Defining “Home”

Monopoly houses | credit to ttaudigani

Monopoly houses | credit to ttaudigani

Literally speaking a home is a place of residence, a domicile, yet that hardly does justice to the true meaning of the word. Is anyone in the habit of believing that the two-man ultra-light tent they set up in Banff National Park’s back-country or the garish and gaudy walls of the Pink Palace in Corfu resemble what “home” actually means to them? We pass through hotels and hostels, and often cities and countries, knowing that our time is limited and rarely establish what would normally be thought of as a home, at least not in the literal sense already mentioned, yet what we do establish are tangible and intangible connections; people and place and memories and familiarity. This begs the question, should our understanding of home be viewed as a literal or an abstract concept?

From the literal side, home is wherever we find ourselves. It’s our address.  Where we shower in the morning and where we lay weary heads down at night. It may be that hostel or hotel I mentioned earlier, but it’s more likely to be the place where we get mail and cook meals and engage in all manner of idiosyncrasies. In contrast, the abstract definition of home is about feelings and memories. Where you grew up and the nostalgia you feel when you think back on your childhood or the memories you made as a teenager or adult. You don’t have to presently live there, or even know anyone that does, but in a real sense it remains home to you. From this perspective, home is in your heart and head and not strictly limited to where you find yourself.  Most long-term travelers I’ve met on the road seem to view home in the abstract with a bit of the literal sprinkled in (i.e. Home is Rome, but I suppose also here in London too…).

Recently I’ve been introduced to the phrase, “multibasing“, which, in short, means to have no conventional home, but rather multiple “bases” across the globe that a traveler will split time between.  How, exactly, this differs from a long-term traveler that follows a migratory path (e.g. endless summer, snow birds, etc) escapes me and I view it as simply a new wrinkle added to the current understanding of what a home can be, one that certainly backs my belief that home is an abstract concept. As travel becomes more accessible, I wonder, how much do physical “roots” matter in today’s hyper-connected, media-enabled, ultra-mobile world?   Will the 21st century give rise to global souls who have multiple homes yet a less intense lack of connection to each of them?

For me, being home certainly means  not having to grope for the light-switch or grapple with public transportation, yet I find home best viewed in the abstract. It helps that I “multibase” myself; on most days, my wife and I are separated by about 90 miles of snow, sky, and sublime Colorado scenery. One home is in Boulder, CO, and the other in Colorado Springs, CO.  And a not too distant third is on the road with her. For, with her, independent of location, I find the same comfort and familiarity as I would in either of our physical homes.   My instinct is to shy away from the tired old line, “home is where the heart’s at”, but, hell, it fits –  when I’m with my wife, I’m in a moving sanctuary, one that has no fixed walls or floor or ceiling.

The meaning of home is certainly nuanced and undoubtedly varies with the individual, yet I believe its meaning is more abstract than it is literal.  Do you disagree and find home to be a fixed, static concept?  If you fall into my camp and view home as being an intangible thing, where is home to you and why?

Posted by | Comments (4)  | February 20, 2012
Category: General, Vagabonding Life

4 Responses to “Defining “Home””

  1. DEK Says:

    We don’t need to travel to foreign places to wonder where our home is. Just in a normal career we travel so far afield from where we began that the home of our youth loses its meaning and of these other places we have lived, none of them seem more important than any other.

    In the hero stories, the hero had a home that he left to have his adventures and to which he returned, often with great difficulty, and where he then told the story of his wandering. Odysseus, for all his wandering, never doubted that his home was Ithaka.

    I have lately wondered about this myself, as each candidate for my own “home” seems insufficient. I suspect “home” is a thing you make for yourself by conscious effort of will, and may not even be a particular place, but I think it is a thing that eventually you must have. This may be what some people intend when they say that heaven is their home.

  2. Rolf Potts Says:

    Home has been a fluid concept to me over the years, though after many years the house I bought in Kansas has come to feel like home to me (even though I’m rarely there). It’s the most important of my “multibases” — and it’s a place that gives me the context and grounding to appreciate all the other places in the world.

  3. Ted Beatie Says:

    Home truly is where the heart is. As you say, it’s often wherever I am with my wife, whether that’s Oakland or Thailand. It’s also those places where one feels they have a connection to – for me, that’s Morocco, San Francisco, Boston, Black Rock City, Chiang Mai, and Hawthorne, New York.

  4. GypsyGirl Says:

    For most a majority of my life I’ve tried to come up with a simple answer for this question. No luck yet. However, like Ted, there are places such as Skagway, Prescott, Emigrant, and Visby that feel like home to me.