I am going home in nine days. There are nine days left before this five-month-long adventure comes to an end. Nine days left of hostel-hopping, mountain-climbing, and beach-bumming. Nine days left before I have to contend with that most terrifying of words: stillness.
I will arrive back in England to rain, Christmas time, and the ever-enthralling job market. For purely mundane, practical reasons (namely being dead-broke) it will be several months before I can jump on a plane, train, or automobile and go off exploring again. I’m trying to be positive. I have started a list of things to look forward to about my imminent homecoming, at the very top of which (naturally) is seeing my cat again, followed by seeing family and friends, rediscovering the joys of a hot bath, and inhaling a decent cup of coffee. Yet every time I add something to the list, a niggling little voice in the back of my mind matches it with ten things I will miss about travelling.
Way back at the end of August, I remember talking to two backpackers about when, if ever, they were planning to return to their respective European countries and families they hadn’t seen in several months. Both had been travelling for a year or more and both baulked at the question. I couldn’t understand, then, their apprehensive expressions at the use of the word ‘home’ and the restlessness suddenly visible in their body language. Sure, I didn’t particularly want to go home either, but back then I was more secure in my understanding of what that word meant.
My sense of home has warped and changed over the last few years. Not only was I moving from place to place with each year of university, but everyone from my best friends to my parents were moving to new houses, cities, and even countries. I learnt to feel at home in a handful of places in addition to the house I grew up in. Yet over the last five months, even my more flexible definition of ‘home’ has begun to crumble. I now understand that confused apprehension that comes with the idea of leaving all this behind. When your new ‘normal’ consists of a backpack, and an ever-shifting cast of friends against an ever-changing backdrop of vibrant cities and stunning landscapes, the idea of ‘going home’ becomes weighted down with the knowledge of all that you are leaving behind.
‘Going home’ has taken shape as a shadow hovering on the horizon, creeping closer each day, pressuring me to squeeze as much as I can into my final days. Every decision I make is clouded with doubt. I feel I need to ‘make the most’ of every minute – a completely arbitrary idea which never bothered me before and only makes me feel vaguely disappointed in myself every second I am not taking in a beautiful view or visiting a famous tourist site. My problem is that I have ceased to conceive of ‘home’ as a place, filled with people and things that I love and miss, and think of it as merely a date. A departure time on my flight schedule; a ticking time bomb marking the end of the best few months of my life.
Halfway through writing this very article, I was sifting through some old journal entries when I stumbled upon one I had forgotten about, from almost exactly a year ago.
“When I’m lonely or homesick I’m not missing a place but a moment in time. I hope that as I grow up I will learn to leave parts of myself in places in time and space and be at peace with that, but I also hope I find people who make me feel at home even when I’m someplace unfamiliar […] I hope for happiness that doesn’t come from a screen and isn’t borrowed from a song and I hope that one day I’ll be able to look around me and say this, this is home.”
Reading that was like having a bucket of ice water thrown over me. I realised how far I had come, from that miserable girl dreaming of the end of university and barely even able to imagine how it would feel to travel the world. I realised, reading those final lines, that I have had that feeling, countless times while travelling. Of looking around me and feeling so grateful that I get to call this my life. It is not feeling at home in the way it felt to push open your front door as a kid after an exhausting day at school, but it’s still a feeling of joy and peace that comes from the knowledge that whatever you are doing is right for right now.
The negativity I have been feeling about going home stems from the assumption that it is akin to going backwards. I have constructed a dichotomy in which I think happiness and freedom exist purely within the ‘travelling’ chapters of my life, and going ‘home’ necessarily means a return to the mundane and the dull. But going home is not going backwards. I may not feel that returning to England and pushing open that familiar front door is going ‘home’ in the way it used to be, because I have left parts of myself scattered all over the world. It doesn’t have to be an end. It can become a part of this ongoing sense that whatever I am doing, for whatever reason, is right for right now. The ways in which I continue to change, to learn, and to grow do not come to a screeching halt as soon as I step off that plane.
This article first appeared on Making Her Escape