Home Need Not Be a Place


I forgot how big the sky is in the prairies. Even though the faint outline of the Rocky Mountains was to my right, the land and sky stretched out in all directions around me, unimpeded by the ocean shores or jagged peaks I had become used to lately.

At once it was freeing to be in the middle of a wide open space, but also intimidating. Especially because within my sight was a massive storm, and I was driving right for it.


Storm ahead


I could see the exact edge of the heavy rainfall, cars would suddenly be visible as they emerged from it and others would disappear into it. It stretched out like a wall from east to west, its forceful imposition playing out right before me. The weather update on the radio station warned of high winds and heavy rain, nothing that this tough Alberta girl hasn’t seen before, but slightly unnerving just the same.

I turned to the passenger seat – it was empty. I’ve driven this route from Calgary to Lethbridge a hundred times before on my own, but I never felt so alone.




I get this sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach when I’m around Calgary. When I’m in the northwest near the University, I feel like I have a paper due. When I’m near downtown, I’m late for a meeting or I need to prepare myself for a long night of work. You would think that with enough time and distance between myself and the stresses of my former life that those sick, pit-of-stomach feelings would pass, but they haven’t.

I feel more self-conscious about my appearance here. I don’t like the stream of gas-guzzling trucks crowding the downtown streets, or the immediate fraying of my nerves as I drive Deerfoot Trail.

In short, I feel no nostalgia, and little attachment to the place I called home for so many years. And it’s not because it is an awful place, quite the contrary – there is so much beauty in the area and many dear friends that I am dying to see, but my view has been spoiled for so many different reasons. The difficult times that led up to our decision to travel, the years of my life I chose to waste in a cubicle at the expense of my health and sometimes my relationships. It’s those gnawing feelings that I just can’t shake.

Like anything in life, you get out of it what you put into it. So, maybe I didn’t give it a fair chance. In the blinding ambition of my youth, I didn’t see it as a place to enjoy, but only as a ladder to climb. I submitted to the mentality of do-better-get-bigger; I didn’t have the maturity to strip that away, to balance my life with actually living.

It’s not the place. I’m pretty sure it’s just me.

I’ve spoiled it. It’s not my home.

So, what is?




I entered the storm with both hands gripped firmly on the wheel, and slowed my speed to under the limit. Wipers were going full tilt, but only intermittently, as the impressive grey wall did give way to light every few minutes before closing in again. Such is southern Alberta weather, constantly changing and always keeping you on your guard.

I talked to myself: pep talks when I was passing semi trucks, wary of their spray, and cursing during those few seconds where nothing was visible through the pounding water that blurred on the windshield.

Dalene and Pete HeckPete and I don’t spend much time apart. In our chosen lifestyle of perpetual travel, we are together most of the day, everyday. We have become important appendages to each other such that even when I’m in familiar territory, even when on a route I have traveled solo many times before, his absence was severely felt. It had only been a few hours, but I missed him.

Maybe it doesn’t matter that I felt no attachment to what was my home for fifteen years. Because as I drove away from it, and even into the uncertainty of a storm ahead of me, I was beaming.

I knew that my home wasn’t a place, but a person.

And I’d be there soon.


29 Comments... Read them below or add one of your own
  • September 21 2012

    I can relate on so many fronts.

    In fact, this is a topic that J and I have covered a few times recently, as we deal with a sense of not belonging here in NY. We have talked about hours on end about our next move, our next trips, our next home.

    We have toyed with the idea of “heading home” – to us, because we only left less than 24 months ago, “home” is Southern California, in conversation. But when we talk about it, and dig down to it, it’s not “home” any more.

    Juliet is traveling this week, ironically enough, back to SoCal to see family. She was not there 24 hours and we both were missing each other, but moreso, she was missing being “home”.

    Through all of our travels, our vacations, our excursions, with all of the great people we have met, the family that we have, as cliche as it sounds, “home” is when we are together.

    I can’t say with any certainty that we will ever have a “home” again, like we did when we lived in SoCal for 20+ years, but we are okay with that. I am happy when I am home, and that is anywhere I am with her.
    Justin Hamlin recently posted..Photo Tour of Boston’s Fenway Park

    • September 22 2012

      Which is why…you two should strap on some backpacks and come with us. JUST SAYIN’… πŸ™‚

  • September 21 2012

    This was beautiful Dalene, and I feel much the same way. Though I am yet to actually leave my hometown of Brighton, England, I already feel no nostalgia or sentimentality for the place where I have lived for the past three decades. My home has always been defined by the people I love, and though I can’t physically take them all with me as I begin my indefinite travels next week, they will always be in my heart. So, by default, wherever I may find myself, I know I will be at home.
    Hannah recently posted..A very big announcement

    • September 22 2012

      Thanks Hannah – and it’s great that you made that realization before you’ve even left. The definition of ‘home’ was something that I struggled with a lot as we got about a year into our travels, but then I realized that it’s not actually a place.

  • Gillian @OneGiantStep
    September 21 2012

    When traveling long term I found that I was never home sick. Sometimes I longed for a home, but never to return from the home which I left from. I learned, as you have, that my home is with Jason, wherever we are. It is a lesson that has left me feeling terribly free for now I know that wherever we go we will be home.

    We are returning to Calgary in a week; if you and Pete are still around, and have some time, drop us a line…we’d love to meet up.

    • September 22 2012

      We won’t be around right when you get back, but possibly once again before we leave. Would be great to meet you!

  • September 21 2012

    Beautiful post, Dalene. Your writing is always so great!

    You hear from a lot of people that a “home” isn’t necessarily a place, but rather a sense of security; sometimes found in being with another person.

