I left home without looking over my shoulder. I quit my job, packed my apartment, and bid home farewell in a whirl of excitement and spontaneity. Though I was fortunate to call Vancouver home, to have my parents and siblings close, and to feel a part of a community, home felt like a cocoon that I was itching to crawl out of. I felt as if everything in the great beyond was passing me by. I had long dreamed of a one-way ticket adventure and I was finally doing it.
I left home with loose plans in the company of my boyfriend, who has been the perfect travel partner. Together we spent two years abroad, lived in four countries, and visited dozens more. We evolved throughout our journey, shifting from backpackers to digital nomads, and from local residents to house sitters, morphing ourselves however our changing backdrop beckoned.
We’ve since returned to home soil, where the outbreak of Covid-19 has called for a pause in travel plans, social distancing, and much introspection. Setting off in search of the unpredictable has led to the most unexpected outcome of all—buying a home. I am so grateful we were in a position to do this, especially with so many travellers caught in the storm of this pandemic. Not so long ago, I cringed at the thought of being rooted but as it turns out, my definition of ‘home’ evolved by virtue of hitting the road.
India: Home is where your backpack hangs
In the earliest stages of our stint abroad, ‘home’ was a fluid concept. Our surroundings shifted constantly so we learned to feel at home in each hostel, hotel, and guest house. Heck, we even made overnight busses and sardine-can trains feel cozy. Home became wherever we hung our backpacks, which became the familiar sight that marked our place of rest for the night.
Travelling light, I developed a new understanding of what was essential and what was a privilege. An enclosed space with a bed was essential while a private bathroom was a plus. Similarly, a pair of shoes that worked for every occasion was essential while “having options” was unwanted extra baggage. A general sense of minimalism crept into the way I viewed everything; it didn’t take more than a friendly face and hearty meal to feel at home.
We spent a total of six months backpacking India. We made our requisite pilgrimage to the Taj Mahal, danced on the beaches of Goa, and got lost in the markets of Delhi. We also climbed the boulders of Hampi, trekked into the Indian Himalayas to reach the source of the Ganges, and summited high passes to reach the isolated villages of the Markha valley. Though worn down by the nature of backpacking, I wasn’t ready to go back and slip into that old cocoon.
Slovenia: Home is what you choose to build
We decided to “settle down” in one city for a year. Europe was calling and in the span of a week, we chose to call Ljubljana, Slovenia home. Voted Europe’s Greenest City in 2016, it was a charming, small, and relatively affordable capital city with a vibrant history. At least, that’s how the internet described it. After much deliberation and many pros and cons lists, we chose Ljubljana for its close proximity to mountains and the myriad surrounding destinations that we had yet to explore.
It took me weeks to learn how to pronounce Ljubljana, since pronunciation varies between Slovenian dialects. It took us a month to find an apartment to rent and furnish it with second-hand items. Our backpacks were laid to rest inside a closet while our new Indian rug found its place on the living room floor.
It turns out that we had chosen well; Ljubljana is a lively town nestled beneath a castle on a hill. Its cobblestoned city centre straddles a winding river, which draws everyone to stroll and sip coffee on its banks year-round. Its plentiful green spaces are a hub for street musicians, artists, markets, and community events. Working as digital nomads, we created a new balance between work and play. We could also walk, bike, or catch a bus anywhere we wanted to go. We took time off to visit friends in Venice and Bologna, ski in Austria, tour the museums of Vienna, and barhop in Budapest. When our families visited, we embarked on a road trip through Croatia, Montenegro, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. We rock climbed beside crumbling seaside fortresses, spent days exploring national parks on foot, and summited the country’s highest peak, Mount Triglav. And slowly, we built a new circle of friends who helped us connect with their city.
We had never planned to stay for more than a year but it was long enough to learn that this city girl had fallen in love with the mountains and that an unknown place could transform into a beautiful home. We departed with mixed feelings, but mostly gratitude for our time there.
Portugal: Home can be a little unconventional
We delayed our eventual departure from Europe with our very first house-sitting gig. Believing it could offer a path to affordable long-term travel, we found ourselves in Portugal’s sun-drenched countryside. Our new home was a villa with a pool and sundeck overlooking a pond of flamingos. We also had nine dogs and two cats to keep us company. In short, we were presiding over paradise.
The property belonged to a lovely British couple who had worked in animal conservation. They have opened their doors to stray dogs and their expansive gardens were built as home to their hobby collection of vulnerable and endangered birds like hyacinth macaws and crowned cranes. With just the dogs and cats under our immediate care, our days revolved around feeding, playing, and running through the eucalyptus tree-lined hills. We awoke to the squawk of flamingos; read, wrote, painted, and suntanned; plucked fruits, collected fresh eggs, and sipped local wine.
Living in such an unconventional home sparked conversations about what we actually wanted home to be. We wanted to retain elements of the minimalist and nomadic lifestyle we experienced as backpackers in India. We wanted a life on the road but felt increasingly at odds with elements of backpacking, namely moving on before forming deeper connections and producing a larger carbon footprint. Slovenia felt like a step in the right direction; it allowed us to build a nest yet explore new surroundings by bus or on foot. Wherever we ended up next, we wanted to retain the balanced lifestyle and connection to nature that we fostered in Slovenia. The conversation evolved over our three-month housesit. In December 2019, I journeyed back to Canada with new experiences and new ideas.
Canada: Home is a little place called base camp
We bought our first home together in December and moved in mid-January. I used to conflate ‘growing roots’ with ‘being stuck’. I used to think of homes as part of a package involving a hefty mortgage, a conventional 9 to 5 office job, and limited travel opportunities. Through travel, I have learned that home can still be wherever my backpack hangs. It can take whatever shape I choose. It can be a little unconventional.
I live in a 508-square metre apartment on the edge of a ski hill. We have just what we need right now—a cozy nook for living, freelancing, and exploring nature. With our bedroom window and balcony looking out to the Rocky Mountains and our front door a 20-second ride to the ski lift, we’ve nicknamed our new home ‘base camp’. I’m hopeful we’ll return to far-flung corners of the world but for now, our hearts are set on expeditions into the surrounding mountains and wilderness. Just like an expedition basecamp, home is simply where we’ll be posting up for our next adventure.