The other day I was having dinner with two friends whom I had met earlier during my travels. We were on our second bottle of wine, and discussing our feelings towards travelling, specifically long-term travelling. I said how happy I was to be spending a few days with them. “Looking back over the last six months, I haven’t actually met many people I really connected with,” I mused. “That I can have deeper conversations with and that I want to hang out with for longer periods of time. I guess, in the end, you only click very few on a deeper level.”
There. I had said something out loud that I had thought about a lot, but also hadn't wanted to admit to myself. A great part of the allure of travel, for me, are the random encounters with individuals from other backgrounds. Every day brings new acquaintances. Locals running great restaurants, soul-searchers in dreads and colorful garb, divorcees experiencing a second spring, researchers taking notes on local peculiarities, sports fanatics, Gap Year adventurers spending their nights partying and their days nursing a hangover. All of these are fascinating to talk to and great to learn from, each in their own way. There are so many different motivations and reasons to be traveling, and it’s captivating to hear why others have taken to the road. However, once you’ve exchanged WhatsApp numbers and Facebook info, you realize that the connection, while memorable, was also fleeting. It was born from the moment and the circumstances, and not necessarily a deeper kinship.
After a while, you start yearning for those profound connections. People who know when you need time to yourself to recharge, who can feel when you need a hug, and who realize that you’re not a dork but that you were being sarcastic. While you’ll have traveling companions that cover one or two one of these traits, it’s rare to find them all combined - and rarer to find a group of people that you have that kind of relation with. If you’re in luck and you stumble across them, you want to hold onto them. That’s partly why I’d met up again with Dorus and Diana.
“I know what you mean." Dorus remarked. "I’m actually ready to go home. It's been over a year since I left the Netherlands, and I’m looking forward to seeing family and friends again. I'm even looking forward to the cold!” He took another sip of wine, and glanced at me over the rim of his glass. I nodded. While I wasn’t at that point yet - and I was certainly not looking forward to the cold - I did understand Dorus’ sentiment. It felt like it wasn't the place he was going back to, it was the people.
Travelling teaches you lots of things. For me, one of the most important insights is that “home” is not a physical place. It’s defined by the people you connect with. Your parent’s house, without them in it, is just a place of memories. Your old neighborhood that all of your friends have left, is just a collection of places you used to go to. Home, it turns out, is where the heart is.
What I haven’t figured out, yet, is, what you do when your heart is not just in one place. When you have close family in different countries, and good friends spread around the globe. My best guess is that you have to pick a place, and grow the seed that you find there into a network that supports you. And to put your heart in it.