Home, by definition, is the “place where one lives.”
As a former corporate-world-woman, long-term traveler, and now a serial expat, home has been many places and continues to morph into new and different places where I wake up.
It was where I grew up, with my family, in the middle-class suburbs of Washington, DC. It was where I spent three semesters trying to fit in and find myself in Bowling Green, Ohio. It was three years in Towson where I finished my degree and then didn’t leave because I was in an emotionally abusive — and addictive — relationship. It was Las Vegas, where I spent the bulk of my mid- and late-20s. Then, it was Atlanta, where I attempted to have a more normal (and less glitzy) existence for a year.
After that, is was the road. Hostels, hotels, trains, airports, were my home as I navigated the world doing some solo female travel. When I returned to the States, home was again (albeit briefly) with my parents, and then back to Vegas.
During the latter years, I realized my heart was never really at home, though. It was somewhere else. Off navigating foreign landscapes, drinking in fresh air, taking the world on and relishing in the sheer fact that I existed.
Naturally, Vegas as a home the second time around wasn’t long-term.
Instead, that long-term home ended up being Chiang Mai, Thailand. The second largest city in Thailand, I moved there to work in responsible elephant tourism. To arm myself with knowledge and report back to my readers and the world.
For nearly three years, this existence was the one I loved the most. It was where I met some of the most important people in my life today. Where I woke up. Where I truly learned that every person is, indeed, fighting their own battles. It was, without a doubt, the city where I came of age.
And then, I left.
Because it didn’t feel like home anymore. It felt like a place where I had begun to spin my wheels. Where the opportunity to share my life with someone else was essentially non-existent. Waiting for love, waiting for opportunity, waiting for things to fall in my lap that weren’t going to happen unless I worked.
So then, London became home. For two blissful months, I walked through the streets of the Big Smoke in a constant state of awe. Of bliss. Going from east to west is an incredibly tough adjustment, but during my time in London, I never had to do it because I was constantly surrounded my an amazing support system.
But, like all good things, London had to come to an end, largely because the UK government doesn’t let Americans call the country home without good reason. And, well, I didn’t have one.
Originally, Berlin was the next stop. The place I would dig in my heels. But, when I visited Madrid before booking that ticket to Germany, Madrid felt like the right place. Six weeks later, Madrid was my home.
Only, after six months there, it has never felt like home. Sure, there have been beautiful moments of sheer delight wandering the streets around my flat. Learning and speaking my basic Spanish. Meeting people, seeing the city; but it’s never felt right.
It’s a weird thing, to return to a country that means so much, a place I have truly loved, and know it is temporary. A blip on my radar.
I’ve been planted in Bangkok for a week and since then, I have had so many homes.
Home has been Mystic Place, a boutique hotel near Ari where I stayed for two nights. It has been dinner and drinks with my friends. And then, it was SO Sofitel for the conference, being reunited with amazing and inspirational travel bloggers who I am blessed to call my friends. It was the Queen Sirikit National Convention Center, Meeting Room Four where I spoke. It was the keynote room where I listened to the amazing Jodi Ettenberg talk about storytelling and its importance in the industry and feeling a rush of inspiration which has been missing in my life for longer than I’d like to admit.
It’s been giddy nights perched at roof top bars with new friends and old. It’s been camped out on a lounge chair in the pool. It’s been the wooden bench at the local bar.
It will be Krabi. And, in a few days, it will once again be Chiang Mai.
Home, by definition, is everywhere. Because, everywhere I go, a tiny piece of the place takes up residence and me, and I leave a little part of me behind. And yet, sitting here, Indian-style on a plastic chair, in my hotel, it is everywhere and nowhere at the same time.
I’ve never felt more unsure about home. And, at the same time, I’ve never felt more of a desire to identify a home. Madrid is not a home. It never has felt like one. When people ask me how I like it, I put on my PR smile and say, “Oh, it’s great. I love it.”
But, I’m lying, and I am keenly aware.
I don’t want them to see the pain of being in a place I thought I would love, but don’t. I refuse to tell them that most days and nights, the only interactions I have are with my cats or my spin instructor. Most of the time, I am content with that. With learning Spanish, working out and then retreating to my flat and snuggling with my cats, recounting and practicing my Spanish with them.
The older I get, the more I become an introvert, and Madrid makes me even more so. Not because the city isn’t incredible — it is. And not because I don’t have friends — I do. But, they are few and a far cry from the support system I had in Chiang Mai. Or London. Or Vegas. Or even when I was traveling solo. It is incredibly hard for me to make friends when the idea of going out and talking to strangers is nearly paralyzing.
Most days, I don’t mind being alone. To me, it is better than the alternative, which is cashing in this life to go back to the corporate world. To working for someone else. To not being able to pick up, book a ticket and go speak at conferences. Or go to London for my birthday. Or even to go to the gym in the middle of the day.
Yet, I struggle. I struggle with my identity. I’m Diana, writer, responsible tourism advocate, expat, friend, daughter, sister. Who isn’t quite sure where my home is anymore. It’s something I know I need to think long — and hard — about in the coming months.
So, tell me. What is home to you? And, what do you do when searching for home when your life is in constant motion?