Coming home

As GEMMA NISBET discovers, whether you travel to London or Austin one of the pleasures of going away is coming home

What does coming home feel like? To ask the cabbie or the Uber driver to pull over outside your house — “just where the blue car is, thanks” — and to drag the suitcase between the parked cars and through the front gate that always gets stuck on the pavers and makes an awkward squawk? To mount the front steps and jangle the keys as they turn in the lock, the sound of the dog snuffling and squeaking with impatience on the other side of the door?

Coming home feels like that first excited flurry of paws and wagging tail and wet nose. It feels like tipping the bag of dirty laundry into the washing machine, and knowing you’ll find something to eat in the kitchen cupboard or the fridge. It’s that brief moment of gratitude for having remembered to make the bed before you left. It’s seeing the mail piled up on the table in the hallway, and opening the doors to clear out the musty smell, and putting the suitcase back in storage. It’s running a bath, and boiling the kettle, and knowing there’ll be a lemon on the tree to make tea.

It would be only a modest exaggeration to say that I go away just so I can come home again. Obviously I enjoy the travelling itself, and there’s real enjoyment in the planning stage, too. But in some ways, coming home can be the best part of all, despite the fact it’s the portion of the travel equation that’s most often maligned, typically associated with a return to the drudgery of routine, and with the post-holiday comedown.

I’m resistant to the idea that travel is inherently improving — despite what Mark Twain might have said, visiting a foreign country can just as readily fortify prejudices as diminish them. But, for me, stepping outside the familiar does invariably sharpen the senses and provide perspective. It’s a chance to get back in touch with a more considered version yourself, and to do the things you might not prioritise at home.

And so, when I’m away, I become a person who goes to all the museums and the new restaurants, who takes photographs every day and reads at least a book a week, who walks everywhere and makes more time for long conversations. Granted, I also become an inveterate Instagram scroller and hotel-buffet glutton, but I never fail to come back from a trip, however brief, fired up with enthusiasm to bring with me some of the curiosity and energy that travel can engender. And so coming home can bring possibilities and potential of its own.

Indeed, depending where I’ve been, I might come home with a tan and souvenirs tucked in my suitcase, but also with new ideas for who I’d like to be: alternative identities I’ve tried on for size while I’ve been away and would like to integrate into my daily routine. I once came home from London determined I’d become the kind of person who rides their bike to work, for example, and from the resolutely outdoorsy city of Austin, Texas, sure I’d transform into someone who exercises outside on weekend mornings instead of lying in bed and eating bagels. And though those particular ambitions may have faded — I’m still commuting by car and sleeping in on Sundays — there are others that have stuck, whether it’s the taste for tempranillo and tortilla acquired on a drive across Spain, or a renewed determination to learn new things sparked by a scuba diving trip to Indonesia.

So, what does coming home feel like? It feels like that warm welcome and that return to the familiar, but also like getting back full of plans and a desire to be better and do better. It feels like seeing familiar people, places and pets with fresh eyes, and like bringing the best version of my travel-self — a person who is capable and curious, self-reliant and relaxed — back with me. It feels like a beginning as much as an ending.

And should I forget what that feels like, I only need go away again.

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