I used to love to take super-long trips through southeast Asia (like Europe, but friendly, and cheaper, and with beaches!). Basically, one long string of $8-a-night hotel rooms (with air conditioning! and wi-fi! and the Discovery Channel!) within walking distance of, like, somewhere with palm trees and drinks consisting primarily of sugar and rum: paradise. Few things made those trips anything but an unmitigated pleasure, but chief among them were the hard-core Americans we met at the bar, who were always unhappy and always complaining, chiefly about home. They did not want to go home. They wanted to stay on the road forever.
I’ve never been that kind of traveler. I love coming home. I am obsessed with coming home. I say this not as a New Yorker who believes that New York is the only place one should live. Well, I do sort of think that about New York, but I think that equally about the slightly more counter-intuitive selection of central New Jersey, which is, in my opinion, in its own way just as much of a paradise as a Vietnamese beach, except for the all the horrible big box stores sitting on what used to be farmland and which, for my purposes, could be instantaneously vaporized by space lasers as long as no one was injured.
For example, we have deer. Deer are significant to me only as fast-moving weapons of destruction—I literally don’t know anyone from here who hasn’t been attacked by one (and by “been attacked by one” I mean “tragically hit one while driving”). Then I brought my Scottish boyfriend home. This is a person who grew up in a country where the biggest land animal is an especially tubby cat.* He would sit in front of my bedroom window, next to our dog, and stare at them. “They are incredible beasts,” I remember him saying. The whole thing became weirdly magical.
This is all to say that I can only travel happily because I remain happy to come home. Travel can be impossibly difficult. I have found that often nothing fits. Not clothing, but just, like, my body, in physical spaces. It’s like always staying in a new hotel room: There are coffee tables where there aren’t supposed to be coffee tables. I generally don’t like to be away from home for more than a couple months. Travel is both an additive and whatever-the-opposite-of-additive (er, subtractive?) process: After four months in Paris I know the word for avocado in French (um: “avocat”), but I showed up in Newark at less than half-power: I’d lost my sunglasses, my cell phone, my driver’s license, and a million other things. My incredibly clever friend H. calls this “the rebellion of small objects,” and as soon as she said the words I wanted to, like, engrave them in stone because they perfectly encapsulate the sense of emotional erosion through the loss of physical things. It is real. It’s less real than, say, the plague, but it’s real. And I can’t escape it when I’m gone from home for longer than eight weeks. Being away longer than eight weeks means I am much, much too far from Moe’s Southwestern Grill, Georgetown Cupcakes, Magnolia Bakery (theme alert), and (perhaps more significantly than the baked goods) all the people I have known for decades. I have seen multiple people in the past three weeks who said things that were so clever and smart and amazing that I literally got tears in my eyes. Over the past six years I’ve “come home” many times, but for some totally undefinable reason, this has been the best trip home ever. My friends and family seem to be in exceptionally fine form, the lot of them. I think of them often when I’m away, but I am delighted to be reminded, so totally, of how ridiculously awesome and funny and clever they are. Christmas came early this year.
I am, literally, packing my bags for my next trip as I write this post, and I am obsessed with new places. There is nothing I love more than flying into somewhere I’ve never been before. I remember circling above Victoria Falls as my partner David and I landed at an airport in Zambia: ridiculously amazing. There are plenty of annoyances about traveling—some are listed above; others include not being able to have really, really big and important things, like Real Estate, Timely Dental Appointments, and Plants. But it does allow you the new places, and it puts into the sharpest of relief the pleasures of home—which, aside from the cupcakes and nachos, are, always, always the people. What I never understood about those grizzled, unhappy, professional travelers in Vietnam was why they seemed to believe that a real traveler must, by some physical law, hate where they came from, as if the only way to enjoy an unfamiliar destination was to forsake the one they’d left. Well, they can think what they want—but I reject the notion that to truly love somewhere new, the old must be rejected. New places, old people: My resolution for 2014 (er, besides paying off my American Express bill and learning the butterfly) is to get as much of both as possible.