Where is home for you in the world?

By Caitlin Kelly

I’m writing this post from London, where I’m visiting for nine days, staying with Cadence, a fellow blogger who writes Small Dog Syndrome. She and her husband moved here a year ago and are settling into a city that — according to yesterday’s newspaper front page — is bursting at the seams.

I believe it!


I just spent two weeks in Paris, another major city, but London feels really jammed to me. If one more person bumps into me with their body, backpack or suitcase, I may scream!

Cadence loves it here and hopes to stay here permanently.

She also spent much of her younger life — still in her late 20s — living all over the world in a military family: Belgium, England, Guam, Virginia, Germany.

It may well be that early exposure to the world through residence shapes us permanently for it; I was born in Vancouver, Canada; moved to London at two; to Toronto at five, to Montreal twice, to Mexico at 14, to Paris at 25, to New Hampshire at 30 and — finally! — to New York at 32.

I like having lived in five countries and speaking two foreign languages, French and Spanish. It makes me realize that every place has some kindness and welcome, but some are far better fits for me than others. I loathed rural New Hampshire, (no diversity, stuffy, no work available), and, much as I adore visiting Montreal, as a resident I hated its punishing taxes, long winter and high crime rate.

I like London, and have visited many times and lived here ages two to five. But I find its scale overwhelming and too often exhausting. I’m limiting my activities to one or two a day because of it…knowing I could do twice as much even in New York, where cabs are cheaper or Paris where Metro stops are a hell of a lot closer to one another — 548 metres apart on average.

I prefer Paris.

Which makes me wonder — what is it about a place, whether it’s a cabin in the woods, or a penthouse city apartment or a shared flat in a foreign country — that makes it feel (most) like home to us?

Maybe because I’m a journalist and my husband is a photographer and photo editor — or because we have fairly adventurous friends — we know many people, non-native, now living happily very far from where they were born or raised, in rural Austria, Shanghai, Eindhoven, Rome, South Africa, New Zealand, Paris, Plymouth, Cairo, Manhattan, Toronto, Rhode Island, Australia…

For me, Paris is the city I was welcomed at 25 into a prestigious, challenging and generous journalism fellowship that lasted eight months. So my memories of it are forever somewhat colored by nostalgia and gratitude for a life-changing experience and the warmth and love I felt during that time.

On my many visits back since then, though, I still feel the same way…more so than in New York (I moved to a NYC suburb in 1989).

More than Montreal, where I have lived twice, in my late 20s and when I was 12.

One of my favorite Toronto sights -- the ferry to the Islands
One of my favorite Toronto sights — the ferry to the Islands

More than Toronto, where I lived ages 5 to 30.

The place I feel at home is a combination of things: climate, the light, the way people speak and dress and behave, its political and economic and cultural values. It’s what things cost and how much of them I can actually afford.

It’s how quickly and easily I can navigate my way around by public transit, on foot, by car, by taxi, by bicycle.

It’s how much sunlight there is on a cold afternoon in February. How much humidity there is. How much it rains or snows — or doesn’t.

Basically, regardless of other circumstances, how happy are you when you wake up there every morning?

Even newly divorced, unemployed, lonely, I was glad to be living in New York.

The view from our NY balcony -- we have great river views
The view from our NY balcony — we have great river views

But also how much silence and natural beauty it also offers — parks and old trees and a river and lakes. (London beats Paris hollow on that score!)

History, and hopefully plenty of it, at least a few centuries’ worth, with buildings and streets filled with stories.

And yet…it needs to be open socially and professionally as well, which can be a tricky-to-crazy-frustrating combination if you arrive as an adult who didn’t attend the same schools, ages five through graduate school, as all your would-be new friends, colleagues and neighbors.

I moved to a suburb of New York City in June 1989, just in time for the first of three recessions in the ensuing 20 years. Not fun! I had to re-invent in every respect.

