Homesickness – a feeling of longing for one’s home during a period of absence from it.
Wanderlust – the wish to travel far away and to many different places.
Growing up in small-town, Warren, Ohio, one of my favorite things about summer was church camp. Every year that I was of age to attend, my parents put my suitcase in the car and off we went to Seneca Hills Bible Camp located somewhere in the mountains of Pennsylvania. It was only about an hour or so from Warren, but it seemed far away. They would drop me off, help me find my cabin and I was ready to say goodbye. There were never any teary eyes that didn’t want to stay, those showed up at the end of the week when I didn’t want to leave to go back home. Not because I didn’t love my family, friends or home, but because I just loved going places and experiencing things. I can still remember the way the woods smelled first thing in the morning, damp with dew and a chill in the mountain air.
When I was older and could drive, I had an aunt, Jackie, who would call me out of the blue on say a Wednesday evening and ask if I could drive her to Florida on Friday. If I was available or could make myself available, I almost always said, “yes”. What adventures we had. She was a bit eccentric in choosing our accommodations, a certain city, a certain floor, things had to be just so, but what fun. When we arrived at our destination, it was usually 2 days on the road, I might stay a day or two or a week or sometimes she put me right back on a plane home. I loved these journeys as they were always an adventure. Even the time she wanted me to drive her to Texas. We stopped and enjoyed Nashville on our way there. We arrived late in the evening in Pilot Point, Texas, our destination. We visited a bit with our relatives we were staying with and then went to bed. When I woke up in the morning, Aunt Jackie told me she changed her mind and wanted to go back to Warren. So, we got in the car a few hours later and headed back to Warren, Ohio. No, I wasn’t upset, it was Jackie and just part of the journey. My dad used to say, “always expect the unexpected”. Maybe those crazy trips with Aunt Jackie helped mould me into my current solo travelling self. I have learned to not let disrupted travel plans upset me and I can usually quickly adjust to just about anything thrown my way.
Once when I was living in Paris, I decided to take a trip to the countryside by train. I got off at the wrong stop. I decided to walk to the village, after all, it was only a 3 km walk…WRONG…it was 8 km (I didn’t put on my glasses and the 8 looked like a 3). Oh well, it was flippin’ hot, I didn’t have any water, but I got to see some beautiful French countryside and got a little exercise. When I arrived in the village and found a bistro, I remember thinking it was the best glass of wine and meal I had ever tasted. Not really, but, if you can make the best out of a bad situation, you will be much happier and if you don’t, nobody is miserable but you.
I have spent the better part of the last 5+ years travelling. Not just travelling, but also living abroad mostly on the other side of the world, 10,000 km (6700 miles) from home. In the beginning, I would return to Warren, Ohio for a couple weeks every 6 months, then it turned into a year, and most recently, a year and half….I have just left Warren, after being home for the longest period in over 5 years. I spent 2.5 months in my hometown. It was great seeing family, friends and making new friends. As you are going through a whirlwind of activities, meeting for coffee, doing lunch or dinner, going to events, visiting people’s homes or just out shopping, the one thing you always hear is, “I missed you”! The natural response without even thinking is, “I missed you too”. Then, it’s on to the questions, “how was Bali?”, “do you miss, China?”, “how do you like your place?”, “are you glad to be back?”, etc. You get the idea. Being it was also around the holidays and the opening of my brother and sister-in-law’s theatre, the Robins, it was a constant flow of events. It was a never-ending cycle of crazy, mad chaotic, fun. But truth be known, as February was drawing near, I was ready to leave. Ready to get on with my nomadic lifestyle.
February 2, 2020 rolls around. After what was at least a weeklong send-off, I boarded a plane and am now in Warsaw Poland. I plan to be here, there, everywhere, probably Bali too, for at least the next year and a half, maybe longer. Two nights ago, I had a video chat with a group of girlfriends playing trivia at the bar of Jacked Restaurant in Warren. The place was packed and hard to hear at times, but the phone got passed around and all the I love you; I miss you’s were said. Near the end of the video chat, someone asked, “don’t you miss us and wish you were here”? Well, a couple of seconds passed, I didn’t answer, and my friend Teri said, “look at that face, that tells it all”. All I could do was shrug my shoulders and give a half of a smile. I chatted with a few more people and we ended the call.
For the last two days I have been thinking about that question and my response, or should I say, non-response. Was it snobbish? Does it seem like I don’t like life in Warren/America and the rest of the world is much better? No…I know my friends know me better than that. They know I love to travel and it is what I want to do currently. I am living my dream. But, am I being honest when I say, “I miss you too”? Now I want the chance to explain my non-response.
The first time I left for an extended period, I went to Paris, France for nearly 7 months. Honestly, I didn’t miss anything while I was there. It was a dream come true. I didn’t miss any foods from home, I didn’t miss my stuff, I didn’t miss my family or friends. I do think social media had a lot to do with it on my first extended trip. Facebook whore that I am, my life was and is pretty much an open book. The other thing, my family and friends knew this was what I needed at exactly this time in my life. They also knew I had an end date, a date when I would return for what everyone thought was long term. I arrived back in Warren, Ohio and discovered more than anything I missed the adventure of living abroad. I seriously missed being gone and soon made plans to move to China. Again, this had an end date. My visa was only good for 6 months and I had to leave China whether I wanted to or not. I returned to the USA and immediately got another visa. This time good for 10 years and I returned to China without a return ticket. Although I would return for a brief visit after 1 year. During that first 6 months and the 3.5 years that followed, I thought I missed things, especially cheese. I quickly learned that I could live without these things. The things I was seeing, doing, eating, experiencing far outweighed what I thought I was missing. I also realized that some of my feelings were really FOMO – Fear of Missing Out. Missing out on family and friend’s life events. Missing that wedding, that “special” birthday, that funeral, that birth…but the more I thought about those things the more I knew that my family and friends understood that I could still love them without being geographically near. They know I share in their joys and sorrows. They know I am a text, a Facebook post, an Instagram picture or a video chat away.
I don’t think I have ever felt homesick. The closest I may have been to homesick was when I broke my back. But even then, that was probably better described as feeling helpless not homesick as I had to have a caregiver assist me with everyday simple tasks. Yes, I have a bad case of wanderlust. I have met so many beautiful people along my journey, I must honestly say, I will miss many of them. That is because I know I will never see them again and they have taken a piece of my heart. So, friends and family, when I say, “I miss you, too”, I am being honest, but I miss you in a different way than I miss those I will never see again. I miss you and look forward to seeing you, but not always in our home environment. I miss you and look forward to seeing you, but my wish is that I could see you and share with you the geographical and cultural situation I happen to be in at the time. I know this isn’t possible for everyone and I hope you understand when maybe I don’t answer that question, “don’t you wish you were here”. Maybe that’s why I always say my theme song is “I Wish You Were Here”. Because I really do wish you were here. Thank you all for being a part of my journey, I love you.
I’m going to end with a quote from Hannah Arendt. “Loving life is easy when you are abroad. Where no one knows you and you hold your life in your hands all alone, you are more master of yourself than any other time.”