No matter where I travel, I can never replicate that same feeling of warmth I got in the house where I grew up. The equilibrium I felt upon waking up every morning is gone. After living in the same house for all of your life, you’ve managed to create your perfect home.
The duvet is just the right thickness. Your bookcase is there with all of the books you’ve read. The heating is always at the right setting. Not too hot, not too cold. Everything is as it should be.
Only now do I realise how much I took my home for granted. Only through the lack of a home can you truly appreciate what you had.
When you leave to go traveling, you give up the comfort of home, possibly forever. Since I left England all those years ago, I’ve lived and stayed in many places, but nothing feels the same as home. I’m like Goldilocks, going from place-to-place, but only home feels just right.
Partially this is due to the disappoint of comparison. When I stay in a new place, I compare it to my childhood home, and immediately I am overwhelmed with how lacklustre it is. There’s always a natural urge to turn my new house into a comfortable home. But it’s never that easy.
The problem with living a mostly transient life is that you always live in the knowledge that you will eventually leave this place. With that in mind, you start to live a life of minimums. You have the minimum you need to survive, anything else seems pointless.
It’s summer, you’d love to make some smoothies. Maybe you’ll buy a blender. But the voice in your head argues against it. Why bother to buy a blender when you’ll be leaving in a few months? Just another item you’ll have to pay for in order to soon throw away.
Your entire life is temporary. Every purchase makes you consider the price against the short-term value of the product. Is it worth paying fifty dollars for a mirror you’ll only use for six months? The answer for us is yes. Is it worth spending three dollars on a garlic press? A non-essential item, which you may only use once a week? We think no.
A well stocked kitchen. Something I always miss.
Obviously there is an immediate benefit to this. For a start, you save a lot of money. But you also start to learn that there are so many possessions in life that you can easily live without. You only buy what you can carry on your back. Thankfully the endless memories you make along the way weigh nothing. You look at consumerism in a different way. Maybe you don’t need all of that crap you thought you needed.
On the flipside you realise that although some possessions may hold no intrinsic value, you still need them to feel comfortable. Without them your house is a bare shell, and you dread spending time in it. You can’t feel relaxed there, you can’t unwind. It’s not a home. The only way to turn your house into a home is to personalise it, fill it with reminders of memories made, and things that give you comfort.
Travel has shown me just how important a comfortable home is to my mental well being. I’ve already written about my annoying housemates in Vancouver who infested my bedroom with bed bugs. That experience showed me that living in an environment where you don’t feel comfortable very quickly leads to exhaustion. Where you live should reduce stress, not enhance it.
When we first arrived in Korea, we were put into an apartment so terrible that I very quickly found myself at wits end. I dreaded going back to the apartment after work each day as it made me feel uncomfortable to be there. As a consequence, I didn’t want to be in Korea.
We had read about some of the terrible apartments in Korea before we arrived. But nothing could prepare us for what we experienced. Immediately the problems became apparent. The apartment was only one room, so small we could touch our bed from the front door. There was no window. Just walls covered in old, yellowing wallpaper. Upon further inspection, we saw patches of mould growing in the corners. Soon enough the bathroom started to rot away, too.
You may imagine a dark dungeon, but it was in fact the opposite. A luminescent bulb in the ceiling burnt like the sun, throwing an eye-piercing green light into every corner of the room. The place was lit up like a hospital, clinical and dead inside.
Worrying about the mould kept me up at night, imagining the spores flowing through my nostrils, down my throat, into my lungs. I was convinced for a short time that I was getting asthma. Each moment in the apartment was a moment of worry.
In retrospect, all I can do is laugh. The apartment was so bad that our time there can be recorded through the various problems we had.
First there was the mould. Our Korean landlord came to look at it. Nodded his head knowingly. Smiled widely. Then proceeded to simply wallpaper over it. Out of his sight, out of his mind. But I still knew it was there. Waiting for me under the wallpaper.
Next, the light fell from the bathroom ceiling. It dangled from a wire. The bulb swinging beside our knees. The landlord came again. Nodded knowingly. Smiled widely. Then proceeded to screw the light back in.
Not long after, we awoke early in the morning to the sound of dripping. The kitchen tap was broken, leaking water out all over the counter. More nods. More smiles. More fixing.
The straw that broke the landlord’s back was our fridge. The seal on the door was broken, letting air inside. As the air went into the fridge, it would freeze, creating a large block of ice. Consequently, we would have to defrost the fridge once a week or it would freeze over. When we eventually complained about it, our boss had had enough. Immediately we were moved to a much nicer apartment. Probably because our boss was sick of contacting our landlord once a week to fix another problem.
I know that if we had stayed in that apartment, we would never have finished a year in Korea. Without living in a place of comfort, we were getting worn down. Starting to think we’d made a huge mistake.
Often when traveling, staying in bare houses the same thought enters my mind. Have I made a huge mistake?
Now the solution to all of this is to turn my house into a home. Something lived in, loved, and personalised. But once you live in a home, you’re settled. You are no longer traveling. Your life is permanent. You are fixed, accumulating possessions that weigh you down.
This is a sacrifice we have to make, but we think it’s worthwhile. For now at least.