For those who are privileged enough to be able to travel the world and live in numerous places, they are treated to a life full of eye-opening experiences, sights and sounds that change their life, and the opportunity to make friends all over the world. However there is a problem that comes with it when you continuously keep leaving loved places and loved ones behind, and that is a severe questioning sense of ‘Where do I belong?’.
Forgive me for falling down a self-obsessed rabbit hole, but I feel I really need to get some of these confusing thoughts out in the open and have a cathartic ramble about the issue I find with travel; the concept of losing a sense of belonging in one place.
Where do I belong?
I thought I was struggling with this alone until I joined some travel blogger communities on Facebook and saw some girls talk about this issue. Wanderers had returned home or had stopped in one place for an extended period of time due to work, and were faced with a severe unsettled feeling about settling. Being on the road for long periods of time can begin to feel pretty mundane, but for me – whilst I have always enjoyed travelling – I have also enjoyed a place where I can call home. But what if there’s a place that you feel completely and happily at home in, and it’s a place that simply won’t allow you to call home?
When I lived in Melbourne for a few years, I fell for the city and the people I met, but those damn visas meant that it wasn’t a place I could stay forever. Having to leave the most beautiful friends and the most vibrant city was heart-breaking and I truly struggled hard with it in the UK when I returned. I had to leave the community that I had cared for. I had to leave the brilliant friends I’d made. I had to leave my favourite cafes, bars, parks, bakeries….. I had to leave this life and move on to begrudgingly try start another.
I lived in a perpetual state of looking back and remembering the ‘glory days’ of times where the grass was greener and the sky was bluer. With rose tinted glasses on, I basked in memories of my previous Australian life and clung onto the contact with the friends I left far far behind (could Australia be any further from the UK?!). In a nutshell, I was homesick for a place that had only been home for 2 or 3 years and I lamented the death of my Melbourne life, mourning it and staying caught in memory lane.
When I returned to Melbourne last month after three years, I was a whirlwind of emotions – how would I feel? Would it be the same? Would my torch for Melbourne relight and burn bright on this trip? Had my friends changed? Would I feel like it was home? All these questions spun in my head on the flight over, so I deadened them with a G&T or two (worst idea ever on a long-haul flight) and just ODed on in-flight entertainment.
Looking out of the plane window and seeing the rugged Aussie outback as we flew over the Red Centre immediately choked me with tears – holy shit, I was finally back! Three years later, a few wrinkles later and a goddamn long 24 hour flight later, I had finally made it back to a place that had changed my life all those years ago. The pit of nerves exploded into a flash flood of excitement in my belly and I literally bounded into Tullamarine Airport all bright-eyed and bushy tailed!
Such a fleeting two week visit, but of course, not much had hugely changed. All my friends were exactly the same (if not a touch wiser), the city was just as fun and invigorating, the food and cocktail scene had got better and there were a ton of new things to do, see, visit, explore. Overwhelming? You bet, but I relished every minute.
It broke my fucking heart to say those goodbyes again when it was time to leave – Melbourne really does ruin your life! I probably put a dampener on my best friend’s wedding by sobbing onto her pristine dress with my black ‘not-as-waterproof-as advertised’ mascara, but I believe an epiphany had slowly edged into my psyche during my visit. While I still don’t have much clarity on where I belong in the world, it’s now not as much of a freak-out but just a gentle reminder of how lucky I am.
I felt like Melbourne had been home, but now after living in Bristol for three years, I too feel this is home. I have my family in the UK, I’ve put down roots, I’ve made new and lovely friends, I’ve gotten into the Bristol community spirit and I’ve enjoyed having Europe at my doorstep! Whilst Melbourne and all the fantastic people who I left there are so freaking far away, it just means that those reunions are sweeter and those who are meant to be in my life continue to stay in touch no matter how many years pass. Melbourne will always be there for future visits and my friends who I left will always be there for me no matter where in the world they end up living. I need to stop looking back, as the present and the future are pretty darn bright and I don’t want to miss a thing. I need to cast off these rose tinted glasses, blow a kiss in Melbourne’s direction and turn to face my present head on.
I don’t know where I belong and I don’t know where I’ll feel like I am home – traveller problems, eh? – but I know that I am blessed to have such important people in my life both home and away (excuse the Aussie pun). I am hella lucky to be in the position to have travelled far and wide, and most importantly, I am so lucky to have the freedom to have experienced many places to call home.
Even if I have inner turmoil about where I belong and I never fully feel settled in one place as there will always be someone I miss or am miles away from (damn you, international friends and family!) I should live in the now and enjoy what life is handing out to me today. I have my freedom which enables me to wonder where I belong and wander to figure it out, and I shouldn’t forget how lucky I am.
photo courtesy of @nohumdrumlife
All photographs by Sophie Saint unless otherwise stated