Nowhere suits everyone. There are places I love that I’m sure others would hate, and likewise places I’ve no interest in visiting might be someone else’s favourite destination. But what is it that ignites this connection to a place and makes you feel at home? How would one go about finding comfort in a new destination?
Plenty of times people say “I could see myself living here” “it’s so my type of place” “I feel at home here”. But also after a trip that hasn’t quite satisfied your needs you feel, dare I say it, glad to be leaving. When the stars align and you find that your personality and that of the location blend so well, it can feel very special. So is there a cause to this, and can it be engineered or is it just luck?
Why do we feel at home in new places
What exactly is it that we find so intriguing about a place? Is it comforting? Exciting? Inspiring? All of the above or none at all?
Here are a few categories I believe can factor into the connection we feel with some places over others.
People are complex and incredibly varied. You’ll never find a place where every single person fits your ideals or sees the world the same way as you (unless I dunno, you join a cult or something). There are good and bad everywhere, but it’s undeniable that finding harmony with other people in a destination makes it much more appealing.
Positive interactions with locals can instantly make you feel welcome. Perhaps more than that are the interactions you have which confirm the solidarity you have with one another. Perhaps you share similar values, outlooks, or the lifestyle is suitable to your taste. I certainly found it both appealing and daunting to see so many active and outdoorsy people in Western Australia when we moved there. It was one of the main reasons that I enjoyed living there over somewhere like London where I can feel much more boxed in.
That’s not to say that you can’t find your people in other places. London of course is hugely diverse and you’ll always have plenty of people to track down that appreciate your way of living. However, some places have more than that. It’s ingrained in their society. A bit like how people say “Parisians are stylish” or “Northerners are chatty” – this generalisation might be inviting to you.
Within this category, we could also consider cultures, religions, and politics. The Wandering Quinn talked about her time living in Bali and how hearing the call to prayer each day became a comfort to her. She felt a sense of belonging and appreciation for this daily practice that encompassed more than just the physical place, but the people and their practices that reaffirms a connection.
The physical place you’re in will always impact how you feel about it.
Some are drawn to cities and the constant buzz of life around them. Others are most themselves in nature – perhaps amongst towering trees or facing an endless horizon. Or just maybe, the places you least expect can surprise you.
No matter whether it’s peace and quiet or busy and bustling, your environment can impact your perspective.
This goes beyond just the type of location you’re in, too. The transport that’s available to you and its accessibility can affect your opinion. Some people can’t bear the idea of wide, open spaces where self-driving is the only way to get around. Others hate the squashed underground metro systems and endless traffic jams. Of course, if you have particular requirements for accessibility beyond, you’ll quickly know the places that do or don’t suit your needs and how you feel about them.
I personally love bright colours and warmth, so naturally feel more content in places I’ve visited during summer and spring. However, I’ve also found a deep love for places that I’ve visited in multiple seasons, experiencing the different qualities it has to offer throughout the year.
New Zealand is certainly one of these. I loved it so much on my first two visits, both of which I was lucky to experience the peak of summer. Visiting in the autumn shoulder season, I was nervous as to whether the cooler months and risk of miserable weather would impact my opinion. I needn’t have worried. Visiting Queenstown and Wanaka to see snowcapped mountains and golden forests was even more spectacular than in summer. And even when the weather kept us indoors and disrupted our plans, I still felt so much joy simply being somewhere I loved.
I won’t deny that I’ve struggled to have fun in places where it rained constantly. But then, I honestly just started to get over myself and go with the flow. Now, I don’t mind so much and will happily enjoy a trip no matter the weather.
Experiences cover a whole range of things. In this case, I’m talking about both tourist activities and the more everyday moments such as catching public transport or visiting a supermarket that are part of many trips.
The big, once-in-a-lifetime activities are not necessarily reflective of feeling connected to a place. But, they can inspire awe and gratitude for a destination. I remember my experience of skydiving in Franz Josef as one of these moments.
It was such a powerful experience, that I know is unlikely to happen again. I felt such a feeling of elation at being able to be somewhere that these experiences were not only possible but a huge part of the town’s identity. How lucky I was to have that experience, how fortunate that this place even exists.
I returned a few weeks later to work in Franz. It had this strangely magnetic pull that draws you in and I certainly felt my time in that odd little part of West Coast New Zealand was not done with yet. I still plan to return for more… But could I live there permanently?
Mundane but important
The everyday experiences are certainly a crucial factor in realising whether you feel at home somewhere. Even down to whether you’re satisfied the food you can buy! As such, I know Franz Josef is not the place for me. I felt isolated, and not in a good way. More cut-off and limited than I would like. But that’s ok, it’s somewhere I love but won’t choose to settle.
Perth is another isolated place, but of course, a whole different type of isolation to Franz Josef. Perth is considered one of the most isolated cities in the world, but it’s still a major city with lots going on. It was here that I realised a massive factor for me in everyday experiences is how easily I can get around.
I personally find public transport to be really stressful in new places. When I first caught the TransPerth train from Perth CBD to the outer suburbs, I felt like a total imposter with no clue what I was doing. Quite rightly, in fact. As I ended up with a $100 fine for forgetting to tap in during a transit stop. Doh!
That experience certainly didn’t make me feel at home. But pottering down the road to the beach for a sunset swim always, always did. And some experiences like visiting the supermarket got better over time. The unfamiliar became second nature, the unknown became an old friend.
