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How to Feel At Home Anywhere

Posted By in Expat Life, Travel Musings, Travel Tips, What I've Learned | 25 comments

How to Feel At Home Anywhere

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

feel at home anywhere

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

feel at home anywhere

Did I mention I write best with pastries?

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

feel at home anywhere

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

feel at home anywhere

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

feel at home anywhere

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?

 

Consider subscribing by email to get the latest posts in your inbox! And if you have any questions about this post or general travel questions feel  free to email me jessica@waysofwanderers.com

25 Comments

  1. Angela Pearse March 21, 2013

    Loved your post Jess, some great insights here for long-term (or even short-term) travellers missing the comforts of home.

    • waysofwanderers March 21, 2013

      Thanks, Angela! I'm glad you liked it.

  2. ferretingoutthefun March 21, 2013

    I'm totally with you on the first one! Having a nice bathroom is especially important to me. After a long day of sightseeing, I savor a steaming hot shower in a clean space. Plus, if you aren't well rested, it can have a big impact on your mood. I also like to travel with a few pieces of my favorite clothing. Nothing wrong with feeling pretty on the road!
    My recent post Touring the DMZ and Dorasan Station

    • waysofwanderers March 21, 2013

      Definitely! Nothing like a restless sleep and a wake-up shower in a moldy bathroom to start a person off for a seriously grumpy day of sightseeing.

  3. vjhaz March 21, 2013

    Great ideas! I think food is a big one for me. I love eating foreign foods, but sometimes that peanut butter toast, breakfast cereal, or crispy apple just hit the spot! It's not quite possible for short term trips, but for trips longer than a week, it feels good to branch out from eating local food 24/7. After a long day teaching kids, anticipating making some warm honey-covered peanut butter toast is so comforting… ahhh! I want some now!
    My recent post The Dark Side of Teaching in Korea: or Am I a Hypocrite?

    • waysofwanderers March 21, 2013

      I definitely agree about the food! If I'm only in a place for a few days, I tend to stick to the local stuff; but if I'm spending a few months somewhere, having some comfort food once in a while goes a long way!

    • waysofwanderers March 23, 2013

      Thanks for your comment, Nicole! I'm glad you liked the post.

  4. John March 29, 2013

    I find even if I am in a dorm room with 8 other people, as long as there is a small section where I can put all my things and call my own, then I will feel comfortable. Generally now the more I travel the quicker I find myself adapting to a new place.

    • waysofwanderers March 29, 2013

      Yes! Sometimes having even just a small space to call your own makes all the difference.

  5. Jessica April 1, 2013

    These are great! I always feel more at home in a new place once I can get around a tiny bit without using a map. It gives me a chance to put down the map and relax and take in the new sights. It's not quite as big of a step as getting around, like you mentioned, but it definitely helps.

    And a good, comfy place to take a nice nap never hurts. 🙂
    My recent post Good Spanish Movies – Tesis (1996)

    • waysofwanderers April 2, 2013

      I like that one! Feeling like you can walk around a place a little without getting completely lost definitely makes it feel more home-ish.

  6. OCDemon April 2, 2013

    The drinking cultures in different countries gets pretty interesting. It's such a ritualized practice in some cases that it deserves its own subsection of sociology.
    My recent post Why Americans Should Travel

    • waysofwanderers April 3, 2013

      Agreed! I feel like I always learn a lot about a culture based on how most people drink – for pleasure, socialization or just to get drunk.

  7. TammyOnTheMove April 3, 2013

    I agree with you on the hotel rooms. With age I more and more feel really uncomfortable in grotty bedrooms. Bathrooms are also fairly important to me actually. If they are dirty or have a squat toilet I won't be able to feel comfortable.
    My recent post Everest Base Camp chronicles

    • waysofwanderers April 3, 2013

      Very true! Our apartment in Thailand had a Western-style toilet, but it had to be flushed manually like a squat toilet – I never really stopped cringing about it.

  8. ssc Results June 1, 2013

    Great ideas! I think food is a big one for me. I love eating foreign foods, but sometimes that peanut butter toast, breakfast cereal, or crispy apple just hit the spot! It's not quite possible for short term trips, but for trips longer than a week, it feels good to branch out from eating local food 24/7. After a long day teaching kids, anticipating making some warm honey-covered peanut butter toast is so comforting… ahhh! I want some now!
    My recent post BU Bangalore University Results 2013 of B.Arch 1 to 9 Semester

    • waysofwanderers June 1, 2013

      Same here! I'm found a couple services in Japan that provide discount shipping on foods from North America – it's definitely nice once in a while to order a few comfort foods that are difficult to find here.

  9. @bridgekeeptrav September 3, 2013

    This is a very important issue to discuss, I think. The overwhelming experience that is travel can actually be quite immobilizing. It is all along the lines of the glamorous image of the travel life style that a lot of people like to promote. We all know it's much more complex than that…
    My recent post The Last Year of My Twenties

    • waysofwanderers September 4, 2013

      Definitely! Traveling is incredible (otherwise I wouldn't do it!), but there are also moments when it's nice to have somewhere to come home to.

  10. lortz November 23, 2013

    This is a great post! For me, having a kitchen (ideally private) and a private bathroom are anchors in feeling more at home.

    • waysofwanderers November 23, 2013

      Thanks! And, I agree. Something about being able to cook at home really makes me feel more settled.

  11. Katherine Wright February 12, 2014

    I discovered your blog via Nomadic Matt and have enjoyed reading the various articles. I found this one to be especially true for me. I currently working as a HelpXer in Ireland and have been appreciating the comforts of home. Being able to run is so important for me as well. Looking forward to reading more posts. Cheers and all the best!

    • waysofwanderers February 12, 2014

      Thanks for reading! I only spent a few days in Ireland, and I really want to go back. There's something really welcoming and homey about the whole country.

  12. @WellnessBucket May 1, 2014

    Great post Jessica! Loved all of your ideas, especially a place to chill out and a place to run. Music definitely helps me feel at home when I travel. It eases me and calms my mind. I too believe I do everything better with pastries! 🙂 Cheers!

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