Finding Your Home When You're a Global Soul
As a traveler who’s returned to the States, sometimes I feel caught between two worlds.
There are times I miss sitting side-saddle on a motorbike in Bangkok, putting on my lipstick while whirring past food stalls and weaving through traffic jams. In retrospect, maybe that was reckless, but still—hopping in my car for the morning commute here doesn’t have quite the same thrill.
And yet, I remember how difficult, sweaty, and exhausting my days were. While sitting in the heat on a friend’s rickety wooden couch, I would miss the comfort of watching an NCIS marathon with my mom from my cozy sofa at home.
But my being torn isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Travel writer Pico Iyer says that we’re all transforming into “global souls.” We’re balancing the memories, ideas, and skills we’ve gained abroad with our lives at home. We’re searching for home and ourselves in a big, diverse, and yet very interconnected world. Whether we’re kicking back with an Ethiopian coffee on a trip to Hong Kong or ordering Polish folk earrings on Etsy from Japan at home, we’re closer than ever to other places and cultures. And that’s a good thing.
So, just because you’re not jaunting to a new country every month doesn’t mean you can’t have a global outlook. Here are some tips on how to keep the travel mindset, wherever you are.
Leave the Judgment, Listen with Heart
When you’re traveling, you’re already out of your comfort zone, so it’s often easier to make new friends and find patience in even the most frustrating situations. Back home going about your daily grind, it can be much harder to treat people you encounter with the same understanding and compassion.
But try to bring your travel mentality back to your daily life. Remember going out of your way to be extra kind to random strangers on your last trip out of the country? Do the same for your co-workers and the people you encounter every day. Consciously make the effort not take quick offense when you’re irked. Take the time to acknowledge your colleagues’ “unique” ways of doing things and realize that even though they’re not 4,000 miles away, they have stories to share, too.
When I think back to the Holi festival in India or the ornate fluorescent embroideries of the Hmong in Northern Thailand, I miss being surrounded by those colors that seem to defy nature. It seems like a simple thing, but incorporating similar bursts of color into my wardrobe reminds me of my travels, no matter what country I’m in. While an outfit in various shades of blue, yellow, and pink may not be considered professional attire in the U.S., you can still take inspiration from global fashion by wearing a splash of bold color or interesting accessories. Two of my favorite blogs featuring international fashion include Republic of Chic for Indian fashion and Hijabiii for abayas and more.
Indulge in the Five Tastes
One of the best parts of traveling is the food! (In many parts of the world, the first question asked of a traveler isn’t “how are you?”—it’s “have you eaten yet?”) But just because you’re at home, doesn’t mean you can’t diversify your taste buds. Indulge in unfamiliar tastes by taking a cooking class to learn a new cuisine, picking up a cookbook from a new region of the world, or checking out delicious-looking online recipes. (Need a place to start? Try Nirmala’s Kitchen or Afghan Culture Unveiled.) Learning about new foods offers you another lens into a culture and its people, even if you’re not actually there to experience it.
When we’re traveling, we remain open to everything around us, even if it’s completely different than what we know. When we get back to our regular lives, things might slow down or feel out of balance. But keeping the curiosity of your wanderlust alive will make even the most boring or different of places interesting. Visit places in your hometown you haven’t been before. Go out of your way to meet new people and experience new activities. A monk once told me: “Stay patient and aware, and life will open like a lotus blossom.” In my experience, it certainly has.
Find Your Way Home
If you live in other countries for the long haul, you’ll find yourself missing staples from home, like cheese, Sour Patch Kids, organized traffic patterns, or just a greater appreciation for personal space. But when you’re back home after traveling, there’s plenty you’ll long for about your life abroad. Many long-term travelers report feeling a “global homelessness,” when everywhere and nowhere seems like home all at once.
Remember that the idea of “home” is what you make of it. It might be the place you left behind, the place you’ve now chosen to establish yourself, or simply the place you carry within you that’s some combination of the places you’ve been. But be clear with yourself about what and where it is—and you’ll always have a home to go back to.
Photo courtesy of Ryan.
About The Author
Natalie Jesionka has researched and reported on human rights issues around the world. She lectures on human trafficking, gender and conflict, and human rights at Rutgers University. When she is not teaching, she is traveling and offering tips on how students and professionals can get the most out of their experiences abroad. She also encourages global exploration through her work as Editor of Shatter the Looking Glass, an ethical travel magazine. Natalie is a Paul and Daisy Soros Fellow and served as a 2010 Fulbright Scholar in Thailand.