Our apartment building in Cuernavaca, Mexico where I lived at 14
Our apartment building in Cuernavaca, Mexico where I lived at 14

But choosing to live in Tarrytown, which I love, has been a great decision; the town is 25 miles north of Manhattan, which I can reach within 40 minutes by train or car. We have a terrific quality of life for a decent price.

(Here’s a blog post I wrote about 20 reasons why I love living there.)

I chose New York for a variety of reasons:

— My mother was born there, so I had some curiosity about it

— It’s the center of American journalism and publishing, my field

— It’s New York!

— Culture, history, energy, art, architecture…all the urban stuff I enjoy

Having said that, and all due respect to the many other places in the U.S. that people love, I wouldn’t move within the U.S. It’s too hard to establish yourself in New York and the only other city that appeals to me is L.A. which my husband vetoed.

If we move when we retire, which we’re discussing, we’re trying to choose between my native Canada, France, his home state of New Mexico…or, if at all possible, some combination of these.

Jose misses his mountains and a sense of Hispanic community.

But I miss speaking French and I miss my Canadian friends.

How about you?

What makes home home for you?


39 thoughts on “Where is home for you in the world?

  1. Happiness, peace amd where I can make a living for myself and my wife. I have yet to find that, but I hope within a year or two this blog of mine will solve that and I will be able to provide a world of travel and adventure for her while I write. However, she doesnt like any large towns. God forbid cities!! So, we shall see. As a Christian, I would say nowhere in this world is my home. πŸ™‚

  2. Ah wow what a thinker! And how fantastic that you’ve experienced so many different ‘homes’.

    I’m so torn between homes right now, one home is in England because that’s just where it’s always been and it’s all so familiar to me, but now another home is in Australia because it’s so new and so different!

    English home is full of friends and family and memories, whilst Australian home holds a new lifestyle, optimism and opportu (and beach across the road, which helps.)

    P.s. But NEW YORK, well that would win hands down.

  3. I’m happiest surrounded by my hills in Wales. I’ve been to other places but Hiraeth always brings me home.It sounds a bit like Jose is suffering some of that.
    xxx Huge Hugs and Happy New Year xxx

  4. People I really like and to whom I’m close makes home home for me. It’s hard in the beginning, when you move to a new city and you barely know someone. But mostly a small circle of good friends grows quickly. If not, it doesn’t really feel homelike.

  5. Originally from Riga, Latvia, I have found my new home in London. It didn’t feel home at all, whilst I was renting and sharing flats with friends. I guess for me it became home when I moved to my own place and started building my “nest”. Of course, I had some artistic freedom with room decorations before (as a child, at uni etc.), but now I’m creating a holistic space with its own unique aura and character – MY home. Hope it makes sense πŸ™‚

  6. Ah, Caitlin … a thought provoking post. … Due to my mother’s career in opera I, too, moved around a bit in the early years. I was born in Vancouver, B.C. Lived in Toronto ages three to six. Small town Alberta age six to seven and, when my mother’s career took off, high-tailed it to London, England where I spent ages seven to 20. I’ve lived in the Toronto area ever since.

    Every place I’ve lived calls to me; has shaped me in some way and this is, perhaps, a good reason to write a post of my own on the topic. Suffice to say that now I prefer rural life to urban. The big cities burn me out, and even now I go into Toronto only occasionally. I long to visit London again (I’m writing a novel set in 70s London ~ which is when I was there), and perhaps it is to this great city I have the strongest connection because my formative years were spent there, taking in the high culture of classical music, et al. I rode my first horse there, too. I get wistful. Still, I wouldn’t want to live there. I find the energy overwhelming.

