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The Big Texan Steakhouse outside Amarillo, Texas on Route 66 (Photo by Andrew Evans, National Geographic Traveler)

Going Home

I was born in Texas.

It was the Seventies, Gerald Ford was president, and my father worked for an oil company. Beyond the distinct toddler memory of my crawling on the brown shag carpeting of our Houston home, I remember nothing of my birthplace.

I remember leaving, though. Our family piled into our big Dodge van and head north to plain and boring Ohio. All of us kids cried and so did my mother—then we did our best to settle into that odd place that wasn’t Texas.

I distinctly remember strutting to my new elementary school in a pair of shin-high, yellow leather cowboy boots. They were my favorites because they were from Texas and I didn’t have to tie them.

By mid-morning I had been summoned to the principal’s office.

“You can’t wear your cowboy boots to school,” he told me sternly. “They’re just too loud. You’re disrupting classes when you walk down the hall.”

I was just six years old but found my principal’s authoritarian reprimand unnecessary, unjust and downright discriminatory. He hadn’t just attacked my footwear—he’d offended my culture.

I arrived home in tears and tossed my contraband cowboy boots into my closet—clunk, clunk. I was just a young kid but I had learned this much: Yankeeland was hostile territory for my kind. To survive I would have to change—to lose the drawl and stop saying “y’all”. My cowboy hat and boots and bandana were relegated to the dress-up box, only to emerge on Halloween and the 4th of July.

Yet amidst this subtle northern aggression, my mother never let us forget where we came from.

“You’re a Texan!” she would shout to my brothers and I, like a rallying cheer. It was her way of telling us to be tough. When we fell out of trees, off bicycles or skateboards, she’d dry our tears and say, “Good thing you’re a Texan.” She hung a Texas license plate and Texas maps on the wall of our bedroom, read us books about Sam Houston, told us bedtime stories of Davy Crockett at the Alamo, and fed us Texas-shaped cookies and Texas sheet cake. Never was such an indoctrination of identity so thorough as mine, so that despite growing up a thousand miles away from Texas, I claim the state as home—the place where I’m from.

During the Great Lakes winter, my mother pined for the clear Texas sunshine and the second their kids were all grown up, my parents high-tailed it back to Houston with its freeways and bayous and big buffet restaurants. From time to time I visited them from faraway England, shocked by the alligators and armadillos that wandered the neighborhood and amazed by the familiarity of the people. I recall waiting in line at the DMV and walking away not only with my new Texas driver’s license, but also in possession of a convenient catfish recipe and a hand-scrawled map where I could go and “catch you some.”

Itinerant soul that I am, my definition of home is rather fluid. I live life on the road and find that wandering the world makes everywhere less foreign. Travel also teaches us where we’re from and who we are. This month’s issue of National Geographic Traveler is devoted to rediscovering your roots through travel. Last month I tracked down an ancestor in Scotland and years ago, I visited the village in Wales from whence my Evans namesake departed for America.

For this entire month I will be exploring my native land of Texas and what it really means to be a Texan. Though I was born here and claim it on applications and at cocktail parties, I have never truly traveled the great state of Texas—and I do mean great.

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Welcome to Texas, where EVERYTHING is bigger. (Photo by Andrew Evans, National Geographic Traveler)

Texas was in fact an independent country before it was a state, and no country on Earth feels as big, as wild, as peculiar, as spectacular, as elaborate and individual as the Lone Star State. It’s larger than France and has millions more people than all of Australia—that’s a whole lotta Texas to see and a whole lotta Texans to meet. I am very excited to be here.

This trip will be different than the others. I am confident there will be surprising adventures, great sunsets, oversized food, tumbleweeds and terrific new friends, but above all, this is personal. I’ve wanted to come home for a long time now.

Good travel reminds us who we really are—and I am Texan. I have yet to discover what that really means, but I’m glad you’ll all be helping me figure it out, one step at a time. It’s a daunting endeavor, but I think I know where to begin.

I reckon I need to get me a pair of cowboy boots.