When road is home, where is the road?

Today it’s been 21 months, 9 countries, 26 homes, 3 boyfriends, and well over 60,000km since I last set foot in my home country. It’s been more than a year since I started to hear her call me to go back. And finally.. FINALLY here I am, in my last 15 days on the road. Tickets booked. Lets go.

There is the unmistakable feeling in the air..

I am going home.

But funny enough, I’m not going home to the country of my birth. That country Canada hasn’t felt like home since I came back from my first trip and didn’t understand how people could live like they do.  I couldn’t understand their suburbs, with their 9-5 jobs and 2 hour commutes, and always living indoors, and so far away from each other.  The culture I came from shocked and appalled me after my first trip, and as soon as I could I got my butt out of the “first world” back to the “developing world”.  After that first trip I spent the next 5 years traveling back and forth between Mexico and Canada, with a gap year for the birth of my son.  He and I had our first trip to when he was 10 months old.  It’s a time of celebration. I am returning to my beloved home in Mexico.  A space where the worst and best days of my life have happened, and where I have more history as an adult than other single place in the world. I am excited beyond excited.  Today as I booked the flights, I had to jump up and scream because it just bubbled through me so much.  Back to this town that made me feel like I was home the moment I walked into it the first time and I said “hmm, I like it here, lets stay.”

Yet If i knew it as my home, why have I wandered away?

It’s a good question, and one I’ve asked myself often while I continued to travel after feeling the call to return about a year ago.

Love has something to do with it.  I went to Bali in search of “a person or a place to call home” thinking that I would either settle in Bali for some time, or find a world traveling hottie to parent and travel with me.  Turns out I actually did both.  Staying in Bali for 6 months, was long enough to fall in love with the all day cuddle puddles, ecstatic dance, and vegan super food for days, and also long enough to feel like my “conscious uniqueness” made me one of the pack, to realize I didn’t want to learn Indonesian, which would forever make me “that jerk who’s lived here for years and doesn’t speak the local language” and for the hyper-monetized and eratic visa and work permit system of $75-300/month to start to agrevate me.  As I sat waiting to have my fingerprints taken for my not so cheep “social visa” in Bali, I yearned for Mexico’s free 6 month visa, renewable at your local airport for a $25 bribe or a quick flight home for Christmas. 

I also realized that Bali was not a place where many people stayed for long. I heard enough stories of deportation, massive crisis, or simply up and packing up from people who had planned to stay longer to know that Bali has a consciousness (as a magical islands often do) that will choose for you, whether you stay or not.  When I got evicted from my apartment 1 week before my 6 month visa expired, I knew it was time to go, and although I loved my time there, I knew I wouldn’t be coming back to live.

Onwards to Thailand, and I found a person to call home. 5 days into my adventure in Thailand, I met Maxim, who I came to admire, love, despise, and love again.  Who I traveled with for the next 9 months.  Experiencing deeply, (finally!) what it is to be a collaborative co-parent with someone who gives a shit about us and is committed to conscious relationship and to creating life together.  What a journey and a blessing our relationship was to me.  Showing me that I can have everything I asked for, and that in fact, once I get it, I might want something completely different. 

Together we made a home of the road, and learned to love where we were in Thailand, Hong Kong, San Francisco, Lightning in a Bottle, Seattle, the airports of the world, Calgary, the JoyGasmobile (my car), Inshala, Edmonton, Astral Harvest, Vancouver Island, Seattle, Moab, Denver, before leaving the car in Denver for a complete stranger to pick up the next day, while we headed across the ocean to Rykiavik, Paris, Nantes, Angles, Toulouse, Barcelona (my love!), and Benicasim, before heading to Morocco, visiting Essaouira, Casablanca, Fez, Marrakesh and Taghazout.  Phew, while it is definitely a life of adventure and travel, in 9 months we had 26 homes.  Many times not knowing where we would be sleeping, living or staying next week, or if we had the cash to rent a place in the city we were moving to next.

On a psychologists list of the list of major stressors of life, “moving house” is in the top 5, along with getting divorced, having new children, loosing a job or a family member.

