Do you know what the traveler’s most feared question is? “Where are you from?” Yep, seems fairly commonplace, right? Not quite. That short four-word question has the potential to completely dismantle the structure of a traveler’s universe. In the course of considering the answer, they may call their entire identity into question, doubting where they belong, what they value, and even who they are in the process.
Luckily, some travelers do recover from this brief mental interlude of unhinged, self-imposed uncertainty. After living in four countries and traveling through 23, I’ve been there and I’ve made it through. Here are my five tips to help you deal with the discomfort of cultural confusion and forge your own concept of home.
1. Home and family
“Home is where you were born.” If you ask anyone around you, that’s probably going to be the most likely answer. If you dig deeper, you’ll realize that where people are born is often where their family and friends are. So… the question is, is “home” where you were born or where your friends and family are? I think it’s the latter.
For me, I have four families and homes and am currently in the process of building my fifth. Turkey, Lebanon, Spain, Egypt, Switzerland… traveling is an incredibly intense experience that allows you to build meaningful bonds with people in a short amount of time. Wherever I’ve been and no matter for how long, I’ve always found a support system. A person or group of people who’ve had my back. That’s family, and that’s home in different corners of the world.
2. Home and comfort
“Home is where everything is easy.” You know your street, your neighborhood, city, the pharmacist, cashier, the language… it’s just easy. Or is it too easy?
It’s no secret that travel junkies are a bit masochistic. Why? I guess because discomfort reminds them they’re alive. In Izmir, Turkey, it took me about a month to figure out the commute from home to University. A whole month for a 10-minute walk. Believe me, no one loves to be late and reprimanded in a foreign language, but there’s just something about wandering around and getting lost in curiosity. Once you find comfort in the unknown, it starts to feel like home.
3. Home and adventure
“Home is where the adventure is.” It used to be that coming back to Barcelona after spending time abroad would be incredibly hard. The main reason being that I was just bored. The adventure was over and everything back home was too familiar.
That was until I returned from my study abroad in Turkey and my friend and I decided to spice things up. We brought our experience abroad home with us. We would meet up to discover new streets, try new activities, and taste new restaurants. Doing this taught me that if adventure is my home, I could find it anywhere, even in the city I was raised in.
4. Home and things
“Home is where my stuff is.” When I was little, I used to dream about living in a huge mansion surrounded by manicured lawns and fountains. I guess I read too much Jane Austen. Now I live out of a suitcase, and I couldn’t be happier.
Traveling has taught me that home isn’t a synonym for possessions, nor does it have to include them. You can be at home anywhere and not even live there. For me, home is felt, not owned.
5. Home and being yourself
“Home is where you can be yourself.” True and false – when you’ve been abroad, have you ever felt like you were a different person? Maybe more daring, or relaxed? If yes, that’s totally normal. It happens to me all the time. New places, cultures, and languages bring out different ways of thinking and acting.
I used to believe that Barcelona was the only place I could be myself. Now I’ve discovered that every new place I travel to or live in is an opportunity for me to reinvent “me.” Travel has allowed me to discovered things about myself that I would never have known otherwise.
I am home
“But Pat, I’m confused. Where are you from?” I think you should answer that yourself. I learned that the only way to truly experience the place you’re living or traveling is to embrace it. For me, home is where I am at the moment.