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Traveling Abroad Made Me Realize What 'Home' Means

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Around this time last year, I used to think that the words "home" and "travel" went together like "black" and "white" or "night" and "day." Put simply, they occupied opposite ends of the spatial spectrum. The notion of "home" took shape and form in everything that was familiar: in the promise of Sunday night dinners with my family; in the certainty that the lop-sided tree I grew up with would always be right outside my bedroom window; and in the comfort that everything within a 100 mile radius of me (i.e. the greater New York area) was a world I could operate in. Anything that transgressed these boundaries belonged to the realm of "travel"--a realm that, since childhood, I desperately wanted to explore. So one day, I decided it was high time that I did. And after an eight-month long adventure around the world, I learned that the two aren't as mutually exclusive as I thought they'd be.

This transformation started as soon as my sister's car, loaded with a massive backpack of the things I needed (and didn't) for a period of traveling, rolled out of the garage and away from our mother's three-story brick house. After years of working odd jobs, I planned on taking my spoils (along with some help from Sally Mae a.k.a. She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named) and plunging into the unknown world like most college students aspire to do. My itinerary would have me leaving Newark airport at 4 AM, sit through a 7 hour layover, and arrive in New Delhi 20 hours later. The plan was to hit India and Italy and return home to New York in early May. But, being the risk-taker that I am, I knew that end date would be pushed back until at least August. But this was all on paper at this point -- during the drive to the airport, I was consumed with nostalgia for home. I was already homesick.

In the space of two sleeps (as an Australian friend of mine would call 48 hours), the traveling adventure I long anticipated was already in-progress at a rate I could barely keep up with. I can still remember stepping out of Indira Gandhi's International Airport, dumbfounded by just how far from home I've come. And in what felt like seconds, a month in India rolled into a weekend in Nepal; a few months in Italy launched me into a week in Egypt. The constant barrage of experiences kept me running through hoops. Yet even with the surge of these distractions, I still couldn't shake the feeling that home was worlds away, obstructed from my reach by mountains and oceans too immense for me to overcome. All I had to keep me afloat were a handful of newfound friends and a bulky backpack, heavy with artifacts from the world that I came from and the life I left behind me. And like an anchor, I relied on the over-sized sack to center me.

It wasn't until I was 5 months into my adventure that it occurred to me that I was shouldering my home the entire time. A fellow traveler at a hostel in Vietnam, in his attempt to help me shove another shirt into a bag that already overreached its limit, told me I hoarded too much stuff. With his thick German accent, he ordered me to "throw half of this out!" To my surprise, I physically couldn't bring myself to obey. The difficulty we have when deciding what to pack for a two-week vacation (or even a trip to the beach for that matter) isn't an uncommon tale. We all do it, and we do it to feel the sense of security that only our homes provide us. And it's precisely this rationale that convinced me to retain absolutely everything in my bag.

So I imagined my situation, a kid trekking solo on trains and cars and buses and planes, always with his backpack within reach. My backpack was, in many ways, my link back home. Beyond its basic utility to sustain me throughout my adventure, it found its ulterior purpose as a make-shift home--a house made of linen and rubber that carried items from my past and collected new ones on the road. At its most intrinsic level, the home functions the exact same way.

Ultimately, I walked away with this metaphor: a home is like a backpack. Throughout the trials and tribulations that uncertainty threw my way, I held onto the things that gave me comfort and stability. It saw me through my wildest adventures, my toughest challenges, and my most rewarding moments, acting as the prevailing source of security. It recorded the steps I took throughout my travels and displayed the things I held closest to my heart. Which is why it was important for me to understand that what I retained had to be of the utmost value. After all, a backpack can only carry so much.