I read something recently that mused about what “home” really means these days. Is it the place itself? The people? The possessions? The memories or feelings associated with a specific time of life? “Home” in even the most basic sense is a difficult concept to define. So how then does a traveler — who is rarely stationary for an extended period of time — define home?
I'm not out on the road traveling or living in some exotic locale. But I don't live at “home” anymore, either, and so this is a topic I’ve been musing over lately. I got a job about three hours away from where I grew up, and I'm continually surprised by the feelings I experience when I head back for a long weekend.
The Early Version of “Home”
I now live in a suburban atmosphere — I say atmosphere, because there isn't a big city nearby for Findlay to be a suburb to. In Findlay, there are street lights, apartment complexes, and sidewalks everywhere. It's quaint. It's safe. And it is somewhat unlike where I grew up.
I grew up in a small Ohio town, living on an 18-acre Christmas tree farm for the majority of my formative years. My middle school was right next to a mushroom farm, and nearly half the people in my class — all the way through high school — were involved in 4-H. We were good at football and academics, but woefully inadequate when it came to grasping the concept of the world outside our small-town borders. The most anyone grasped was usually the fact that, half an hour down the road, was Youngstown, one of the most dangerous cities in the state. But most people ignored this fact, and went on living in their bubbles.
I came to dislike home. I disagreed with many of the conservative views that surrounded me everyday, and I sought something… more. Perhaps just less tunnel vision and more tolerance. So I went away to college, and then studied abroad halfway around the world. I discovered the broadened worldview I’d been seeking, mostly through my travels, but also found my outlook on home changing.
Going Far to Appreciate the Near
I studied abroad in New Zealand for nearly five months my senior year of college. I spent almost five months in arguably one of the most beautiful countries on earth — going to school, traveling, meeting new people, and falling in love with the place. I went horseback riding on white sand beaches, went surfing in clear blue oceans, and frolicked through thick, green grass — in the wintertime. I left New Zealand in November, just at the end of spring, when everything was extra green and the skies were consistently clearer and bluer.
And as the plane I was riding broke through the thick cloud cover almost a full day later in Ohio, and I was greeted by a bleak, grey-and-brown landscape, I immediately felt nostalgic for the sunny skies and warm New Zealand breezes I’d just left behind. I didn’t think Ohio would ever be able to compare. I didn’t have much faith in home.
But, later that night, as the light was fading and a chilly wind was bringing with it a hint of snowflakes, I witnessed one of those brilliantly colorful Ohio sunsets that accompany any season. The wintry sky in my back yard was painted the most vibrant pinks and oranges, eventually fading into a deep purply-blue. Ohio can be beautiful, too. I had forgotten.
You forget a lot of things about home — or perhaps forget to properly appreciate them — when you’re away. And sometimes it takes more than simply coming home to remind you.
I think travel has the ability to open our eyes up to new places and cultures, but also make us re-evaluate where we came from. It makes us look at “home” through new eyes.
These days, I always like going home after having been away for a while. I'm reminded of the things that I miss — the brightness of the stars at night, the bullfrogs calling on hot summer evenings from the pond in our front yard, the endless lines of spruces and pines. I miss the sunsets — pink and orange and purple — as seen from our back yard.
I miss empty roads after midnight, even though driving at night at home actually makes me nervous now. There are no streetlamps. There often are no edge lines. Sometimes it’s pitch black. Every shadowy shape on the side of the road turns into a deer, every mailbox reflector the eye of some creature that will surely dive out in front of my car.
When I'm away, I rarely think of these things. In fact, I feel like most of us don't think of these things while we're away from home. We're not reminded that we even miss the sunsets and the bullfrogs until we return to see or hear them once again.
I think we often tend to focus on the negatives in respect to the places we call home. We rebel against where we come from. That teenage spirit and pessimistic outlook on home often follows us into our adult years. But, sometimes, a little thing — a swarm of fireflies on a June evening, the smell of elephant ears at a local fair — reminds us what we love about home.
A New Definition
Before I started traveling, I was obsessed with leaving home; of escaping. I didn’t think there was any merit in anything that home had to offer, aside from it being the place where my family lived. However, having left the confines of home a handful of times now, I’m starting to see things differently. My definition of “home” has changed from a place I was forced to grow up in to a place that holds memories — and good ones, at that. Perhaps the appropriate sense of appreciation only comes with age and time. Maybe I’ve just grown up, and grown into truly understanding how I perceive the concept of “home.”
Now, when I think of “home,” I think of fishing for catfish with Dad in the pond in our front yard, nursing a sick pigeon back to health, building a tree fort with my sister in the woods behind our house, picking wild blackberries with Grandpa so that Grandma could made a pie, playing golf cart tag in between the rows of baby trees in our back yard after dark, climbing trees, skinning our knees, and becoming seaweed monsters to scare our cousins.
For me, home is not solely the people or the places or the possessions. It’s the memories that weave them all together.
This may be good news for travelers musing over the definition of “home” and trying to decide if they have one or not. Home does not require an address. It does not require a house or fixed location. Rather, home is a collection of memories that contain people, places, and things that you love, and that you view as having shaped a part of your life.
And, most importantly, your definition of home and the things you associate with it can change. Much like travel, the concept of home isn’t necessarily a static thing. It can adapt and evolve just as you do. The home that you once vowed to escape may, in fact, become the one place you look forward to returning to someday. And that’s an encouraging thought no matter who you are.
What's YOUR definition of “home?” Has travel helped shape it?