    I’m a country gal now and, perhaps, this is small town Alberta talking. Space and lots of access to horses and memories of driving down country roads with my now deceased grandmother as she told stories of our ancestry who settled the northern prairies. I’ve thought of moving to Alberta. I love the mountains. But I believe I love the rolling hills of Southern Ontario more. My United Empire Loyalist ancestors were among the first settlers in the Niagara region so I like to have access to this beautiful area, too. … Yes, a topic definitely worth exploring. Thanks for sharing your journey and opening my mind … Be well, Dorothy πŸ™‚

  7. The question of what makes a place ‘home’ is such an interesting one! I wrote a blog post about it recently too, when I was getting ready to leave the Outer Hebrides for the U.S., and it was quite an emotional one to write – I have very, very strong ties there, in terms of family, friends, and Gaelic culture, and I think no matter where I end up, the islands will always be ‘home.’

    However, I love New York and the surrounding area for exactly the same reasons you describe: the culture, the history, the art, the energy! This is definitely an interesting and exciting place to live, and I’m looking forward to seeing what the future holds here.

    Enjoy your time in London πŸ™‚

  8. Lelly

    London / Sussex / Norfolk / New York for me anytime. Incidentally, London is said to be France’s 6th City – there are now so many French living and working in London!

  9. Such a timely post. Just returned from Palm Springs and was reminded of all that is plastic about the West Coast. Loved the coffee shops, restaurants, views. Hated the pretension, amount of plastic surgery, emphasis on the seemingly shallow. And yet–NYC makes me feel at home. As does Boulder, Colorado. Chicago. Odd how places speak to us in the oddest ways . . .

  10. while i’ve traveled near and far, i’ve never lived anywhere outside of a 120 mile circle. when i came to ann arbor for grad school, at 40, i remembered the feeling of coming here as a child, and knew i would find a way to stay. i knew i was home at last.

  11. Whew! Just reading the countries you’ve been born in, grew up in, fell in love with, love to retire in (yet to be decided) is overwhelming! I was born in the Philippines and grew up there. Moved to LA but just like in London, it can feel crammed too. My husband’s frim London and he misses it! Who knows maybe we’ll end up there too? For me, wherever he’ll feel happiest, I’m go.

    1. It’s probably easier if you just stay in one place forever…if you like it! πŸ™‚

      There are a lot of factors to consider when choosing among 3 or 4 places whose good and bad sides you already know.

  12. “And nobler is a limited command, Given by the love of all your native land, Than a successive title, long and dark, Drawn from the mouldy rolls of Noah’s Ark.” John Dryden
    greetings from Macedonia

  13. I mostly feel at home in cities. I find them such inspiring, energising places to be. London however is not my favourite; i mean i like london but I don’t love it and couldn’t live there. The suburbs are ok though. My favourite city I’ve ever visited is Berlin. I could easily live there – I felt instantly at home. I also loved Paris and Amsterdam. I lived in Italy (Turin) and loved it and my daughter was born there so a little piece of my heart will always be lost to Italy, but I couldn’t settle there. My husband is half Brazilian and he feels at home there but living there us a very different thing. I visited the Arizona the first time in 2013 and was literally overwhelmed by the sense of space it felt quite spiritual. I long to visit Canada – a lot of my favourite bloggers are Canadian πŸ™‚ For now the home counties suit us, but as I get older I long to live near the sea. Somewhere in the South West of the UK like Bath would suit me perfectly, i think, but whi knows what the future brings?! Have fun in London!

    1. Thanks! One more day in London tomorrow — then another (final) week in Paris…and hoping for NO terrorism.

      My mom lived in Bath for few years. It’s gorgeous!

      You must get to Canada…so many great places to see.

  14. LemonSherbet

    Great post with great adventures!
    I’ve moved countries twice emigrating from Germany to Australia, returning to the old country only to quickly return to my spiritual home, Australia. I’ve lived along the eastern seaboard of Australia and never tire of travelling through t his vast and sparsely populated land. I adore the smell of eucalyptus trees after rain, the maniacal laughter of Kookaburras, cicadas in summer, and of course the peoples.

  15. Pingback: What Inspired Me This Week #7 | Blogging Translator

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