    I haven’t found my “home” yet. But I’m looking. πŸ™‚
    Amanda recently posted..Thursday Traveler: Mike Welch

    • September 22 2012

      For the first year or so of travel, I really struggled with that definition, but now, I’m glad to have broken the idea of it being a physical place. I’m sure you’ll find yours too. πŸ™‚

  • September 21 2012

    Great Post! It’s so interesting to hear your views of Calgary (my home city too!) as a ‘returning traveller’… There are certain things that stick to you about the city, but it is such a fast-paced, get to the next step on the ladder sort of city. I’m glad to be leaving – but I appreciate the way that it shaped me! I hope I can find the same sense of home in the rest of the world that you guys have!

    • September 22 2012

      Yes, I can’t forget that the city did shape me in positive ways, plus taking those steps on the ladder let us fund our travels as well! But, I’m also glad that time has passed. πŸ™‚ And I’m sure you’ll find your “home” as well!

  • Chrystal McKay
    September 21 2012

    I have no nostalgia over my home city but I do enjoy coming home for holidays and seeing family and friends. Those things are too important to me.

    But each time I arrive in Thunder Bay, I feel like a 16 yr old girl who has hopes and dreams but there made them come true. I don’t know why – Thunder Bay makes me feel trapped and like I am reverting to a life that isn’t the one I choose. I don’t have anybody else to be “Home Away From Home” with, but I can strongly relate to not feeling sentiments towards the physical place.

    • September 22 2012

      Sounds like very similar feelings that I have towards Calgary. And maybe they will pass, hopefully? Because I am here often enough to see good friends, and that will never change. Hopefully I can make some peace with the city itself.

  • September 22 2012

    Lovely perspective (as always), Dalene. And I can only add that – though I’ve lived both close and far from my loved ones over the years, my one true home… is always right here in my own heart and soul.

    It’s immensely freeing to know with certainty that I am always loved no matter where I roam – by dear friends and family near and far. But also, more importantly – loved unconditionally, by MYSELF too.

    Thus, be it here in my new home (Dalat – a most idyllic mountain hamlet in Vietnam), or Saigon, or Mongolia, or…, or…, or… I am always “home”.

    • September 28 2012

      What a great realization to make Dyanne, and I wish that more women (including me!) could say the same thing. You are an inspiration! (I want to be Dyanne when I grow up!!)

  • Kim
    September 21 2012

    Such a beautiful piece. I struggled a lot before we left our second home (not the place Brian or I grew up but where we lived as adults) because a bit of my identity was tied to it. I wish I was over the whole “where is home” dilemma in my head, but I’m not. I think it’s natural to want a place to call home (I do). At the same time, now that we are out traveling through the world, I don’t miss home (wherever that is) at all. I just re-read my comment and it makes no sense! Anyway, loved it, Dalene.

    • September 22 2012

      Thanks Kim. I struggled with that for a long while too, when we started traveling. I was glad to have left where we were just before, so really struggled with what was “home”. Now, I can agree it’s natural to want to have that place, it’s just not that way for me. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt “home” about anywhere before, as I’m my happiest when traveling! (As long as Pete is there, of course).

  • jan
    September 22 2012

    I agree that people are home. I think that is why I can travel without missing home, because home is wherever Marty and I are. It usually takes me about four days before I start feeling like a new place is home, but if he wasn’t there it would not feel like home.

    • September 28 2012

      I think that after three years, I’ve even lost that 4 day buffer. Home is wherever someone will let me put down my bags! (Oh, and as long as Pete is there!) πŸ™‚

  • Ali
    September 22 2012

    Andy is definitely my home, and I don’t like being apart from him either, even during the hours he has to go to work. And as much as I like solo travel, now that I have Andy, I’m not sure I want to travel solo again.
    Ali recently posted..Advantages of Taking a Tour

    • September 28 2012

      It’s definitely a different experience traveling solo, and it is not my preference either! Who is going to carry my bag when it gets too heavy? πŸ™‚

  • September 23 2012

    Great Post Dalene.

    Not identifying any “place” as home feels a bit like being unhinged from the earth itself or floating in the universe (not in a good way). The only thing that really grounds you is contact with love ones (family and friends).

    I’ve always said – It isn’t so much what I’m doing as it is who I’m doing it with.

    Thanks for sharing!
    The Lady Tea recently posted..To Succeed, Forget Self-Esteem

    • September 28 2012

      Hmm. I think that the unhinged and floating is a good thing, for me, anyways. We’ve left many of our life decisions in the past few years up to the universe and she has been very good to us! That being said, it would be a different experience without Pete, and I probably wouldn’t be so good at floating on my own. πŸ™‚

  • September 23 2012

    Its really nice to have someone write so openly about their feelings and fears. I definitely agree that home is where loved ones are, without them a place can feel completely different. I think travel makes you realise this even more.

  • September 24 2012

    Beautiful words! I love all your posts but your reflective ones are so poetic =)

    • September 28 2012

      Aw, thanks Angie! Sometimes these reflections hit me in the most inappropriate ways (like, I wrote this one at 2am on my iPod), but I like when I write them too. πŸ™‚

  • September 26 2012

    Lovely post and I totally agree that home is where the heart is, no matter where in the world you are. I’ve been in Berlin for a year and half now and am contemplating a move home again, so this is a timely post for me as I ponder my decision.

    • September 28 2012

      Home is wherever you are Cheryl! πŸ™‚

  • Trixabelle
    October 1 2012

    You’re his home too. He messaged me while you in this storm… <3

    • October 2 2012

      I had better be! Ha! πŸ™‚

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