I live here.
That’s what I tell myself as I walk the square and triangle blocks of America’s capital city: this is where I live. This is where I have an address and where I have plants that need watering. I know folks on the street and they know me. I live here and recognize all the little things—
—Like the sirens at night and the sound of the president’s helicopter overhead; Construction cranes, the parade of polished shoes morning and evening and the taunting heat of early summer that warns of the unforgiving August ahead; The whiff of long-gone tulips, a smeared spot of poo on the sidewalk (most likely delivered by a Labradoodle on a leash), and then that fresh chemical waft of dry-cleaning floating out from every corner.
Mine is a city of many dry cleaners, and the smell of dry cleaning tells me that I am home.
I. Am. Home.
It is a rare and special place for me, and yet it is one of my favorite places on earth—home.
Readers ask me where I go on vacation and I tell them: I go home. Home is a special change from my ritual traveling, and I long for it like most people long for the beach.
Homesick? No. I don’t ever ache to be home more than the place I’m in. I just like the place that home is.
So many travelers love the escape that travel brings—to run away from daily worries and mundane routine, to find new horizons and have the change of scene that movies and travel posters promise. But my routine is travel and home is the escape.
I love to travel and I also love coming home. I feel that you really can’t have one without the other. Travel gives home meaning, and home brings greater depth and meaning to travel.
Last year I spent more than 200 days away from home, traveling. At that point I no longer consider what I do as “traveling”. I merely live in many different places. I wake up in the morning and remember where I am—wherever that is in the world, that is my home for that day.
Last month I lived in Norway, the month before that I was living in South Africa. I lived in Malawi for a week and before that I was living on a boat, at sea. Like flipping through the pages of a passport, I can rewind my calendar days around the globe, every day of my life waking up somewhere new and thrilling.
I find living everywhere much better than traveling everywhere. When you live everywhere you go, then you are always home.
This week I am home in Washington, DC. I love this city for all of its white marble and Victorian brick facades, for its wave of summer interns, for the lunchtime banter of state-secrets, for my own family history here and the swampy brown river that we all live on. This is my home and I love living here.
But I have other homes too: I was born in Texas and gosh darn am I proud of that. I am Texan and I claim it often. I can ride a horse (kind of) and I have more family living there than any other place on earth. So Texas, I love you . . .
But then I spent my youth in Ohio and I am a corn-fed Midwesterner through and through. I can milk a cow and shuck corn like a fiend. I know the Pennsylvania Dutch names for farm tools you won’t find in the store because Sears stopped making them a century ago. Ohio is home and when I see a red barn, I feel like I’m there.
I am a red-blooded American but my feelings of home extends far beyond the span of sea to shining sea. Ukraine is my home that I know better than any other country on earth. And Iceland. France is home too. I lived there for one important year and I like my steak mi-cuit. And then Belgium, too. I lived there and to me, waffles and fries smell like home to me. The Smurfs are Les Schtroumpfs and I prefer when Tintin speaks French. England is also home. I lived there for four years and keep wishing for another season of Little Britain. Wales is home—that’s where my last name comes from and white sheep on a green hill make me all teary. And Scotland. By American definition, I’m half-Scottish and I know my family’s plaid and I’ve sat on the boat dock in Glasgow that they left from 150 years ago.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
These are my many, many homes, and in the last few years, they have multiplied forever and ever. Canada is home and so is Mexico and Japan. Australia is home and New Zealand, too. Getting to Antarctica felt like coming home, and Africa is home to all of us. All the oceans are home and for all the days I have spent at 33,000 feet, airplanes are my home, too.
Even the most nomadic people in the world have a concept of home and they carry that familiarity with them on their backs. Life as a digital nomad is no different. I carry my computer and phone and they connect me to everything that home is: the people I love and care for, my personal history, the familiar images of the surroundings I know best. In this year of 2012, all of these things are boundless, unlimited by any border restrictions or physical distance.
I think to be a good digital nomad you must also be a good analog homebody. When the power is out and your 4G is flat-lining, you have to be able to put all those devices down and stare out the window and recognize something homey.
For me, today, it is the red brick blocks of Dupont Circle and the pile of clouds which might break at any moment. It is the cathedral on the hill, the jumble of fire escapes and the postman on the corner with his bag, delivering mail to the same zip code that I vote in.
That’s how I know I’m home. That—and the lingering smell of breakfast bacon, the laundry that waits its turn, the embrace of friends and family, the pile of unread books next to my bed and the memory of so much of my life in these particular square feet.
I live here and it’s nice to be home, if only for a while.