Wanting something more has something to do with it..  While I’ve traveled to Mexico and back with Alex since before he was born, I’d always wanted to travel differently.  I wanted to see the world, adventure, visit foreign beaches, travel more, more often and in more luxury than I was used to.  Stay in the AirBNB in the centre of town for a few nights, and see the sights, instead of renting a cheep place on the edge of town for a month because it’s what I can afford.  I wanted to skip through France and Spain like it was a hopscotch, the way other people do. Travel like that requires more stamina and endurance than my single mom self could save up.  Being in small town France 1000’s of km away from anyone english speaking while your kid has a meltdown in the grocery store, is 100x easier, when your boyfriend comes around the corner and tells you “I’ll watch him, you go find the cheese.”   That moment is a luxury you don’t have as a single mom traveling, and moments like that that (where I would want to walk off and take a breather, but in a foreign town where no one knows us, that makes me a negligent parent) has stoped me from the kind of wild travel I’ve done in the last year.  The kind of travel that that require more bandwidth and capacity than I had alone.  And I did it. The last year has been a revelation and a dream come true for me.  I now know what it feels like to travel like that.

Now I’ve had a chance to do all of those things and I’ve come to a surprising conclusion.  I don’t want to travel anymore, at least not right now.

But I also want something very specific.  I started traveling for three reasons, Climate, Lifestyle and Cost of Living.  Mexico fit the hat, but so does Thailand, Malaysia, Morocco, Greece, all of Central America, and probably about 30 other countries around the world. 

At this point I’ve seen dozens of countries, cultures, lifestyles, and judged it all as to my liking or not. But you know what they all have? Food. Language. Social dynamics. Also climate, grocery stores, restaurants, toilets, streets, lamp posts, cars, cats and dogs, buildings, views, sunsets, nature, too much city in the cities, commercialization, consumerism, dirt, plastic wrappers everywhere, I could go on.  They all have it, in varying degrees. Thailand has only dogs, and Malaysia has only cats.  Fez’s Medina has less cars, and more scam artists than Marrakesh, but is also sweeter in a way. Essaouira is a whirlwind of garbage on a bad day, but it’s got the best rooftop cafe I’ve ever loved.

I know what kind of dynamic I like, on each and every one of those spectrums. 

Social Dynamics=Not too fucking patriarchal, with a solid expat community,

Climate=daytime temp between 25-28 +- 4 degrees, 300+ days of sun, tropical on the ocean.

Grocery Stores=within a 3 minute walk, fresh and local, organic market once a week, and cheep

Restaurants=meals under $5, and a wide spectrum within the town.  Smoothie bar a must.

So when I’m thinking about where I want to live in the world, based on my specific travel experience, that looks something like like… hmmmm well Bali is cleaner with more flowers and incense on the streets than anywhere in the world which I LOVE. They give Ubudian hugs, but Ubud is in the mountains and I never go to the ocean there, and actually the oceans so dirty in Bali that I don’t want to swim in them, the beaches aren’t as nice as Mexico, and smoking a joint will get me arrested or hanged.  Visas are expensive, changing constantly, and I could get deported for advertising my business.  Scratch that one off the list.

But it’s not REALLY about the stuff, or the things I’ve seen, it’s about the people. I mean, I know I’m not willing to compromise on some things.  Like climate, I don’t do the cold anymore. After experiencing 3 consecutive years of summer there’s no going back.  But I’m like the rest of us, if you ask any long term traveler what they love about travel, they will invariably say “the people you meet along the way.”  It’s true, meeting new people is fascinating.

Along the way, I have met 1000’s of fellow travellers.  People I have loved, and still love.

People who when I look at it objectively, are undoubtably more comfortable with discomfort than they are with comfort. 

I’ve met people who would rather sleep under a tree in the rain, than have a real job.  Who can pack their whole lives into a backpack in less than 20 minutes, because they never really unpack all the way.  People who would rather not know where or how they will get to their next destination than have a plan and stick to it. I’ve also met entrepreneurs, creatives, Tantrikas, kids on gap years, and seasoned travellers who have been on the road longer than I’ve been alive.  Each with their own fascinating stories to tell, and each with their own journey ahead and behind them.

When you’re on the road, your learn that there is always SOMEONE to be your friend for the moment.

You want company for a meal you introduce yourself to the people you want to sit with at the restaurant, you need a good cry, you meet someone at the hostel who looks just like your sister, and love each other instantly, and cry for and hour together about the things that are going on in your life, without even sharing what those things are..  Or maybe just someone who understands what it’s like to travel the way you do.. slow or fast, cheep or expensive, long or short term… There is always someone.

