For the Traveler, What Defines ‘Home?’

Here I am atop Piazzale Michelangelo, with scenic Florence, Italy, in the background. This photo was taken shortly after I moved to this Renaissance city, in the country I consider my "other home."

Last month, I read a brief article on CNN.com that really made me think. It asked the seemingly simple question, “Where is my home?” Quick – what’s your answer?

For many, it’s where their parents and close family live – even if they haven’t resided in that city or town in decades. For others, it’s an adopted hometown where they went to university or worked for many years. For still others, it’s a literal place…a particular house, apartment or condo, or other dwelling place.

Such an inquiry seems especially apropos this time of year, when ringing in our ears are traditional songs such as “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” and folks the world over talk about returning ‘home for the holidays.’ But defining such a place isn’t always easy, especially if you’re someone who’s moved or traveled around a lot.

The online Merriam-Webster Dictionary gives six definitions for home, with the first being simply, “one’s place of residence.” But its definitions of “at home” are far more thoughtful. “Relaxed and comfortable: at ease.” “In harmony with the surroundings.” “On familiar ground.”

Even the high-brow Smithsonian.comtook on the concept last year in an article called “The Definition of Home.” As writer Verlyn Klinkenborg put it, home is “… a way of organizing space in our minds. Home is home, and everything else is not-home. That’s the way the world is constructed. Not that you can’t feel ‘at home’ in other places. But there’s a big psychological difference between feeling at home and being home.” So incredibly true.

Perhaps because I’m a nosy journalist at heart – or because I’ve chosen to live my adult life as a professional gypsy and self-described ‘citizen of the world – I’m fascinated by how folks think about this concept. That Pliny the Elder quote, “Home is where the heart is,” speaks loudly to me. My ‘home’ is where my parents live – and that happens to be Chicago. They’ve resided on the city’s South Side since I was born, in the same comfy house where my sister and our three ‘dog siblings’ grew up. Should they ever finally pull up stakes and move to Orlando, Las Vegas or anywhere else, that place would become ‘home,’ because I’d find my emotional grounding wherever my mom and dad (and my ‘dog sister’ Nala) chose to live.

But I also subscribe to the adage that, “People long to be at home. Your home is whatever place you long to be.” As someone who’s lived in nearly a dozen cities, suburbs and yes, even villages – and three different countries – many of these have felt like mere way stations on my journey to somewhere else. But when I think about where else I most long to be – and the place I lived where I’ve felt most in my own skin – without a doubt it’s Italy. (As my regular readers know, I absolutely adore Paris, but I’ve never actually lived in the city.)

If I were a believer in past lives, I’d think I must have been an Italiana, as that’s where I’ve always felt most ‘at home.’ Something about the culture, the people, the subconscious vibe I pick up when I’m in bella Italia speaks to me. Although I only lived in Florence for seven months, I’ve traveled extensively throughout the country and made many lifelong friends I regard as family. Let me win the lottery, and you can guess the first place I’m headed after I cash that check!

I’ll ask a variation of the question that CNN.com piece posed: How do you define home – and why? And how have your travels helped shape that definition?

Maureen_Jenkins

About Maureen Jenkins

Maureen Jenkins is a food/travel writer and communications professional who's visited nearly 35 countries and territories, lived in Florence, Italy, and recently spent a year living in a charming village near Paris, France. The self-proclaimed 'urban travel girl' talks travel, food and wine – abroad and in Chicago – in "TCW Travel Connection.” Read more of her thoughts on living globally at UrbanTravelGirl.com.