Strictly speaking I’ve been away from home for the past month. On December 12th after contact from family to say my Uncle was ill, I jumped on a plane back to the UK and haven’t yet returned. I didn’t have time to pack my stuff away and end my rental agreement on my apartment in Chiang Mai so I’ve been paying rent there even though I haven’t been there and won’t have been for over a month, by the time I get back.
Over the last month I’ve been lucky enough to be warmly welcomed into the homes of my family and friends. I’ve slept on sofas, air beds, in spare rooms and in the family room at the hospital and after so long away, I’ve given a lot of thought to what it means to be ‘home.’ I’ve spent time in the house I grew up in, the city I was born in, my Dad’s house, the city I lived for ten years and even stayed in the beautiful new home of my closest friend. In emails and conversations with people I’ve talked about going home and some people have reacted with surprise when I’ve explained to them that home for me is Thailand.
When I’ve thought or talked about home over the last few weeks, I have been referring to my apartment in Chiang Mai, it certainly feels like home to me, but the confusion others have had over my use of the term got me thinking. When I first decided to leave the UK, I had spent years yearning for a life of travel, to be on the road, to be somewhere else. Not long after I first embarked on my big trip, I felt lonely and misplaced. I soon started to worry that I would never feel at ‘home’ anywhere, but all that has changed lately and so too has my definition of home.
I remember a few months ago lying on a sun lounger by the open air pool near my apartment in Chiang Mai and watching a plane fly overhead. I smiled to myself as I realised that for the first time ever I didn’t wish I was on it, en route to some exotic destination. I was, I felt, exactly where I wanted to be.
When I think about why Chiang Mai feels like home to me, it’s not as simple as the glorious sunshine, the cheap cost of living, the delicious food, the beautiful temples or laid-back feel, although I have to admit all of that helps. I’ve realised recently that for the first time in my life I feel accepted and understood by virtually everyone I spend time with, including myself. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that I suddenly find myself feeling at home just as I’ve started living the life of my dreams. This more than anything Chiang Mai has to offer, is why these days I feel at home.
I’m not saying that I need to be surrounded by people with the same take on life as me to be happy, I’m all for differing opinions and other points of view. What I am saying though, is that for the first time in my life, the majority of people around me don’t question my choices and preferences, in the main I believe, because they understand them. I haven’t had to explain or convince anyone lately of my reasons for not wanting to buy a house or my decision not to drink, I haven’t had to justify quitting my job or explain why I’m 35 and still single. For the first time in my life I’ve felt normal for choosing something different and that’s because most of the people around me have done the same.
Don’t get me wrong it’s also not that I felt completely misunderstood when I lived in the UK, but I did always feel like I was marching to someone else’s drum. I felt that my idea of success was not in tune with society’s idea of success. Over my choices to travel and live abroad, I had people ask me what I was running away from or suggest that the life I’m living abroad isn’t real life, yet now more than ever I feel alive, present and at home.
Coming back to the UK has also reaffirmed my believe that home is not about location. This last month has done nothing but remind me how lucky I am to have the friends and family that I have in my life. It’s also been evident that even under the saddest of circumstances, I can feel at home when with people who love and understand me.
Home isn’t my apartment in Chiang Mai, nor is it the town I grew up in. I think I finally understand what “home is where the heart is” means. For me, feeling at home is being comfortable in my own skin, understanding those around me and feeling understood, it’s friendship and family and living the life I want to live rather than the life I think I should.