There is always someone, but the someones come and go. It gives you a sort of quirked view of the world.  “Oh, I guess I’m leaving this town, and I’ll miss Sarah SO MUCH.. but I also know there will be a new “best friend character” in the next place I land so… No problem.. By Sarah! 🙂  It creates a kind of loving detachment that I honestly think the rest of the world could use to learn some from.  Then there’s the repetition of SOMEBODY… There are only so many times you can answer the questions “Where are you from? How long have you been traveling, “oh my god that’s a long time” where are you going next? How old is your son, where is his dad?  etc etc.  Then I turn it around and ask them back.. oh joy!  Some days it’s magical, and I’m fascinated by their answers.  On an average day my threshold for this is 2-4 encounters of people asking me these questions.  Some days I answer happily, enjoying the chance to feel their envy and curiosity at the length and breadth of my travels.  But some days I’m yearning for home, and I couldn’t care less where they are from or where they are going.. and my answer to their “Oh, where are you from?” is “I don’t feel like answering that question right now. I just want to sit here in silence.”  in varying degrees of politeness depending on my mood.

Recently traveling has become a ugly, because my heart wants to go home, and wants my friends to be there.

I yearn for people I can talk about the substance of life with, the way I feel about what’s happening in my life, people who I don’t have to fill in on my dirty relationship history, so that they can help me understand the bigger patterns. People who I legitimately care about, not just because they are the only other white person in the airport lobby who might speak English, or because they happen to (have a smoke, get to chatting, take a selfie, get asked on a date, and then get little emoji’s on Facebook for weeks on end afterwards), or because they have lots of patience to play with Alex and I really need a break from him, or maybe it’s someone I actually really enjoy the company of, but who I know is leaving in 5 days so don’t get too invested.  I want relationships that mean something to me, that have depth and width and length.  That have time, and years, and stories, and memories, and laughter, and tears and Ubudian hugs, because that’s just how they love.

When I first started to travel the world, it struck me how intimately interconnected the families and communities in the “developing world” are, compared to how I grew up.  I wanted that interconnectedness for myself.

I saw 4 generations living together in a family compound in Bali.  Yes partially because they are poor and they can’t afford more.  But they laugh together, they spend days, weeks, years sitting together staring out into the rice paddies, and eating the meagre food they have.  They smile a lot, they laugh a lot, and there are lots of them.  Families are large sprawling things, and the friends in town are too many to count. And I want that! Because let’s face it, my family is 5 people.  Mom, dad, sister, me and my kid.  Yes, technically we have aunts and cousins and uncles and grandparents (well, grandma, the one I’ve got left) … But they all lived over 3000km away when I was a child, and are still 1200km from my parents now. The experience of extended family for me was a long long long drive away and something that only happened once a year. So I’m homesick for family.

Along the way, people who wished they could travel more but didn’t, invariably asked me “But, don’t you miss your friends?” to which I would usually shrug, and say “nah”.  Being on the road for 6 years, you get used to the “somebody” factor, and just keep moving on.  But it’s a scam, I’ve never been okay with it.  If someone asked me on a rough day the same question, I’d end up in tears from the pain of missing “friends”.  I’m realizing slowly just how deep that wound goes, how much I’m really just used to not having anyone who cares around. Realizing that part of the reason I traveled in the first place was because I didn’t really feel like I had friends, no one there to hold me back, not since I was 10 and we moved away.

It’s an old story, abandonment.  Almost a better friend than any friend I’ve ever had. It’s always been there.

My own personal friend trauma runs deep, and brings tears to my eyes just writing this. When my best friend left for collage, the pain of being left behind was something I buried really really really deep, with alcoholl and drugs and sleepless sex filled nights, and it tries to come back up every time I leave, or even meet someone I really click with. I often wonder when I meet my traveling folks, how many of them have unresolved trauma from being moved as a kid, from feeling abandoned by parents, who feel unworthy and that they don’t belong in the world.  See you have the power when you travel, you always leave first, move on, be the adventurous soul, look forwards not backwards, keep moving, keep moving, get lost in an endless stream of planning the next move.  No one can hurt you if you have no fixed home and you always leave first.  You get used to the dance of abandonment.

