premised on a talent for adaptability.
Your idea of home, the home you are sick for, is a mysterious, shifting place. The real reason to worry, though, is that there are still so many cities where you want to live. There are cultural tics to pick up as your own, to reshape yourself in small ways through encounters with those cities.
Even the most foreign and unrelatable place can feel like home, faster than you ever thought possible. So much to see and do, and overwhelmingly less time to do it. You continue on your path, a life of in-betweens.
You will think about loneliness and homesickness, about whether you regret the path you’ve chosen. But even when sick or tired or lonely or when you’ve failed, you feel thankful and lucky. Disparate places and people and smiles are always within reach, thousands of small, beautiful connections that comprise travel.
Your big picture plan may be as vague as it was when you set out. It does get daunting at times thinking about where it will take you. Even if you have no idea, that’s ok. It is all at once from nowhere and everywhere – you rarely know. Those in one place rarely really know it completely, but it’s easier to handle the many questions when you’ve got a structured life. We all have an adaptability; we find strength in the mysterious in-betweenness that defines us.
What is a place, after all, but a confluence of people you care about and routines you enjoy? It could be anywhere. “Where” is actually irrelevant so long as your mind is open to new experiences and your heart is open to love.
HOME – What it Provides. Tools, language and controlled fire are often cited as critical advancements in Homo Sapiens evolution but moving into dwellings may be just as important, if not more so. Beyond providing protection from elements and predators, homes create spaces where complex social interactions could take place and mates and offspring could become families. They enabled early humans to sleep securely and soundly, which has been shown to increase brain functions like learning and memory formation. Dwellings are critical not only for resting but also for thinking. By removing the distractions and stimuli of the outside world and providing a wholly predictable environment, they give and opportunity to use our mental powers to better deal with the world. Hence the word used to describe the feeling when we get when we stray too long: homesickness. But of course, any safe building – hostel, hotel or friends house – can function for all the above, wherever you might be in the world.