The Traveler’s Curse: When Nowhere Feels Like Home
“Home is where the heart is.”
It is probably one of the most overused phrases on can find, well, anywhere. The phrase is on welcome mats, on wooden decoration panels, on postcards and on t-shirts. To many, it is the most on-point definition of what ‘home’ really means and it allows us to call places home where we didn’t grow up and where our parents or family don’t live. It allows us to settle wherever we want. How do we know where our heart is, though? What if our heart is not just in one place? In short: what if that definition is not enough or just not fully accurate for some of us?
Well, let me say this: welcome! Welcome to our little group of people that have yet to figure out what ‘home’ even means to them and where their heart really belongs.
Recently, a friend of mine and I had a lengthy discussion about this topic, as we were both feeling a little lost over in the big USA. We are both from Germany, but have moved away from home to study. I even moved to a different country. We found out that we were not alone in feeling unsettled and like there is no place we can wholeheartedly call home. The places we called ‘home’, we agreed, always felt temporary. There were always boxes full of parts of our lives stored somewhere and a moving-out date set in the future. We don’t get close enough to people to form meaningful friendships, because we know we are going to leave, but we don’t know where we will go. It may just end up being the other side of the planet. Sound familiar? Well, that’s why I’m writing this article.
For many these feelings probably manifest in different ways. For instance, I started feeling this way when my father renovated our entire old house, making it look nothing like the place I spent my childhood in. I felt it again when my mother up and left for a round-the-world trip. I moved away to a different country, but that, too, was only temporary. So where could I go and say, honestly and truly, “I am home?” Where can I sit down and feel that I really belong? Where I can form friendships that will last, because there is an actual chance I am going to see these people again next year?
When you are in your late teens or early twenties, you are ready to see the world – maybe it’s long overdue, even. You may move away to study – maybe to a whole different country, and then you may go on study abroad trips. Hey, that’s probably why you’re on this site anyway, right? All of the places you go may end up feeling just so temporary, though, that you never properly settle; never feel like you’re really going home. You keep half of your life in boxes, because in only a few years you’re going to move again and your room isn’t big enough to hold all that stuff anyway. You may have to share space with people constantly, because having your own flat is just too expensive. A note for my introverted companions: I know how difficult this can be! It makes feeling at home even more difficult, because either you have to consistently socialise or you are the odd one out. And maybe you don’t really like the town you grew up in, so that really isn’t ‘where your heart is’ either.
If you are at that point, maybe you ask yourself this question, too: “Where is my heart? Where can it settle?” I don’t have an answer for myself yet, but I have decided that this is okay. There are plenty of self-help books out there which may be able to give you an idea of an answer, but mostly you have to find out for yourself. I have plans and, even though I am in my hometown right now, I also know I’ll leave again and I know that, if I follow my heart, there are always going to be multiple places I call home. So, don’t stress yourself and don’t let a temporary home be anything less than a real one. I know that is easier said than done, like most things, but it’s the only way I know how to feel settled while never really settling.
Do you know the iceberg analogy? You only see the small bit of the iceberg that sticks out of the water, but underneath is a whole mountain of ice. I believe it fits the phrase “home is where the heart is”. The phrase is easily said and just as easy to understand, but under the surface there is a massive mountain of confusion and insecurity attached to it that you may not have expected. I never believed in the statement to begin with, but I am softening to it. So, if “home is where the heart is” then your home is always going to vary and change, but you’ll know it when you’re there. Don’t try to rush through university or college just so you can settle down with a good job. Let yourself use those years in your twenties to explore, to find homes on the road, to lose your heart to plenty of places, so that you never have to feel completely lost again.