Travel as a Means to Finding a Home
It was three years ago this month that both my best trip and best decision to date saw its final moments on a beach in Costa Rica. Seven months prior, in my "home" of the Carolinas, following several years of struggle that came to a head with a divorce, I sold and gave away everything that couldn't fit into a backpack, quit my job to start my own business as a freelance writer, and set out to travel the world.
Life had lost its luster. In honesty, I wanted an out on life. If there was anyway I could get out of my work, marriage, home, or life, I was looking for it. So I did. I set out on a journey, with no intended tangible or intangible destination. What resulted was seven months of travel that would change my life, taking me from what felt like an abyss, to feeling like I had been reborn, seeing life with a beauty and wonder that I'm not sure I had even seen as a child. On that beach I felt a resolve and sense of accomplishment like I had never felt before, as if I could go home and continue on with life.
Except my journey wasn't ending. It was just beginning. This idea of "home" is a constantly evolving idea for me. It's not just a physical dwelling place. It's not merely a physical construct where the collection of our material things and evenings are stored. That type of definition, in my opinion, though considered somewhat of a traditional definition, isn't so traditional after all, but a construct of the last few centuries. But what was home centuries ago, when there weren't four-walled constructs that defined this idea of home? Was it a cave? A thatched hut? Maybe a worn spot under the shade of a tree? Perhaps it was something less tangible and more abstract, such as the experiences of nomads as they traveled, familiar faces, or how they carried out their day-to-day activities.
"When are you coming home," my family asked when I called them from Costa Rica to tell them that I had finished what I had set out to discover several months prior and was coming home. "After a layover and detour in San Francisco, California," I replied with a relieved, hopeful, and expectant heart. But I never made it "home". A few days in San Francisco turned into a year, which turned into two months in Western Europe, which then turned into seven months in Seattle, before road tripping from Seattle to Los Angeles last August.
I believe that our search for a sense of home is much like the journey of a trip. Maybe it's rest and relaxation we're after. Maybe it's a meaningful encounter. Maybe it's learning a new skill. Or potentially a rendezvous, finding love, or making new friends. Maybe it's becoming more cultured or discovering our roots. But often our best travel experiences are when our passion, purpose, and skills all intersect. I believe that genuinely finding some sense of home requires a similar combination. We could move somewhere we're really passionate about, but what if there aren't jobs that fit our skill set? Or what if we move somewhere that has jobs that fit our skill set, but it's not a place we feel passionate about?
The last three to four years have been somewhat segmented. The first year of what I call, Spence 2.0, saw me trying to discover who I was and what I was passionate about. I had lost myself. I had no sense of self, confidence, purpose, passion, and joy. Before doing anything, I had to find out who I was at my core, because I had no idea who that was. I did that by traveling. My long-term trip ended when I began to see myself and the world again for the beauty that it was.
When you’re traveling, you are what you are right there and then. People don’t have your past to hold against you. No yesterdays on the road.”-William Least Heat Moon
The second year, in San Francisco, saw me building what I believe we're all purposed for, to be in community. Following my divorce, I lost everything. I walked away from that life, and decided to build an entire new one. I set out not to just make friends, but to build a community around me of people who were better than me. While I no longer live in San Francisco, some of my best friends to this day are the ones that I first met during my time in San Francisco.
In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets... Hence true Friendship is the least jealous of loves. Two friends delight to be joined by a third, and three by a fourth, if only the newcomer is qualified to become a real friend. They can then say, as the blessed souls say in Dante, 'Here comes one who will augment our loves.' For in this love 'to divide is not to take away.-C.S. Lewis
The third year, predominantly in Seattle, saw me really take ownership of my work and skill set. During the first year, I quickly realized that while I had great dreams of being a travel writer who spent his days writing books and magazine articles from a beach, it's not how I best served the world. So that year began to see something of an intersection of my passion, purpose, and skills. I had a passion to write, a purpose to inspire people, and skills in marketing, connecting people, and digital storytelling. Last year saw what I believe without a shadow of a doubt is my best work to date.
Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.-Howard Thurman
Last August, upon arriving in Los Angeles after road tripping from Seattle down the west coast, I wrote about this sense of home that I longed for, and at times the last couple years, thought I had found, but that was still missing from my life. As I put it, "While I’ve given different cities a shot the last couple years by establishing some sense of community, leisure, and work life, what was often missing was establishing a future, where my passions, purpose, and skills could intersect both today and tomorrow." I went onto quote a Pico Iyer talk, in which he states that “home is not just a place where you sleep, but a place where you stand.” It's something that I longed for, but what had been missing from my travels, living abroad, and time in San Francisco and Seattle. Like so many times before, I wondered if Los Angeles, a city that I was once disinterested in and found myself questioning those who lived there, would become that destination that I traveled to and never wanted to leave.
When people used to ask about my long-term trip three to four years ago, my eyes would start to well up as I thought about that year of travel that was so formidable, the best decision of my life, and what set me on the course that I'm on now. It was a season of life that brings immense joy and nostalgia like none other. But recently, and even now, as I type this sentence, I find my eyes starting to well up when I think about my time in Los Angeles. It's not just a physical construct to me. It's not just a mailing address. It's a collection of memories. It's the vehicle through which I work. It's where my friends, who we each refer to as family, have monthly BBQs. It's where I stand. Los Angeles is who I am and where my passion, skills, and purpose all intersects.
Three months ago today I sat on my porch on Christmas day with friends, enjoying cocktails and listening to Bob Marley while the crock pot mac n' cheese finished up and the grill warmed up. I found myself in a moment of contemplation and gratitude. Months prior, I had begun making solo travel plans for Christmas and New Year's like I often do. But I cancelled them. In that moment, I was exactly who I wanted to be, where I wanted to be, with the people I wanted to be with. I didn't have to answer the question of, what's next? There was only that day with those friends in Southern California. It is home and it will be home save for something drastic. It's where I've built a community, where I feel most alive, where I'm building my career and life, and where I stand. And to my peeps in Los Angeles who are better than me, inspire me, and support me, I love you. A destination is only as desirable as the people who make it so. You are Los Angeles to me, the City of Angels.
We can light a fire burn ourselves a road We'll know the truth when it rings in our bones Someday we will be Someday we will be Someday we will be Home
-"Home" by The Unlikely Candidates
What is home to you?