Recently, a fellow travel blogger mentioned me on Facebook. "You basically call Bangkok home now," he prefaced his comment, referring to the fact that I recently changed my "Current City."
I couldn't humor him with an answer to his Bangkok-specific question -- he'd asked me about reggae music, which I hate -- but it got me thinking: Is Bangkok now my home? What does "home" mean for someone who spends most of his life on the road, anyway?
Many stationary people, I would imagine, define "home" as the place they "come from." But my mother comes from Houston (where I was born) and my father comes from St. Louis (where I moved at just two years of age), so I've had difficulty defining home in this way since almost the very beginning.
By age seven, I was living 45 minutes south of Detroit, just across the Ohio border in a town called Sylvania. My family and I were back in St. Louis before I turned 11, but the damage had already been done: It was the fourth house I'd lived in.
When my parents split in 1999, that total jumped to five and then to six in 2001, when I moved from my mother's house to my father's house. By the time I took my first overseas trip in 2005, I was nearly finished with college in Tampa, which I fled in 2006 for the "it" city of Austin.
The "Live Music Capital of the World" would've been my final destination, had I not moved to Shanghai to teach English in the wake of the 2008 economic apocalypse. You get the point: I "come from" nowhere.
Others might say home is not where you come from, but where you've chosen to settle. It's where you earn your living, the address where your mail is delivered.
When I left China in mid-2010, it was because I began earning money online freelancing for a large digital media company. Even though I eventually traded slave-wage "content" writing for selling ad space on my own travel blog, the fact remained: I didn't need to stay in one place to feed myself.
Even still, I came back to Austin on several occasions in the wake of my China adventure. A bastion of blue thought shielded from its red surroundings by the Texas Hill Country, Austin was the "home" for which I'd pined as a kid too curious, creative and determined to live in the white-bred midwest.
But when I returned to Austin from Australia this past March, it dawned on me that many of the one-of-a-kind characters that had stimulated and inspired me for nearly six years had been replaced by two-dimensional drones from Houston, San Francisco and, most regrettably, Brooklyn.
When lease on the bungalow came up in June, I was left with two choices: Stay and find new roommates among the impostor Austinites; or leave and spend the summer on the road, trying to figure out exactly where or what I considered "home" to be. I chose the latter option.
I prefaced my journey over the pond with a short stop in St. Louis, where my family is still based. Ah, that's right -- home is where your family lives!
Anders, a reader who offered me a place in Oslo, didn't seem to think so. "Let's be honest," he said, "if you bumped into your father on the street, not knowing who he was, and had a coffee with him, do you really think you'd like him? Your grandma? Your cousin?"
He had a point. I mean, after almost a decade living away from them, I could only superficially relate to most members of my family.
But for me, it was less about my changed relationship with the people who raised me -- they have, for better or for worse, made me who I am -- and more about the countless people around the world I now consider brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers.
My Italian friend Francesco framed this reality succinctly weeks later when I visited him in Naples. "You have family, always," he explained. "But as someone who travels, you need to have 'fixed points' in your life. Friends, lovers, business associates. People you see time and again not because they're related to you, but because they give your life meaning and context."
I departed Italy for Switzerland the following week, bound for one such fixed point: My best friend Bianca's family home, a cozy abode I've spent so many nights I certainly consider it a home of my own.
But while Bianca's mother and father are as dear to me as my own, the sad truth is that I don't particularly feel in-sync with the rigid, Swiss way of living, even after four lengthy stays in the country.
It is for this reason that, after a brief stint in Berlin, I headed east to chaotic Bangkok, a city I'd visited three times previously. I love Bangkok, perhaps more than any other metropolis in the world. I feed off the perpetual chaos that sends most other foreign visitors packing for the islands.
I've experienced past-life regressions strolling past relics of Bangkok's golden age in the old city of Rattanakosin -- for real. And I feel safe, welcome and accepted around every corner I turn, even if I am the only farang around.
I would, in no uncertain terms, love to make Bangkok's status as my "home" official. Well, maybe there are some uncertainties.
I would also like to become close with my family once again, even though my thirst for understanding (and their apathy toward it) has driven a third-world sized wedge between us.
Even if I have to spend more Saturday nights at backyard costume parties with trust-fund scum than discussing world affairs with fellow truth seekers, I would like to think that I'll once again have an Austin address at some point in the future.
But not a permanent one! After all, I have friends, acquaintances and even enemies strewn all over the globe, "fixed points" I feel lucky and not burdened to pivot back toward as often as I can throughout my life.
Home is not where you came from, a group of people whose company you crave or even a place you particularly like to rest your head. It is a signal you hear if you listen closely enough, one the universe will continue to allow you to follow, if only you keep listening.
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