Arguably the most important part of connecting with a destination is how you feel at the time. Are you happy during your visit? Are you searching for something more? Content where you are already?
I use the example of a trip to Bristol in 2018. I was taking Kaz on a whirlwind trip through the UK to a few favourite places, Bristol being one of them. Years ago I lived in Bristol as a student, and I always say it would be the one place in my home country I would consider settling down. But not this day.
I’ll admit, my feelings about our visit were incredibly dampened, figuratively and literally, by torrential rain. ALL day. A pitstop visit to Stonehenge on the way had me in a total sulk thanks to delays and disruptions. So when disaster after disaster ended up in quite a travel fail situation, I felt so disheartened by our visit that actually, I didn’t love Bristol. This place that I LOVE that I had a hard time connecting to, on this occasion.
I hope to return to Bristol again someday to make up for the bad attitude I gave it. But will I ever be as fond of the city as when I was a 19-year-old student, full of hopes and dreams? It’s unlikely. I’ve moved on from that life, and have outgrown it since then.
It’s certainly fascinating that places we visit and our feelings can be so intertwined. The cause and effect here is blurry: do we associate some feelings with specific destinations because they made us feel that way or because we felt that way already when we visited? I can’t say I have the answers here, but it’s something to keep in mind when we feel a strong reaction to somewhere.
Going to a new place is rarely without assumptions. We expect Barcelona to be sunny with laid-back locals. We imagine Singapore to be humid and modern. And we anticipate Delhi to be vibrant and welcoming. We get these impressions from our friends and family, the internet, and the media. Whether they are true or not, is another matter. And whether they impact how we feel is an entirely different question.
There are some domestic rivals in a country that make us more or less inclined to like a place before we’ve even given it a chance. LA or New York, Rome or Milan, Sydney or Melbourne, Glasgow or Edinburgh, and so on. A bit of friendly competition that means we’re all supposedly on one side or the other. Depending on who you ask, some will tell you one is awful or the best place in the world. So who do you believe?
The only way we can really feel at home somewhere is by forming our own opinions and melting away the prejudices that have built up. Not allowing ourselves to be disappointed when our expectations aren’t met. Equally important is leaning into a place others might have previously dismissed, but for you has an inexplicably attractive quality or charm.
The ‘je nais se quois’ that just makes you say, “Yes. This is the place for me”. Maybe it’s a mix of all the above factors, or maybe it’s the moment you realise you never want to leave…
The very essence and ~vibe~ of a place can sway your opinion. The character that oozes from the very walls and streets you pass. What on earth is that intoxicating feeling that makes you fall in love with a place?!
Why does anyone choose to settle where they do? Perhaps this innate connection is indescribable, so personal and unique it cannot be explained. Or, perhaps we lack the ability to properly identify what this feeling is (at least in English!).
Either way, the dreamer in me likes to think there is a sixth sense we have to connect us to places.
So, can any of these reasons indicate that we feel at home? Perhaps it’s not quite as black and white as that, but this analysis is a way to make sense of this unique feeling.
My search for home
My good friend Cassie the hag describes herself as “travelling to find home”, and that has always stuck with me as something I relate to. Have I been searching for my home all this time too? Perhaps not in an overt way, but certainly seeking new meaning through travel and exploration of locations away from the place that I’m familiar with.
I’ve moved around a lot, but mostly in the UK is where I’ve actually lived. There are a handful of places I’ve really connected to both in this country and away, because of and in spite of the above reasons.
As mentioned, I have happy memories of living in Bristol and the wonder of new adulthood that accompanies university life. But during that time I also experienced a lot of anxiety and depression. I was incredibly lonely at times, stressed, and confused.
My time living in Perth was full of liberation to finally be living abroad and finally closing the distance with Kaz. However, there was also a lot of career stress and loneliness of working remotely. Although I fell in love with the lifestyle, the weather, the quirks of Western Australia, I felt disconnected and overwhelmed at times. My mindset was a constant battle – I faced very low confidence when everyone else seemed so confident and successful. I was scared to enter a coffee shop or go to the gym for weeks but fortunately, once I overcame these hurdles it’s somewhere I think of with great fondness.
And then there’s Christchurch – somewhere I’ve only visited but feel is an adopted home in many ways. I’ve been taken in and looked after by locals, including Kaz. It’s somewhere that has a lot of meaning to him, and so has become somewhere I feel protective over too. It’s perhaps a bit of an underdog, travel-wise, but I love it nonetheless.
The next home
As for now, I’m still searching. Despite living in London for the last year, I don’t think I’ll ever feel like a Londoner. This is a temporary home. Will I find a home that keeps me there? Maybe, maybe not. The inability to fit in can be haunting. It’s a scary prospect that nowhere rather than somewhere is right for me.
But you know what? I am lucky. I have loved ones that I will always return to. They are my home as well. They bring me connection when I am lost, and I know that is more than many others have.
There is nothing wrong with exploring to find home. In fact, it can teach you a lot, if you’re able to give it a go. Who I am now and where I feel at home is very likely to change in the future, as it has done so in the past. That’s ok, I’ll pack up and keep searching for the next address to call home.
Have you been searching to find home? Do you have a connection with somewhere that makes you feel at home? I’d love to hear about your story.
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