The Emotional Meaning of Home

Travel Chat

Oct 01
What is home

What is home

What is home?

My weekend foraging for firewood while glamping in beautiful West Wales has me musing on a topic that returns to me again and again over the years.

Just what is home? And is it up to us to define it?

The Emotional Meaning of Home

This week, I was supposed to be travelling. But I was sick. I stayed at home.

Much is written about the power of travel, about how new places, people and experiences light up our senses and stimulate our minds. Little is written about those other two words. Sickness. And home.

Recommended reading: The Importance of Doing Nothing

Perhaps it’s a product of practicality. When writers get sick, it’s much harder to write. Only when all hope of recovery is gone do people push through and put pen to paper, keyboard to screen or blink to assistant as in the case of Jean-Dominique Bauby, the journalist who wrote The Diving Bell and the Butterfly*. This man had suffered a stroke that left him “locked in,” able to communicate only by closing one eye. An assistant would trace the letters in the alphabet and his eyelashes would flutter when she reached the right swirl. Each word took two minutes. The work, ten months to write.

And to write about home, whether healthy or well, is to write about love. That is, a word we assume we know what it means until we actually stop and think.

And that’s how they all tie in together, those three words, I think.

They force us to think. They give us the time to think.  The permission to think instead of achieve.

boat alone

Travel: permission to think without interruption

Travel & Home

When travel strips us from our everyday cares, removes our social crutches and forces us to face the truth that there is no-one but ourselves for company one long and lonely night, when there’s nothing, really nothing else we can be doing but waiting silently where we are…We give ourselves permission to really let our thoughts fly.

It’s either that or watch another Miley Cyrus film in a language we can’t understand. For the third time.

And sickness, spent at home, does much the same thing. It leaves us with our thoughts and a desperate desire for change, to make this stop, in a way that sickness on the road cannot. On the road, sickness focuses on survival: the need to reach somewhere safe and the desire to go home.

At home, we are left with our thoughts. And, if we’re lucky, reruns of CSI Miami.

George Washington's House in Barbados

George Washington’s House in Barbados

Thoughts of Home

Of all my thoughts about home lately, which I promise to corral into order as soon as these fiery cytokines settle down again in my blood, the ones I recall the most are the cries of the terminally ill.

“I just want to die at home.”

Since hospitals remain dismal places, with air that smells like corrugated cabbage and corridors washed down with printed leaflets and bleach, the first hearing of such a statement sounds like a perfectly sensible idea.

Yet it’s a desire that delves deeper than that. A desire to reach home even when it is hours and days away with a painful path to get there and an uncertain welcome at the end.

Helena Rubinsteins' Childhood Home, Kazimierz, Krakow

Helena Rubinsteins’ Childhood Home, Kazimierz, Krakow

Searching for Home: What is Home to You?

My father once told me of a patient he cared for in Bellevue Hospital, New York. Diagnosed with a terminal illness, he longed to reach his homeland, Croatia, though he no longer had family there.

Since this was the early 90s, the hospital staff were aghast.

“You can’t go to Croatia, there’s a war on over there!”

“Well,” shrugged the man. “What’s the worst that can happen?”

Mozart's Home in Salzburg

Mozart’s Home in Salzburg

As I write, I feel shaky and I know that a fight to the death is going on inside me. Thankfully, medical opinion predicts that it is I who should win and the microbes the ones to die. This time around, at least. One hundred years ago, it would have been a different story. And even now there are no guarantees.

I have watched the CSI reruns. I have shivered and slept and let my thoughts fly.

And then I turned on Twitter. To see that the theme for this week’s #FriFotos was “home.”

Robert Frost once said that “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”

To which I’ll add my own fevered line:

Home is where you long to be whenever sickness calls.

Keep well. Enjoy the photos. Find home.

What is home for you?

Beit Sitti - Cooking lessons in Jordan inside someone's home

Beit Sitti – Cooking lessons in Jordan inside someone’s home

Thousands visit Juliet's "home" in Verona from Romeo & Juliet

Thousands visit Juliet’s “home” in Verona from Romeo & Juliet

Kakadu Park Forest Fire

The open air is home for many aboriginal people in Australia

Coloured houses in Girona as Catalonia campaigns for independence and the use of the word "home"

Coloured houses in Girona as Catalonia campaigns for independence and the use of the word “home.”

A Berber Kitchen, Atlas Mountains

Inside a Berber Kitchen, Morocco. So much neater than my own…

Homes in London

What is home? London is home to more people than the populations of Namibia, Denmark and Costa Rica combined


About the Author

Hi, I'm Abi, a doctor turned writer who's worked with Lonely Planet, the BBC, UNESCO and more. Let's travel more and think more. Find out more.

