Most summers, home is the place we do laundry between travel adventures. Most summers we sleep in hotels, live out of a suitcase and rarely stock our refrigerator. This summer was different. Over the past four summers, we’ve accumulated a long list of travels. This year, we travelled in the spring, but this summer we did the unimaginable. We stayed home.
A quick look at our first four summers reminds me just how active we’ve been.
Our first European summer was dominated by the big move. We arrived in Germany in July, just before all of Europe embarks on the great summer holiday known as August. We joined in with day trips to Switzerland and France, and a long weekend in Prague, while we settled in and acquainted ourselves with the area. That summer, everything was new, everything was different, everything was foreign. Every trip outside the growing familiarity of our new home was an epic adventure.
During our second summer, my husband was travelling for work, so the children and I set off to explore on our own. We thoroughly enjoyed touring Rothenburg ob der Tauber, relaxing in the Austrian Alps, and camping in the Black Forest. While we were still not quite at home in our new environment, by this time we no longer felt so far out of our element, and I was comfortable traveling alone with the children.
During our third summer in Europe, we took a grand holiday in three countries. We traveled first to Munich, then on to Vienna, a few days in the Austrian Alps, and finally to Bolzano, Italy before heading back home. This will probably remain in my mind as the summer holiday to beat all summer holidays. It was our own European dream vacation, and we were together, settled into our lives and comfortable in our travels.
Our fourth summer in Germany was another marked by a change of address. That didn’t stop us from taking long weekend trips, or day trips exploring our new home state of Bavaria. We even spent a week at a Kinderhotel in the Austrian Alps. We were on a European holiday schedule, and we were loving the summers full of travel and adventure.
This summer was a little different. This was the summer that we didn’t travel. Already this year we’d traveled to Millstadt in Austria, Salzburg, Garmisch, Oberammergau, Budapest, and Bratislava. We’d traveled to Prague after Christmas, and nearly every weekend before that we traveled somewhere. Some were long trips, some were short trips. There were day trips and overnight trips, but we were always travelling. This summer, we didn’t check items from our ever-growing list of travel dreams. This summer, I realized I needed a travel break. I wasn’t looking forward to the trips like I had in the past. So this summer, we made memories closer to home. This summer we reconnected with friends and family. Our one overnight trip wasn’t to a well-known tourist destination, it was a visit to our former neighbors. This summer we didn’t wake up in a new city every morning. We slept in our beds, cooked our food, and made ourselves at home.
This summer, we provided the children the opportunity to make memories and have adventures on their own. This summer, I finally caught up on several projects, enjoyed an extended visit from my parents, and played single mom while my husband’s job once sent him on his own journey.
This was a summer we attempted to live, not like ever-travelling expat vagabonds, but like a family that has set down roots in one town. Fortunately, our current hometown offered several wonderful children’s programs to get us started. We participated in at least one a week over the school holidays.
This summer the children were transported through time to the Middle Ages, as the Night Watchman led them on a historic tour through their home town. On that beautiful summer afternoon, they learned to sword fight in the park at the water’s edge. They chased “criminals” through the town near the wall of the old jail, and they finally, “officially”, became Knights and Princesses.
This summer, the children participated in a rock-climbing class. They challenged themselves and overcame their fear of heights. They came home tired, but proud of what they had accomplished.
This summer, my oldest child went to a weeklong camp on a horse farm. He spent the week learning to ride and take care of horses. His summer camp adventures included rock-climbing, summer bobsledding, a corn labyrinth, arts and craft, and campfires. He made memories he will treasure forever, but perhaps most importantly, this summer he expanded the boundaries of his independence, and enhanced his self-confidence, just a little bit.
This summer both children were able to spend a few days on horseback at different riding programs in the area. Introducing them to a new sport, and to a different way of life.
In summers past, we’ve given them quite a few big moments. This summer was all about the smaller moments. This summer the children experienced the feeling of going home, as we spent the night in our old neighborhood, where we were greeted by old friends and where we revisited the places we hold dear in our memories. We spent afternoons at the library. We spent rainy days reading together, doing science experiments, playing board games, and making beautiful works of art. This summer we spent sunny days at the playground, we hiked, and we visited some of the small cities near our home. This summer my husband took my son camping for the first time. This summer my daughter and I had a movie date together. This summer, I was able to take each of the children out for a meal alone to celebrate their accomplishments.
It’s easy to get swept up in the tide of grand adventures, but after a while, it can leave you feeling exhausted, empty, unfulfilled. We still love to travel, but this summer we needed a break. We needed time to reminisce about travels past, and dream about travels future. We needed an opportunity to just spend time together. It’s important to realize that the grandest adventures don’t make the biggest memories. My children don’t remember visiting Neuschwanstein Castle, but they do remember picking blueberries in the forest, and living room slumber parties. They don’t remember all of the cities we’ve visited, but they do remember the time we’ve spent together. This summer, we focused on spending together.
I want my children to cultivate a love of travel, to have an appreciation for differences, while being able to find similarities in the places and people we visit. But even more than that, I want them to find comfort in a place called home, wherever on earth that is. To find things in their immediate surroundings, and within themselves that give them joy, peace, and comfort. It’s easy to forget that sometimes the thing that gives us courage to explore is the fact that we know exactly what home is. For families that are frequently move, it can be a challenge to create a sense of home and well-being that moves with you. This summer we didn’t work on creating big experiences. We worked on creating big memories. We worked on creating a sense of place. I want my children to travel, not because they are trying to fill a void, but because they are secure in the knowledge that home will always be there.
Living in a community of permanent vagabonds, one often has the sense of an unspoken travel competition. We know that our time in anyone place is limited and so we try to see as much as we can. We travel every long weekend and holiday break. We take day trips every weekend. While I still have travel dreams, and an ever-growing lists of places I want to visit, I’ve realized that we have a limit. No matter how often I travel, I’ll never see all of it. While I admire those folks who top the lists of countries they’ve travelled to, I do not envy their constant travel. For us, enjoying the travel means taking a break from it now and again. One of the things I’ve most enjoyed traveling is finding things that give me a sense of home. This summer, I realized that I needed to create that sense of home for my children.
So what is home? Is it the place you grew up? Is it the place you feel most comfortable? Home to me isn’t found in one place. It’s a sense of things, and it’s different everywhere. It’s the feeling I get when I close my eyes and listen to the sound of the water at the river’s edge. It’s the wind through the trees on a forested trail. It’s the bright purple bloom of the aster, marking the change to fall. It’s the fragrant scent of lilacs filling the warm spring air. It’s a table full of familiar food, and friendly conversations – in any language. Home is the place that renews my soul. Home is a sense of comfort and wellbeing I am able to find where-ever I am. Having that feeling of home with me is what gives me the courage to travel, to try new things. When home is always moving, it can seem impossible to create that same internal base of peace and belonging. But this summer, that’s just what we did.
What do think? I’d love to hear what home and travel mean to you!