I think that the fear of unfamiliarity is among the top reasons why people don’t travel. Most of us desire the new experiences that traveling can bring into our lives, but the truth is that finding yourself in the middle of a completely foreign environment often creates as much anxiety as it does exhilaration. Sometimes I would like people to think that I’m a fearless adventurer, diving recklessly into the unknown with unwavering certainty. In reality, whenever I arrive somewhere new, whether I’m staying for a few days or a year, I find myself adapting comfortable, old habits to my new environment. I’ve come to realize that “home” really isn’t a specific place. It’s actually possible to feel at home anywhere in the world because there are certain elements that can make any city feel like home.
A Place to Retreat
When I first started traveling, I was willing to settle for the cheapest accommodation I could find. Brent and I slept in window-less, box-like rooms with zero floor space. I coped by squeezing my eyes shut and repeating the unofficial budget travelers’ mantra: I won’t be spending much time in this room anyway. Nowadays, Brent and I are increasingly investing in guesthouses where we’re less likely to find cockroaches in the shower and mold stains on the bed. There’s something about lying on a rock-hard mattress, and staring at the water stains on the walls that causes me to start questioning everything that I’m doing with my life. In order to feel at home anywhere in the world, I need to sleep in a space that I can think of as a temporary home base. A clean, comfortable room might cost a few (or even a few dozen) dollars more, but I’ve begun to recognize the value of having a relaxing place where I can decompress from a day of taking on a new city.
A Place to Write
It could be a quiet corner in a guesthouse common room, or a mellow coffee shop with particularly delicious espresso, but I need a place that can act as my writing zone. I like having a specific place where I can go to kick my mind into writing mode – particularly when my mood is a little unmotivated or uninspired. I try to find writing zones that achieve my perfect combination of ambient noise, which is something between complete silence and a loud crowd.
A Place to Chill-Out
At the risk of coming across as an alcoholic, my preferred chill-out place is usually a bar. Although the kind of bar I like has some specific characteristics, it’s still generic enough that it can exist anywhere in the world. I like low-lighting, laid-back atmospheric music, and cheap drinks. It could be a small tapas restaurant in Spain, a pub in Ireland, or an izakaya in Japan. Bars are almost always easy places to meet other travelers and locals, and I’m also kind of fascinated by drinking culture in various countries.
A Way to Get Around
Somewhat paradoxically, to really feel comfortable in a place, I also need to know how to escape it. I’ve lived in downtown Toronto right next to a metro station, and I’ve lived in rural France 5km away from the next closet town: I never feel fully at home in a place until I know how to get around, as well as how to get out to nearby cities. The best way to travel might be by foot, bus or bike, but I’m always happy as long as it’s easy for me to go exploring. This seems to be the only way to balance my itchy feet with my desire to have some stability. I feel most content when I have the ability to go out and travel around a whole country, while still having one consistent place where I can return.
A Place to Run
My level of comfort in each place that we’ve visited has typically been reflected in how often I went running. I like places where there are small, open paths right outside my door – trails that are quiet, far from traffic, and preferably close to nature. In theory, I know that I could run anywhere, but some environments just suck all the fun out of it. When I went running in Thailand, for example, people stared, the heat was oppressive, and stray dogs nipped at my ankles. I could have kept running anyway, but I really just didn’t want to. I think more clearly when I run regularly, I feel healthier, and I even write better. I don’t feel at peace with a temporary home until I enjoy running there.
I was worried that admitting my desire to create a sense of home when I’m traveling would make me seem like less of an intrepid adventurer. Yet, when I don’t know any street names, I can’t speak the language, and I don’t recognize most of the food, something as simple as running down the same path every morning helps to keep the new experiences from becoming overwhelming. Finding these comforts actually keeps me feeling anchored, and provides the secure feelings that I need to go out and be truly adventurous.
What makes you feel at home when you’re traveling?
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