  • Sophie says:

    Yikes! Get well soon! Love the creative collection of home photos :)

  • Darlene Foster says:

    Hope you get better soon. A great post on home.

  • Linda says:

    Well, I have to say that illness inspires you! This piece is gorgeous and your creative instinct, in making a superb post from “nothing” is priceless. Loved it.

    In answer to your question? I have no idea.

    Get well soon.

    • Abi says:

      Thank you…Inhibitions blunted by fever perhaps!

  • James Pengelley says:

    Hope you’re feeling better soon Abi..

    For me, home is where I can cook naked!!

  • Jenna says:

    Better to be sick at home than while traveling, that’s for sure. I hope you get better soon! I enjoyed your reference to The Diving Bell and the Butterfly–one of the most moving, thought-provoking films I’ve seen & books I’ve read in a long time.

    • Abi King says:

      I didn’t realise there’d been film…Hard to imagine how that would work. But, yes, I agree – an incredibly moving book.

  • Casey says:

    I love the creativity, especially in all your pictures. The cooking class in Jordan is my favorite! It’s true though. Being sick on the road is the worst. :-/

  • Katherina says:

    This piece is beautiful… and I particularly love the picture of Australia. I hope you get well soon!

    • Abi King says:

      Thank you. I’m not there yet but hopefully I will be one day!

  • Sofie says:

    Hope you get well soon!
    Home for me is where I can totally be myself. It’s my world, with ‘my rules’. At home, I can walk around in sweatpants with uncombed hair and no make-up on without feeling bad about it. It’s where I can pick my noise and do or don’t do the dishes. It’s the place I can leave whenever I want, but also the place I can return to whenever I want. It’s where I can prepare for everything that will take place outside of ‘home’.
    It’s my safe spot.

  • Hope you are well again. A lovely post! For me, it’s my Mother. When I’m sick, I want her to look after me… and I’m 32 :)

  • Dalene says:

    Boy, do I know this. I spent two of my three weeks in Berlin very sick. As a long-term nomad, the biggest bouts of homesickness are when I am sick on the road.

    But, I combatted it as I know how – reruns of 30 Rock.

    (Sorry that you didn’t make it to Berlin, would have been nice to see you again! But we were all sick there, too…so that surely wouldn’t have helped things!)

    • Abi King says:

      Oh, sorry to hear that. But yes, perhaps it’s just as well! I don’t think I could take another bout of illness just yet! Hope to catch up with you soon.

  • Pigafe says:

    Great article! You make me thinking the real meaning of home. I hope that you get well soon.

  • Home is the place where you feel most comfortable, and i’m sure These Roads are your home..

    • Abi King says:

      That’s what I used to think…but as I’ve grown older I think the concept is more tied in to where I grew up than I want to believe…

  • The Guy says:

    Hope you are feeling better now.

    I agree that travel and sickness provides lots of thinking time. I spend lots of time on long flights and it is then that I have lots of inspiration or analyse things which need sorting.

    Lovely pictures.

  • Ashley says:

    cool pics!

  • Keith says:

    Hi Abi,

    Hope you’re recovering well. We miss you! Lovely post (as always) and fab photos (as always). Keep warm and get well soon ok.

    Big hugs, kisses and a virtual bouquet of roses!
    Keith xoxoxo

  • Sheila says:

    Dear Abi;
    Hopefully by now you are well and bouncing about.
    As a foreigner on foreign land, with no other family members other than
    my husband and two sons, I would say that Home to me is where ever it is
    as long as the four of us are together.

  • What a lovely piece .. Especially the images you chose too … I hope you felt at home in my kitchen at la perouse

    • Abi King says:

      Now you come to mention it, I did. In fact my stay at La Perouse changed my entire perception of B&Bs (for the better!) Thank you

  • Sebastian says:

    Your article made me remember the last time I was sick on the road. I am a person who can feel at home anywhere in the world. Your home is where your heart is and my heart is always on the road looking for adventures.

    The only time that isn’t the case is when I am sick. Then I want to feel home and be at home…wherever that might is for me in that moment.

  • Going through some adventurous Travel articles and then suddenly found something interesting and it made me really home sick now and made me realize importance of home. I hope you are better now and measuring some new destinations.

    • Abi King says:

      Thank you! And I hope that your home sickness has passed you by by now…Here’s to exploring – and health!

  • That is a very interesting take on the definition of home. Never thought of it that way

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