On the Search for Home

Todd Smidt by Todd Smidt

“Perhaps home is not a place but simply an irrevocable condition.”
James Baldwin

I won’t lie.  Lately, the creative juices haven’t been flowing.  Sure, I could blame my writer’s block on being busy and returning to the States- which has involved moving to a new city, trying to meet new people, or trying to find a job.  But that would be bullshit.  Usually, the busier I am the more things pop into my head to write about.

Whatever the reason, I just hadn’t had a “damn, that’d make a great blog” idea in awhile.  Praying for an epiphany doesn’t really work and few things are worse than being a “creative type” and being unable to create anything.

The beauty of humanity is our ability to allow others to help us when we’re struggling and offer fresh perspective.  The beauty of friendship is the desire to want to help someone when they’re struggling.  To cure this period of writer’s block I reached out to a few people and my friend Zoja didn’t disappoint.

Zoja asked me simply to describe what the notion of ‘home’ really is and if it changed since I traveled.

A little bit about her background.  Zoja was born in Serbia, grew up in Hong Kong (where her parents still live), spent her gap year in Beijing, attended college and currently lives in London.  Like me, she has a nomadic spirit which has lead to having friends and family all over the world.  Like me, she feels pulled in different directions because she can never be in the same city as those mentioned above.  And like me, has trouble answering and feels a little isolated when people ask her where ‘home’ is.

Related: What Does Timshel Mean?

Some may not understand the difficulty this question poses.  For those who grew up and stay in the same town.  For those who leave, but ultimately return.  For those who have always felt like they belong in a certain place.  This post may not be for you.

Having a heart that has always been a little restless is both a blessing and a curse.

For us, the movers and the shakers of the world, home is more of an enigma.  Once faced with the question we find ourselves asking things like:

Is home where you were born?  Raised?  Educated?  Where your parents live?  Where you finally felt like an adult?  Where you keep all your stuff while you travel the world?  (Thanks, mom and dad!)  Where your ancestors came from? Where you pay your taxes or go to the doctor?  Is it a place you’ve only visited, but feel a special connection?  Maybe ‘home’ is merely a place dependent on where you lay your head that night?  Perhaps “home” is an ever changing and movable concept, centering on where your heart is instead of your head.

I asked multiple people where they consider their home to be.  Rarely was their answer what I expected. But they (usually) fell into three categories.  Where their parents live, where they currently live, or where they want to live someday. Is there a wrong answer? No. However, the fact that people can live in one city, but not consider it home only adds to the intrigue.

Honestly, before starting this post I couldn’t have given you a definite answer.  No one can tell you where your home is.  No one can tell you a place isn’t your home.  Whichever definition you choose to use says something about who you are, what you value, and what you want out of life. Each and every choice is right in some way.  Like anything else in life, it’s just as important to have a reason as it is to have an answer.

If there is one thing I’m certain of it’s that rarely do the big questions in life have a single universal truth.

The philosophy major in me understands that the fear of an inadequate answer should never stop us from exploring the question.

Some may ask if in today’s global society where technology has connected us more than ever before, is the concept of “home” is even necessary?

The answer is yes.

While all the traveling is rewarding, it also leads to a feeling of displacement.  Not having a place to call ‘home’ only reinforces any thoughts of feeling like an outsider.  It’s true that some people thrive in this type of mindset (I’m one), but I’ll admit that being a nomad, feeling like an outsider, will drain you.  You can never let yourself get comfortable because you know you’ll be leaving soon.  Yes, it teaches you to appreciate the moment, but it also leads to having one foot out the door wherever “home” may be that day.  It affects your relationships; friendships, love interests, and even the relationship with yourself.  It’s hard to have a “favorite” anything because by the time you discover it you’re already packing your bag and onto the next city.

Related: What Makes a Bad Traveler

That’s why figuring out where home is for oneself matters so much.  Having a ‘home’ is what allows you to let your guard down.  Home is safe.  It allows you to connect with people on more than just a ‘cheers! One more?’ level.  Home leads to having a routine.

Routine is what frees you to experience things outside your comfort zone.  Home creates a reference point from which to measure the extraordinary against the ordinary and provides a foundation on which the building blocks of your memories come together to influence who you become tomorrow.    Make no mistake, having a comfort zone is important.  As travel and adventurer Josh Gates wrote:

“Travel does not exist without home…If we never return to the place we started, we would just be wandering, lost.  Home is a reflecting surface, a place to measure our growth and enrich us after being infused with the outside world.”

Don’t get me wrong, challenging ourselves on a regular basis will expand our comfort zone.  The expansion of our comfort zone is critical to a well-lived life. But expansion only happens by having a comfort zone to begin with.

