Banner image by Parker Hilton.
For a long time the question of where I’m from was an easy one to answer: Sonoma County, California. Since that’s where I was born and raised, I suppose it still feels accurate. However, over time and through travels, my perception of home has shifted. My once-simple response is now just the seed, with complex roots and shoots germinating from the core. Now when asked, I feel “ands” and “buts” bubble up, clambering to elaborate and explain.
It can be difficult to distill our entire, true narrative to an elevator acquaintance or even a new friend.
So what is “home?” Is it a physical place? A spiritual one? Is it necessarily the place where you grew up? What does it feel like? Where do we feel most “at home?” What other sensations correspond with this feeling and characterize home? Who do you associate with home? And how has this changed throughout your life?
I knew I couldn’t be alone in these meditations. So I reached out and encouraged seven other young, adventuring women to tell their stories and try to untangle the intricate concepts of home.
The inevitable question is “where are you from?” The answer never seems straightforward. For me, it’s is not just a location. It’s a variety of sensations and a place to lay your head at night, but most importantly it’s an unquestionable level of comfort.
The most at home I’ve felt has been living in our van, with my boyfriend, Parker, and pup, Emma. It hit me pretty hard a couple nights ago, parked at a rest stop cuddling up in bed, just how homey and comfortable this van has become for me. A rest stop is far from a luxurious place to spend the night. But with the shades drawn, the soft glow of our string lights and my pup and boy by my side, I couldn’t help but smile. I felt safe, happy and at ease.
I have no doubt that my physical “home” will be an ever-changing location throughout life and there will never be just one. Nonetheless, the fundamental perception of “home” will remain the same; the necessary cozy, comfortable and content sensations [I feel there].
I consider Tamaqua, Pennsylvania, my hometown because that’s where I spent my most formative years. It’s where I first went to public school, had my first kiss, took my first sip of alcohol, and experienced so many other moments of quintessential youth.
From second through eighth grade, my mom and I lived on cruise ships and sailed around the world, so salty, wet wind from the sea will always remind me of home. I also feel entirely at home in hotels, probably because I spent so many nights in them as a kid, and they’re similar to ship cabins—air conditioning, pressed linens, mini soaps, hard carpet, the scent of cleaning supplies just used.
Because I am now on the move constantly, a physical daily grounding routine is so important to me—coffee, writing, stretching, deep breaths, fresh air, and sunshine. If I have all of these things, I feel at home.
I still would like to one day somewhat settle down, but I don’t feel ready to find that place now. I love the chase. I love looking forward to exploring somewhere new. This is the season of life I am in, and I choose to fully embrace it!
Home feels like you shouldn’t be anywhere else. It doesn’t have to be one place. New York is my permanent address and where all my stuff is. By traditional definition, I guess that’s what home is, but I don’t really see it that way any more. [Now] driving with my boyfriend, Victor, in our RV is home. It’s something I haven’t been able to put into words quite yet, but it’s something we made together and it feels very natural to be on the go, traveling from state to state as we please. In the RV we see mementos of traveled places, smells of whatever Trader Joe’s food we’re cooking, and our favorite music playing. I hope it smells like a mixture of lemons, coconut, and honey.
Home feels like you shouldn’t be anywhere else.
Home used to be a place where my garage clicker opened a door to a very safe place. After 23 blissful years of a cookie-cutter Midwest dream, I moved to New York City to begin my career as a photographer. City life . . . it took a good year and four apartments to get into my own groove. Home, then, was where I dropped a fat check into a rent box. It was where I could walk right down the street to our friend’s local watering hole, Lucky Dog.
After getting kicked out of gentrifying Williamsburg, Victor and I realized we both wanted to travel for a year, which has now turned indefinite. I’m not in a rush to settle into one place, maybe because I haven’t found it yet. Until then, home is somewhere new every night.
The quick answer [to where I’m from] is “all over,” but people aren’t really comfortable with that. There’s nothing like the feeling of being stationary for a little while and then getting back out on the road again. I get a little giddy every time the tires hit the pavement and we’re back on some lonely back road. That feels like home.
