“Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home.” ~Basho
For over three years, I’ve been living out of a suitcase and traveling around the world doing a combination of volunteering, housesitting, and couch surfing.
This journey started after I decided to drastically change my life. In the span of a week, I filed for divorce, quit my high-paying job in New York, left my PhD program at an Ivy League school, sold all my stuff, and flew to South America.
After spending six months volunteering in Brazil, I began to realize that, while I was born and raised in New York, it never really felt like home.
While I always knew I struggled with many aspects of the external environment, it was how I felt internally when I returned from South America that really made me realize how misunderstood and unhappy I was when I was there.
So flying to South America turned out to be the first stop on a long quest to find a new home. Since then, I’ve driven to over thirty states in the US and have been welcomed into so many homes, I’ve lost count. I’ve viewed each of these experiences as an opportunity to learn how other people have created a sense of home for themselves.
Here are five ways I’ve learned to develop a sense of home, and how you can too:
1. Seek safety.
Feeling safe is a basic human need and part of the foundation that allows us to relax and open up to the world around us. Feeling safe isn’t just a sense of physical well-being; it’s a sense of emotional and psychological well-being, as well.
Many things can make a space feel unsafe, everything from unsettled relationships, to unfamiliar surroundings, to unsanitary living conditions. Growing up, there was a great deal of unspoken tension in the house, and when I got married, I never felt emotionally safe with my now ex-husband.
As I’ve moved around over the last few years, I’ve confirmed that if we don’t feel safe, it’s impossible to feel at home. As a result, there have been places I thought I’d stay for weeks that I ended up leaving after a few hours, and there are places I thought I’d spend one night and ended up staying several months.
Anyone or anything that disrupts your sense of safety will become an obstacle on your quest to feeling at home. Eliminate these obstacles by either moving on from unsettling situations or by developing healthy boundaries that help to maintain your safe space.
2. Connect with people.
While a physical space (home, apartment, condo) can provide a degree of structure and external stability, it’s the people we surround ourselves with that truly make or break a home. We all need a community of people in which we feel understood and supported.
When I was living on Long Island, it appeared that I had a huge network of people surrounding me. But as I’ve traveled and found communities of like-minded individuals, I’ve realized just how misunderstood and disconnected I felt growing up. Once I experienced what it feels like to be embraced and accepted by those around me, it became impossible to settle for anything less.
Connecting with others takes effort and time. Talk to those around you and really listen to what they’re saying. Notice how you feel when you’re with them; when you’re around those that feel like home, you’ll know. Keep searching until you find the community of people that feels right for you.
3. Explore and try new things.
It’s easy to take for granted everything that our environment has to offer. But chances are there is a great deal more going on than we realize. If we can learn to view life as though we are on an adventure, we’ll feel more inspired to explore that which is right in front of us.
When I arrive at a new city, I have zero expectations about what I want to see or do; instead, I speak to the people in the community and ask them for advice. This is how I ended up on a river float in Missoula, Montana; learned salsa dancing in Boulder, Colorado; and explored artwork in a tiny park on the outskirts of St. Louis, Missouri.
Bring a sense of enthusiasm into everything you do, as though you’re a child seeing everything for the first time. Be curious, ask questions, and learn details; every place and every person has a story. Be fearless and go out and explore; this exploration will help you build the deeper connection to the world around you that is needed to feel at home.
4. Spend some time alone.
Developing a sense of home is as much an internal discovery as it is an external one. Being present and aware of our feelings and intuitions will help guide us toward making the necessary changes needed to feel at home.
Even though I’m moving around to different places, I still make time for myself every day. I wake up and do a yoga practice, go on long walks by myself, meditate, journal and spend long drives in silence as a way to clear my mind.
Take some time alone each day and use this time to check in with your emotions. Inquire about how the people and environment make you feel. Journey within as much as you journey outward and ask yourself what you can do to make the space you’re in feel more like home.
5. Slow down.
It can be tempting to rush in and out of new environments, frantically trying to explore and connect. But to truly develop a sense of home, we must slow down long enough to really experience the people and places we find ourselves in; this same concept applies to environments that we’ve been living in our entire lives.
There have been several moments over the past few years where I’ve found myself caught up in needing to see and do everything that every city has to offer. Not only is this impossible, but it’s also exhausting. Focusing on quality over quantity, in both my connections with others and in my experiences, has been far more powerful in creating a sense of home than having a laundry list of mediocre ones.
Become an active participant in the world around you rather than sitting on the sidelines and observing life as it passes you by. Take the necessary time to fully process each and every experience and each and every person you meet along the way.
Take one step today toward exploring your sense of home wherever you go.
There are plenty of ways in which you can explore the world around you, but remember that you must also look inside yourself and let your gut be your guide.
Home is where you feel safe, connected, understood, and loved. The more present and engaged you are with both yourself and the world around you, the easier it will be to feel at home anywhere.
Photo by satemkemet