I made the mistake of believing that having a routine, a comfort zone, and feeling at ease in my environment were negative things.  I thought it meant I wasn’t living life to the fullest.   Before I started traveling I was stuck in a job I hated; in a city I thought I had surpassed.

After two years of traveling, I learned that what I missed most was having a routine and a level of comfort. That those in themselves weren’t bad things.  That my misery pre-travel was caused by laziness because I stopped exploring and searching for new things.

Mini Tangent:
***I’ve talked about this before, but if you’re bored in a city or with your current situation it’s on you to find a way to make it better.  Not the city you live in.  Not the people around you.  Every place has special things only it can offer.  People are like that as well.  You don’t have to be constantly traveling to find new and exciting stuff to add to your life. ***

It was this search for a true home that led me back to the States.

I wanted a place to call my own.

The city where comfort, adventure, love, and endless possibilities in the future blend as one.

Over the past few years, I’ve lived in a lot of different places.  Hastings and Omaha in Nebraska, a cruise ship in the South Pacific, a small village in the Czech Republic, a hostel in Prague, a high rise in Melbourne, and now a house in Kansas City.

Related: Thoughts on Mindfulness 

Expand the definition to include places I’ve stayed for a few days or made friends in, and that list would quadruple.  Which makes me wonder, are any of these places my home?  Have I ever truly had a home?

When you think of ‘home’ rarely is it the city that first pops into your mind.  No, it’s more the connections you have with that city.  Friends, family, current loves, a favorite bar, or neighborhood.  Something that identifies that city as yours.  A place where you didn’t have a care in the world because all (or most) of what you want most in the world is there.

The more and more I thought about it the harder it was to pin down for me.

I was able to decide on definite truths that a “home” has to have.  Through all my traveling I decided that there were certain criteria a place had to meet before being considered a true home.  More than likely I’ve missed something and if that’s true feel free to let me know in the comments.  I don’t think one person could ever sum up what home is to another.  But I’ve done my best.

My 5 truths for a true home:

  1. You’re allowed more than one
    Don’t penalize people for moving, knowing, or loving people in more than one place.
  2.  It can be based off physical location or feelings of attachment
    Where you live and what matter most to you should have equal consideration
  3.  It’s transient
    Meaning that it can be one place forever or change overnight
  4. Circumstances will dictate how you feel about different places
    Life is fluid; change happens, these changes will affect you perception of where home is
  5. Must have a certain level of comfort or security there
    If you’re constantly getting lost, don’t know where the good Happy Hour spots are, or don’t even have a favorite restaurant- that place isn’t home…yet

But home is more than just those five truths.

Home starts with having people you care about.  You can live somewhere, but until you have friends or family in that place it can never be considered home.  Home isn’t lonely.  Home is filled with love, respect, laughter, and trust.  The old phrase “home is where the heart is” may be corny but it’s also completely on point.

I’ve stated this before, but it’s crucial.  You must be comfortable where you live.  Part of that is having friends or family in your city, but it goes beyond that.  You need to be able to let your guard down.  To go on auto pilot and not worry about finding the grocery store, bar, your way home, people to hang out with etc.  Once you feel like you don’t have to be on high attention alert and can be vulnerable, a place takes a massive step forward in being considered home.

You have to have had actually lived there at some point or currently have an actual residential address.  No offense to my backpacking friends, but if you’re staying in a hostel, hotel, or on someone’s couch that place isn’t your home.  It goes back to the comfort element.  You can’t let your guard down while you’re staying in an 8-bed mixed room, (right Mel).

Related: Ideas for your Bucket List

You can’t have one foot out the door.  What that means is no predetermined or set departure date.  Few consider this, but trust me, when you know you’re leaving a place you do one of two things. Either mentally check out or never allow yourself to have any type of attachment.

I know for a fact that I missed opportunities to become close with great people because I had my eyes on the horizon.  I consciously decided to see them as little as possible because I didn’t want to become attached and miss them when I left.  You can’t consider a place home where you don’t truly care about anyone but yourself.

I’ve only been back in the States for a little over month.  Has my home changed?  Regardless of if I stay in Kansas City forever or end up somewhere else part of me will always consider Nebraska home.  It’s where so much in my life happened.  Where I was raised, grew up, educated, made life-long friendships, and became much of the person I am today.  I can’t ever fully let that or those people go.  Nor do I think I should have too.

At the same time, I don’t ever see Nebraska being my home again.  In my life, too much has changed.  I’ve changed.  I’m not the same kid who left Hastings to go to college or who left Omaha to travel the world.  I’ll always have connections there, but that’s not where I see myself in the future.  A place can’t truly be your home if it’s not part of both your present and your future.

Do I have a home?

In a way.  But I’m also still looking for one and that’s something that I know is true for more than just myself.  For those like me, please keep in mind that often times the search is the best part.

Stay Gold.

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