There are times when we meet new people and they welcome us into their home for a spell. It’s amazing how quickly you can settle into the rhythms of a household built on love and respect. And then those times that we gather with other nomads out in a national forest or on a beach, where we are instantly family, brought together by our love of this life and the newness that it brings.
It’s amazing how quickly you can settle into the rhythms of a household built on love and respect.
[The sensations that characterize home] are not tied to one place. There’s the sight of a familiar skyline or even familiar brands like the grocery store you used to shop at or the local chain you just can’t get those donuts at anywhere else; the smell of the earth after a thunderstorm; the smell of the van mixed with the fresh herbs growing along the California coast; the incense we burn that remind us of our youth in the south. This is ever-expanding as we add new places we love to our list of “home.”
I’ve been lucky to call many places home the past few years. I’ve gotten in the habit of telling a tiny piece of the story [of where I’m from], or just downright lying, to save myself some time.
When you say that you don’t have a real location as a home, with an address, there tends to be 21 more questions about how that happened and what your exact plans are. Before you know it, you’re having a deep conversation with a stranger about heartbreak, career choices, and your life goals. It can be amazing and exhausting. The answer depends on the moment and the inquirer.
I felt most at home in northeast Portland in a tiny house rented by two kids very much in love. We filled it to the brim with our collaborative creations and never stopped dreaming up ways to make it better. Countless friends and family members stayed there and made it their home as well. Sadly, it was sold from under us, and we were forced to move out. This event really triggered a lot of thoughts and emotions for me about how much time we take to make a nest, and how quickly it can disappear. That home and the partner I built it with are former chapters in a very fortunate life, and I’m thankful for the memories made there.
A wonderful longer term home will be an added bonus someday. Until then, I will continue exploring and learning from my adventures, finding a “home” wherever seems right.
Home feels like you belong. Home is where you are, your whole self, where you can just be. The Lake Tahoe region is exactly what I think of when someone says the word “home”: fresh air, blue skies, wide-open granite, crystal clear water, pure snowmelt to drink, Sierra mixed-conifer forests, the warm smell of a forest floor in the summertime, and the sound of a slight breeze rushing through the surrounding trees.
Home is where you are, your whole self, where you can just be.
[I’ve felt most at home] within Desolation Wilderness, a wilderness area just southwest of Lake Tahoe. I’m not sure how to word it, but from the first moment I dipped my bare toes into a lake comprised entirely of freezing snowmelt, I was home. I have never felt anything so comforting as Wilderness. My surrounding environment, nearby ecosystems, now define home for me.
The question of where I’m from is always a difficult one to answer. I’ve moved around a lot throughout my life and I don’t know if people want to know where I’m originally from or just the last place I lived.
Asheville is still a special place for me. I have great friends there, and its mountains, rivers, lakes, and trails call out to me. A part of me believes that if I go back it may still feel like home.
So far, living on the road is the most I’ve felt at home. Home is the combination of living in my RV, “The Toaster,” while it’s parked in natural outdoor spaces, and the freedom to move to another place.
But home is also being able to walk away from it and sit in the middle of the woods or by a secluded lake. Home is when a sense of calmness comes over me. It’s when I look out onto the horizon and think to myself, “Yes, this is where I should be right now.” The “right now” is key, because I may go back to the same exact spot that once felt like home, but the timing may not be right, so the place won’t feel like it did before.
I always thought home was supposed to be a permanent place living in a traditional house. But since we’ve become full-time nomads, I’ve learned that’s not the case. Home is a state of mind, it’s a moment, it’s on wheels. And rather than being consistently the same, it can be the consistency of changes in scenery.
Madeleine Boga is an artist, dreamer, doer, and traveler. She and her partner, Kyle, spent summer 2015 as nomads, road tripping around the United States. Their travels were knit together by their project,The Free Dwellers, in which they interviewed folks living alternative, ecologically minded lifestyles. You can find her on Instagram and her portfolio site.