Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Are You a Homebody or a Rolling Stone?

Flying home on Sunday afternoon after another week away, I was actually a bit sad to see the trip come to an end.

That is unusual for me: I usually prefer to stay home than to travel.  I enjoy planning vacations, mapping out an itinerary, but, as often as not, I find myself counting down the days until I can return home once I am actually on the road.

I traveled a lot as a kid and as a young adult.  I've visited almost all of the states and many countries.  I've had my breath stolen by natural wonders and by man-made structures.  I've biked on glaciers in Alaska and gulped apple wine at Oktoberfest in Offenbach.

I treasure these experiences, but sometimes I feel like a collector of memories - more interested in tucking them away and looking at them in pictures, rather than in living a trip as it occurs.

Feeling somewhat nostalgic for this recent trip that was coming to an end, I happened upon two bits of literary inspiration - one lofty, the other not so much - that helped me name these phenomena.

The first came through the typically direct words of Olive Kitteridge, the title character of Elizabeth Strout's Pulitzer Prize winning novel-in-stories, and a companion of mine on my trip to Florida.  Olive's grown son Christopher invites her for a visit.  She declines his request to have her stay "for a couple of weeks" with the rejoinder: "Three days...After that I stink like fish."

And I wondered if Olive's rule of thumb for houseguests might just apply to travelers as well - and if the best vacations are those that contain - almost like the best meals? - just enough to fill you up, but still leave you wanting a bit more.

This trip to Florida was just that for me.  I was delighted by the sunshine and the warmer temperatures (thanks, Liz, for making that call to Mother Nature!), by the chance to walk and play outside in January, by the time with my parents and brothers.  I felt full of all of these good sensations, then drove away from those people whom I love wishing for more of all of them.

For me, the ideal time away was a week.  For Olive, it seems to be three days.  For others, it might be more or less.  The key, I think, is knowing your travel tolerance and planning accordingly.

The second piece of worldly and wordy wisdom came from one of Big Boy's favorite book series: Toot and Puddle.  These porcine roommates and best friends have different perspectives on travel.  Toot has been bit by the travel bug and spends most of his time on-page globetrotting - from Provence to Nepal, from Egypt to the Solomon Islands.  Puddle, meanwhile, is a homebody.  He occasionally joins Toot on his adventures, but is usually happier in the rhythms of his day-to-day life.  At the end of Toot & Puddle, the first book in the series, the pigs are reunited at home for a December celebration.
"Here's to all your adventures around the world," said Puddle.
"Here's to all your adventures right at home," said Toot.
And perhaps that is the distinction right there: some of us find adventure through travel and some of us find adventure through staying put.  And maybe those proclivities bend and evolve as we age, as our destination changes, and as our sense of home shifts.

But maybe some of us shy away from adventure altogether, evincing a preference for home but really masking a fear of the unknown?

Could it be that my own deep connection to the idea of home makes me tend toward a static life?  Could it be that my risk-averse nature causes me to miss out on the brighter and deeper dimensions of living?

What is your travel tolerance (i.e. how long can you be away from home before you want to return)?  Are you a homebody like Puddle and me or a rolling stone like Toot?


As part of the Help Haiti Blog Challenge, I will be making a $200 donation to Partners in Health on behalf of the Motherese community.  Thank you to all who took the time to comment - and especially to an e-mail buddy who wishes to remain nameless who contributed a hearty sum to our collective pot.

And congratulations to Maureen at IslandRoar, winner of a copy of Tracy Kidder's marvelous Mountains Beyond Mountains.

Image: Grand Canyon NP - Arizona - USA by Tobias Alt via Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.


  1. Funny about being away from home, isn't it? I so very much want to go and be and travel and see and yet after a certain amount of days all I can think about is my own bed, my own bed, my own bed. Yeah, the thoughts pretty much stop there--with the bed--even though I'd like my couch and my fridge and my kids' own toys, too.

    I find, however, that in my heart of hearts I am more excited to go than to stay. I am more tolerant of the chaos of leaving and staying away than I am of the chaos here at home most days.

    In the summer my family--Jen, brother, mother and me--rent a cabin on a lake. 9 kids. 3 siblings. 3 spouses. a Mom. It's one house, a central location, and within hours of being there we are moved in and comfy. It's a week that I never want to end even though I am sleeping in a single bed with musty blankets. It's glorious. So I guess it all depends on the type of "away" we are talking about. Hotels and diner food? Three days, like Olive says.

  2. This is really interesting - I've long WANTED to be one of those adventurous, wanderlusty types, but your words make me think perhaps I should just accept that I like being at home.
    On the other hand, sometimes going away is just what I need to really appreciate coming home. It seems a big effort, but sometimes I wonder if trips are really just a way to remind us of what we love most in our quotidian days.

