This week, we’ll celebrate Thanksgiving, kicking off what we call the “holiday season”: typically defined as the triumvirate of Thanksgiving, Christmas/Hanukkah and New Year’s Eve.
It’s also a huge traveling time. But unlike most heavy travel periods, people don’t tend to be heading out to new destinations; they’re usually going back home, to everything that’s comforting and familiar.
That poses an intriguing travel question: do we ever really find “home” again when we travel—and, as a corollary, is it even okay to seek what we already know in a brand-new place when we’ve spent considerable time and money to venture as far away as possible from our routine lives?
In other words, why go all that way just to experience the world through the filter of what we already know?
Travel: finding the past in old “theres”
Last spring, I traveled to Pasadena, California, a place where I had lived for six years many decades ago. The last time I was there, I had just graduated from college, I had rarely traveled outside my birthplace of Wisconsin before, and I had just gotten my first job in the Hollywood film industry, reading scripts. My husband was about to begin art school.
During our first two years there, we lived in an apartment on Euclid Street. This spring, we happened to stay in a hotel that was just blocks away from our former residence. On the first evening of our trip, we took a walk to see the old place.
Aside from the facts that the apartment building had been converted into condominium units and the front door was new, not much had changed. When I stood on the front steps and peered into the windows of the open-air lobby, a wave of familiarity swept over me. There, on the left wall, was the same bank of mailboxes where I had stopped briefly every day to sort through the junk ads and letters, hoping for ever-better job offers and article assignments. Beyond that, I could see the garden surrounding the swimming pool and the little, decorative bridges over the greenery. Without much effort, I could even see the young, homesick girl I once was, who wanted nothing more than to go back to Wisconsin.
Standing there in 2019, I asked myself if this was a former home that I was revisiting or just a past domicile. It certainly didn’t feel like home when I was living there so long ago.
And yet, I sought it out, as part of myself; part of my story; part of my special soil.
Travel: seeking the future in new “heres”
In 2007, I traveled to Newfoundland on a Natural Habitat Adventures trip. By then it was the sixth international trip I had taken. Still, as you normally do in a fresh locale, I felt sort of lost and ungrounded. It wasn’t until I spotted some laundry hanging on a clothesline that I, inexplicably, began to feel a sense of ease. I started to imagine myself living in Newfoundland permanently; I was in that zone where things weren’t foreign anymore, and I could see how others—and even I—could call this place “home.”
It took me a while to realize why. When I was young, my family owned a clothes dryer, but I grew up thinking it was only something to be used in Wisconsin’s winter months. Starting in early spring and going through fall, we hung our clothes on several lines strung between two poles in the backyard. Ours was a family of six, and we had a lot of laundry. For us children, bedsheet-washing day was a time we looked forward to; we liked to run about in those large, cloth fortresses and play hide-and-seek in the windblown linens.
At last, in a strange place, I had a point of reference from home: my own small entryway into the everyday lives of those who live in Newfoundland.
You truly can “go home again,” everywhere
Traveling outside of what you know is thrilling but exhausting, and it can throw you off your center. Sometimes, you need a yardstick to help you deal with all the new input. Seeking something from home provides that benchmark.
At first glance, home might seem like the polar opposite of travel, but I’ve come to think of travel and home as complementary and intertwined. Home is essential to travel because it gives us the metrics and tools to decode the destinations we now find ourselves in.
I would never suggest that we should travel enveloped in a protective bubble of what we already know and do in our own culture. But looking for a bit of the familiar in faraway places isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Seeing that laundry on the clothesline in Newfoundland reminded me that there are real, ordinary families with children living there—children who probably play like I once did—and not just the top-rated restaurants, boutique hotels and travel industry employees that a traveler generally experiences.
The virtue of travel is that it exposes you to other cultures, people and ways of life. It helps you to see issues from other perspectives than your own and to develop a global mindset and more compassion. But when we’re on the road, familiar touchstones give us needed respites, benefiting us when we jump back—with gusto—into cultures not our own.
So, this Thanksgiving, whether your travels take you to a past home or someplace brand-new, it’s okay to look for a personal barometer; a spot where you can “land.”
There’s an old saying that you can never go home again. Maybe you can’t. But you just might find a bit of home, wherever you are. And that can make any journey feel familial and more than worthwhile.
Here’s to finding your true places and natural habitats,