What Does Home Mean To You?

Coming home is a great feel.

I’m sitting in my parents kitchen, drinking tea from a mug I have never seen before.

At home, it’s a comfortable scene. Sounds, sights and scents are hauntingly familiar, though some are startlingly new.

It’s like watching every disaster movie ever, then walking through New York City – you feel you know the place well, yet you’ve never been there.

I reflect on why I left in the first place.

Burgers Fuel Shack Kuala Lumpur
Any place that sells burgers and fries = home

I knew I wanted a change.

I was finding friction in the 9-to-5 lifestyle (or more like 8-to-7 because it’s Sydney Australia and who even has regular hours these days). I knew it worked for some people. Family and friends get by without complaining.

Mostly.

But something was off for me.

It wasn’t working. I thought that distance from my circumstances would help me find the source of discontent. That a wiser perspective would let me see where the situation was going off-kilter. When you’re in the thick of it, there’s no time to think of the big picture. You’re too busy dealing with the next thing.

So I planned on taking a few months off.

Nothing serious.

Travel a bit. Try new things. Meet new people. Experience a different way of living.

The idea was that by exposing myself to the new, I could find the bits of my life back home that were giving me grief. Use these insights to focus on new career opportunities or business ideas. And I did all these things and more.

But something changed while I was away.

Banana Leaf Restaurant Bangsar Kuala Lumpur Malaysia
Food can become home. As long as you eat enough of it.

I started liking my locations.

Not just the food, or the beds,or the palm trees. Not just the people I’d meet, or the culture of kindness that seems to grow wherever travellers meet.

These things are excellent.

Individually, these things aren’t enough to make you start longing for a place you haven’t visited. Or people you met briefly. They aren’t enough to have you pine for an unfamiliar home you haven’t found when sitting in your childhood kitchen.

Which is why I’m stuck.

Here, the familiar is unfamiliar.

Fish and Chips Penang Malaysia
Not to self – eat before you start posting.

Earlier I wrote about the disconnect – that sensation of unreality you experience when returning from travel. You feel that your time away was a dream, and that nothing has changed on your return.

But as I look closer, I can see what’s changed, and SURPRISE: it’s me.

Places I have known for decades feel new and fresh. Fresh in a way that makes them enjoyable – for a time – but also out of place.

And maybe that’s the issue.

I have always thought of physical locations and the people there as “home”. The familiarity generated by repeated emotional contact builds a connection that creates the comfort we seek.

If it was an equation, it might look something like this:

H=FLPELP(L+P)

Here, H=home, F=frequency of contact, E=emotional intensity, L=location, P=eople. (Note that F and E are different for each instance of L and P)

In your standard home life, “home” exists where you have a high level of contact with people and locations with which you have a (hopefully positive) emotional connection. You generate home through repeated experience.

But what happens if you experience an increase in the emotional intensity? You need less contact with the people and locations to experience the same level of ‘home-ness’.

End result – there’s no such place as home.

You could grind up this building.

Break the bricks into powder. Reduce the grains to molecules and atoms. Scan these with the most powerful microscopes known to man.

If you do that, you won’t find one molecule of home. Not one. Because we make home in our heads.

Also if you do that your kind of an ass-hat because this is my parents’ house and who does that to people’s houses?!

Or maybe there are many types of home?

And that’s okay too!

Home is specific to the individual. And any individual can foster and care for many different places at once. There are work homes, sleep homes, vacation homes, travel homes – what matters is that people look forward to staying there.

I think this is the resolution.

Slow travel means finding new homes wherever you go.

If you find yourself in a place and think “damn I can’t wait to get back here” on leaving? Well, that’s a home.

And if you think about it, when you return to where you started? That becomes another destination – another adventure – where you get to find home again.

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