  3. I am more a homebody. I just like routine. I can take about a week away, any longer and I start to go crazy. I love day trips and quick overnight trips the best, I think. I can take week long vacations about once a year, though.

  4. A week, tops, is my traveling threshold. I just always long to be home, where I feel most like myself.

  5. I vascillate. I love home but traveling is such fun. Now that I'm more middle-aged, I've perfected what I must have on the road (pillows, reading material, camera, that type of thing). Not into too much roughing it. A week is the perfect amount.
    I am so excited to see this book. Thank you!!

  6. Glad you're having an awesome trip. I am one who can't get home to my own bed quickly enough!

  7. Trips are not something that I find super enjoyable. I love my house, my routine, and the fact that my kids have a bed time. My husband, on the other hand, loves trips.

    We make lots of concessions for each other.

  8. Hmm, I had a very high travel tolerance when It was just "me" but adding other people into the mix often complicates things. My husband's travel tolerance is much lower then mine and after a few days he is begging to go home and now that we have a little one, well we pretty much have to pack the whole house to go anywhere:) I am looking forward to adventures a bit farther away once our little one is a bit older.

  9. So interesting to see you muse about this - especially the relative enjoyment gained through experience itself versus reliving the memories of the experience. One of your recent writings caused me to reflect on past travels and consider which vacations I enjoyed most. I immediately flashed to a few exotic memories, but upon further thought, remembered the parts of those trips that I didn't enjoy -- the unfamiliar beds, the stress of getting around in foreign lands where we didn't speak the language, jet lag, etc. At times, I find myself to be a collector of memories, pursuing some experiences with the almost conscious purpose of being able to reminisce about them later. But I wish I was better at living those experiences, reveling in the moments as they happen...

  10. Travel for "me" versus travel for "musts" makes all the difference. I've been away 3 months (abroad, knowing no one) and loved it. I've been away 3 days and despised it.

    My ideal: away in a place for a period of time sufficient to gain a sense of home, to know people by name, to have a new routine that is lighter in the differentness and things to explore. The ability to wander from there.

    Still - there is something about being in one's own bed. A nice life would be to have that, in more than one culture.

    Interesting subject.

  11. I'm both a homebody AND a rolling stone. It all depends on where I am in my life, who I travel with, where I'm going, time of year, etc. No quick, easy answer for me.

  12. I am just so glad you got some sunshine.

    I love to travel and almost always wish I didn't have to go home quite yet.... Then when I get home I am always happy to be in my own bed finally!

  13. Having traveled for eight months, I can say with confidence that my ideal amount of time to travel is three months: long enough to really know a place, but not SO long that I start to feel really homesick. And I know that length of time will strike many as completely insane! I'm reading "Olive Kitteridge" right now, too!

  14. Again, I relate on all levels, Kristen (much like the Marley revelation *g*) I have travelled quite a bit - as has my husband - but nowadays I love the feel of 'my things about me'. (I wonder if you have ever watched the ancient John Wayne, Maureen OHara movie "The Quiet Man") Maureen OH's character can't move into her husband's home without 'her things about her'.

    Hmm. It's scary to relate to Maureen from that era. Getting old. Again, a lovely read.

  15. I'm like Puddle, for sure! I love to go on vacation for about 5 days and 4 nights. Anything longer than that and I kind of go crazy. I just like to be home.

    By the way, I loved the book Olive Kitteridge. Have you read the book called The Help? That's a really good one, too.

  16. We've been shackled to our home area for so long (owning a business) that I can't imagine what it'd be like to travel for a long period of time now. My problem is that I'm a creature of habits - I'm forever looking for my favorite restaurants, found something that I need that's only at home, miss my office. Yet, the minute we get anywhere, I unpack completely like I'm staying forever.

    Thanks for another interesting topic, Kristen.

  17. I think of a particular image, pre kids, of having taken several planes to a tiny outpost well above the arctic circle, and then taking a boat up a river through the tundra where we ate berries on a little island in the stream (I passed on the reindeer jerky). Watching the sun almost set at four am and then rise again above an old tractor and watching films all night in a tent (it was the film festival of the midnight sun) are all great memories to have had... but I must admit that given the chance to go again, I'd rather be home in bed with a book.

    When I lived in the Village in New York I soon went from recent import to wizened local smiling sardonically at the tour bus churning down Bleeker to point out some scene that had vanished with Jack Kerouac.

    Maybe there is something about travel that helps us find the adventure, and better see the beauty, in our own little corner of the world, wherever it is.


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