Interestingly, it’s become almost a place of in-betweens for me. A place of mixed thoughts and mixed feelings, and ones I still don’t even really understand.
At first, it’s relief. It’s that feeling of finally stepping off the plane for the last time, stretching my legs, and seeing the familiar Maori carvings as I walk through the arrivals gate.
Next is the comfort. The car pulls around the same corners I rode my bike on as a kid. I step inside my house, smell the distinct smell of my family home that only I know. And then I hike up the stairs and enjoy the indescribable feel of my own sheets and my own bed.
And then comes the wondering. How long will I stay this time? And where to next? Because of course, I know that I cannot stay here forever. The itch to explore will always be there. New adventures await and the only problem will be trying to choose the next destination.
48 hours ago, I was halfway across the world, packing my bags to get ready to leave my apartment in Quito. I hadn’t planned my time in Quito; in fact, it was as unplanned as it could possibly have been. I had only expected to stay perhaps 3 days in the city, a week at most, as I planned my epic 3 month backpacking trip through Central America.
But those 3 days passed, and then a week passed, and then two, and I still hadn’t booked anything. Every day the flight to Panama was too expensive, or the internet wasn’t working, or I was too tired from the night before, or I had a blog post to write, and every day I stuck I around I happened to grow to like Quito a little bit more. And then I made some new friends, and of course had to stick around to go out with them that weekend. And then I discovered the gym down the road, and Quito felt a little bit more like home. And one day, while bored and watching South Park in the lounge, I decided to sign up for a salsa class, and enjoyed it so much I booked in for a whole week. And before I knew it my epic 3 month backpacking trip through Central America had suddenly turned into an epic 3 month relax and learn salsa trip in Quito.
And so, as has happened in so many cities around the world, Quito became home. I spent every day at the salsa studio, sometimes the entire day, and the people there became like family. Eventually I found an apartment, which became as comfortable and homey as any other home I’ve had around the world. The nightlife became a blurry stream of familiar faces and places. I became a regular at the corner store and the supermarket, so much so that the checkout ladies would recognise me and greet me with a familiar smile. After a few weeks, it was as if I wasn’t even travelling anymore. Quito was home.
But, as a traveller, home never lasts forever, and three months can sound like a long time but in reality, it’s not. This time, it kind of crept up on me and before I knew it it was time to go. In the week I was set to leave, I started letting people know of my departure, and in doing so the all-too-familiar wave of emotions hit me. It began to dawn on me that these people who I’d grown so close to I might never see again, and it was then I realised this was becoming a cycle and perhaps a rather unhealthy one. Every year I make a new home, meet new friends, find a new routine, and then end up leaving as abruptly as I’d arrived. The constant goodbyes on the road drain you, but it’s usually manageable when it’s people you’ve only known a few days. But what about the ones who’ve become true friends? Who’ve become like family? How many of those goodbyes can you handle?
In living out my desire to see and understand so many places around the world, I’d underestimated the difficulty of the journey emotionally. What good is it to make a home that you will never see again? Where is the value of your home being everywhere, and nowhere? And what about the people that you leave behind? Did you leave them anything at all? Did you give to their life as much as they gave to yours?
When I think back to all the homes I’ve had, it’s bittersweet. There was a time when those places were a part of me, where I felt like I belonged there in some way, but the reality is today I’m probably little more than an afterthought to the friends and family I left there. And of course, I wouldn’t expect any more than that. When you come and go, the memory of you does as well.
However, I don’t need to hesitate for one second to know that I would not give those experiences up for anything. Every new home I’ve made has enriched my life in too many ways to count, has taught me lessons that I will surely carry the rest of my life, and opened my mind to understanding people and cultures in ways I was never able to before. I know that I am now a stronger, wiser person than the one that left Auckland four years ago, and will have evolved even more another four years down the track. The world has taught me so much, and as long as it continues to do so, I will continue to let it.
The truth is, home will always be here, in New Zealand. But I’ve learned that despite what we might think, home can be in several places. If home is where the heart is, then once you have travelled home will never be in one place again, because it is impossible to travel without opening your heart to new people and new places. There will always be somewhere that is pulling you back, and that’s ok. It is the reason why we travel, after all.
But where do you belong after that? If home is everywhere, which is the home that you come back to? Does it even exist?
I do know that one day, there will be a place where I settle for good. I am not sure when, and why, but I suppose those are questions that will be answered when the time comes. For now, it seems that many places call my name, and what can you do other than follow the voice inside that is telling you to go?
As I’ve done so many times before, I left a part of myself in Quito. There will always be times when I long to be back there, to relive those days, to sit in the studio and laugh and dance, to eat at my favourite restaurants, to sit and trade stories with my friends in my broken Spanish. The streets there are no longer just streets, but familiar walks I will recognise and remember many years from now. The friends I made there accepted me into their lives and their homes without a second thought, and added a chapter of memories to my life that I will surely never forget. There’s a good chance I will never see them again, but I will always wonder where they are, what they’re doing, and where their life has taken them. To be a part of their life and then suddenly not is overwhelmingly sad, but is a feeling that is not new anymore. I’ve learned that as someone who travels, you just need to get used to coming and going, and saying goodbye. And as you leave pieces of yourself around the world, you just need to accept that the joy of going home will always be tainted with sadness as well.
“You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart always will be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place.” -Miriam Adeney
For now, home is here. For how long, and where next? I don’t know. But to lie on my old bed and hug my old pillow, I suppose what they say is true. No matter how far you go, you’ll never forget where you came from.
Do you struggle with coming home? Do you have more than one? What does home mean to you? Let me know in the comments below.