Coming home is one of the best things about travelling. I mean, what can beat coming through the door after a long absence and being greeted enthusiastically by a pet? Well, this was not exactly the homecoming I received from my cat yesterday morning. She was so ticked off about my extended absence that she ignored me completely for most of the day, and when she did speak to me it was only to ask for dinner.
Coming home is also one of the hardest things about travelling.
I write this post from my home in Sydney, and outside the sun is bright and the air is warming up to today’s 26C maximum. It feels wrong. After a month in the cold weather of North America, this bright, hot, sunny day is completely incongruous with what feels normal to me.
These feelings, these ‘post-travel blues’, are more than just the physical adjustments to spending 30 hours in transit, and being 5 hours behind in the day (Seattle is 19 hours behind Sydney, thus is 5 hours ahead throughout the day – don’t spend too much time thinking about it). The physical stuff is jet-lag and while I am suffering that too, P.T.B.s are about acutely feeling the differences – large and small – between where you’ve been and home.
For me, the weather is the most obvious difference between Sydney and Seattle – my last port of call. I got on a plane wearing a coat, long pants and knee-high boots, which were all stifling when I landed in Sydney. Easily rectified, however, as after Immigration, baggage claim and then Customs, I was home within 10 minutes of hugging my friend, Lisa, ‘hello’. The boots were off before I got through the door. And within an hour of landing, I was wearing shorts and a T-shirt.
The real feelings of despondency didn’t hit me until I saw Lisa off, and was walking back down my driveway. It was then that I started to sob, and I didn’t stop for some time after I was back in my apartment. This place, where I keep my stuff, and where I sleep more often than not, and where my cat lives, felt – at once – familiar and foreign.
I have spent most of the past month in one place, which means I unpacked while in Seattle. I had drawers for my clothes, and the suitcases were put away. I learned the neighbourhood, our little corner of Seattle, Queen Anne. I knew shortcuts, places of business and used the monorail to get about. I knew the aisles of the local supermarkets, and I even knew people, whose faces I saw everyday, enough to say ‘hello’. The corporate apartment where Ben and I were staying (he is still there and will be for the next month), was ‘home’. I had a mere two suitcases full of stuff, and that was enough. Besides clothes, I had my laptop, a book I subsequently finished and left on a plane, and my journals.
Back in Sydney, I have already filled half a dozen shopping bags with things and clothes that I do not want or need. Living in another city – even for just three short weeks – has made me realise that I am not attached to most of the things I have accumulated in my 7 years of living in Sydney, even things I so desperately wanted at the time. This realisation is one of my great gifts from this past bout of travelling: stuff is just stuff after all.
Now, I am not going to take a vow of poverty and rid myself of everything. I have not had such a grand epiphany as that. I am just reminding myself of something that I have known for some time: I am ‘at home’ most when the feelings about that place reflect what is truest to me at the time. This is not a new concept, just that ‘home is where the heart is’.
My travels over the past years have been a combination of tours, trips, visits and adventures. I did not feel ‘at home’ in Bali, but did in Greece, like I had deep roots there. I have felt ‘at home’ in Vancouver, a truly favourite city, and L.A., where I have long-time friends. I have even felt at home while swinging in the hammock of my rainforest hut in Peru. It is not the place, but what is in my heart and mind while I am there that brings me to this inner peace.
I fell a little in love with Seattle, and now I hurt because I am not there. It is a beautiful city with diverse people, a multitude of terrific restaurants, many artistic pursuits, and yes, I even got used to the weather. My last day out and about I wore only a denim jacket for warmth, which would be unlikely if it was 6C in Sydney. And of course, more than anything else, Ben is still in Seattle, which makes being home in Sydney bitter-sweet.
So, to cope with these post-travel blues, I will head to the gym, see my Sydney friends, and go to favourite cafes for coffee(!). I will celebrate Australia Day this Saturday, and then psych myself into going back to work next Tuesday. I will likely fall back in love with Sydney soon enough, remembering why I chose to live here. In the meantime, the cat is now cuddling with me on the couch – how quickly she forgives – and I am looking ahead to future travels. I head to the south coast of Western Australia in February to see my family and celebrate my dad’s 60th. It is a truly spectacular part of the world, one which I have yet to see in warm weather. Beyond that I am not sure, but I do know that my April holidays cannot come soon enough. Then I can get back off the beaten track.
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