But things are changing inside of me. I feel the place that used to know what friendship looks like growing bigger.  When I left Bali I had let myself grow into my friends, and I realized that as I left I was shutting my emotions down, I didn’t want to feel sad they were going.  This time I made a choice to actually let myself FEEL how much it hurt to leave people who I had grown to love, and I cried for days.  I felt each of them as they left and I cried when I left, for the ones I had left behind, even though they too were traveling onwards in the next few days.

Realizing that every single time I left this next country, my heart broke a little deeper, as I pushed them away, and said I was fine.

So in Morocco I find myself looking at the locals and envying them.  Tonight as I walked through the square, a man gripped another mans forearm, leaned into him and kissed him on the cheek as he said goodnight.  A friend, an acquaintance, I can’t know.  But the story I told about them is that they’ve know each other for years. I’ll see you tomorrow he says, before he walks way.  A blessing so deep I can’t even fathom, and one he takes for granted. That he will see this man tomorrow, and has years to get to know him. Tonight a stranger joined Alex and I at our fire and saw a friend and invited him over.  The friend, an older man, with 4 children of his own, tells stories of how he watched this man next to me run around when he was the same age as my son.  Tears flow to my eyes, as my heart yearns for people who have known me my whole life, who have seen me grow.  Yearn for the moment when I have my second child, and the same people watch them grow, as they watched the first.  Not strangers, not thousands of different cities.  The same people. 

I yearn for friends, and connections that sustain and endure, beyond an hour, or a week, or a month. For people I adore who I see more than once every 2 years. To live someplace my family of origin can also call home, and get to easily.  This is now important to me, and I wasn’t before. I also realize that it’s a hell of a lot more challenging to do that when all the people you like are traveling people and they pop around on their own whims and schedules all the time.  It’s a lot easier when you sit still in one place, with some others who sit in one place, and let all of life move around you.  I see the people here, all around me, I am surrounded by people who have friends, who have connection, who have love in their lives, continuity, relationship.  Yes dysfunction too I’m sure (after all we’re in Morocco, bastion of patriarchy), but friendships and camaraderie they have for sure. Thousands of little moments of friendship all around me.

Traveling lets you meet a thousand people,
but you only get a day with each of them.

Okay, some you have more time with, but with all the meeting and leaving, and repetition, and shallowness it can be an incredibly lonely journey. I am realizing now that I want a thousand days (2.739 years) with two or three or seven people or maybe more!  I’m realizing that I’m finally ready to let that wound heal even further, to do what it takes to let people in, to explore their lives, and spend time with people I really find fascinating and care about, and let myself stick around, or come back again and again, to find out they are really kind of boring and so am I, but I love the feeling of the silence we share, or the laugh we have when we both realize we love upside down jam sandwiches.  Because.. if I do that, if I let that in… Friendship, and sisterhood, and love for myself and for others, then.. then I get to be the kind of person who can actually spend years living in a community of women and men that are powerhouse crazy god{desses, and happen to also have lots of coo-ing mama love to share and help with changing that second baby’s nappies, while we get together and someone remembered my favourite dish, and it just got delivered so I can sit and eat with my besties, while breastfeeding topless in warm summer air, with the sound of the cicadas in the jungle, watching the epic sunset into the perfect ocean. Okay, so maybe it won’t be quite like that, but I bet you it’ll actually be 100x more beautiful in other ways, and I’m finally open to it.

So I’m willing to settle on some things, (like letting go of my last relationship) and win at many others, to find a spot that feels like the perfect spot for me, and hang my hat, and my backpacks up for a while, and see who I am when I do life this way.  Grounded, rooted, home.  To see who I am when I let people in, when I actually make a point to get to know the people around me over and over again, and let myself relax out of always planning the next trip across the world, and just plan a weekly gathering, (or a bi-yearly retreat.. cmon, when have I ever been simple)

I’m feel like I’m finally ready say, I’ve found my perfect piece of paradise and let myself live in it. Mexico, I’m coming home.


Also published on Medium.

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Elena

Elena Harder. Courage Catalyst, LifeStyle Artist and Joy Hacker. Elena created JoyGasm to heal her experience of postpartum depression, self sabotage, overworking, people pleasing, and an abusive alcoholic relationship. Since then she’s helped hundreds of others meet their JoyGasmic Self to heal broken hearts, remove negative self talk, eliminate stress, fear and depression, and bring immense joy into daily life. Her current personal records for longest standing greeting hug is 22 minutes, longest continuous solo laugh 26 minutes, and longest collaborative laugh at 1 hour 45 minutes!