IF HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS, then we’re all just f*cked, Fall Out Boy claimed in their bittersweet hit “27” back in 2008, which is just about as long as I’ve been wondering — what really is home and how do I find mine?
I was born in the tiny town of Botevgrad, Bulgaria 24 years ago, but living there never felt right. I used to read books and daydream about exotic places before home computers and the Internet became available in the average Eastern European household. Once I got my hands on a PC, there was no stopping me. I Googled New York and Paris tirelessly, imagining what it would feel like to live in a cosmopolitan city surrounded by an international crowd, as opposed to feeling stuck in the boring old town of 20,000 where any given neighbor could draw my family tree in a blink of an eye. When I was about 13-years-old, I would constantly ask my parents to take me for a ride to the next town over, just so I could get a rush when passing the “now leaving Botevgrad” sign. Thankfully, apart from all the daydreaming, I had been taking English lessons and when I was finally old enough, I applied to every student exchange program I possibly could. It wasn’t easy, but I won my own scholarship and three months later was on a plane to Boston. It was my first solo trip ever, at the age of sixteen, and I was more determined than ever to discover what was out there.
Ever since leaving my birthplace, I discovered “home” many times. First, it was in Gilford, New Hampshire. I found myself living a lifestyle that was the polar opposite of everything I knew. For the first time, I had a big family, played on a sports team, and had responsibilities. This new me turned out to be a nature lover and thanks to all the years of observing others cook, had become a pretty decent chef. I called New Hampshire home even after I left to attend Trinity College in Connecticut. The feeling of belonging to the small New England town persisted to the point where I didn’t need to be physically there in order to feel connected. As author Julie Beck writes, “When you visit a place you used to live, these cues can cause you to revert back to the person you were when you lived there.” I found small cues in many different places that would remind me of my Gilford home — a slice of pumpkin pie, wearing my flannel shirt (the absolute fashion staple of the Granite State) in the middle of Manhattan, or hiking in Spain as the leaves turned brown.
My birth place Botevgrad, on the other hand, never felt like that, even after a dozen returns to my childhood street. Home no longer applied to any geographical attachment. After college, I moved to Boston where I worked and lived on my own. I quickly built up a network of friends and a routine. Suddenly, Boston started feeling like home, too. How could I feel the same way about more than one place? Was I having an affair with a second home? If New Hampshire was a guy, he certainly wouldn’t be happy about the way I loved Boston, but I had to see the feeling through and find out how far it could take me.
At the end of May, I packed up my things and moved to Bali. At least the intention was that I’d move there permanently. I had a plan of renting a villa, teaching English, and doing a whole lot of photography. I was setting myself up for a new experience of home and was eager to connect with the island. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. Right from the start, I knew that the gorgeous, humid jungle would not be home to me. I spent two weeks in Bali traveling around on the back of a scooter with my camera before making my escape to Thailand. Disappointed by the fact that I didn’t fall in love with Bali, I hoped I had just gone to the wrong Asian country and perhaps Thailand would be my new home. That didn’t happen either. Bangkok was too big and unfamiliar to me and for some reason I had no passion or desire to explore it. Lying in the tiny compartment of the Matchbox Hostel in the center, I browsed through Skyscanner wondering where my next potential home would be. Back to New Hampshire? Boston? Neither. I had spent a summer living in Barcelona during college and had been raving about the city ever since. It was an instant crush, but just like my college sweetheart, I had to leave it in order to move on to the next spot. I’d never do a long distance relationship of any kind, but couldn’t suppress the warm, longing feeling for Barcelona. Luckily, there was a cheap flight from Bangkok to Barcelona for the day after the following. I booked it without a moment’s hesitation.
It’s been almost six months since that day. I am still based in Barcelona, having rediscovered the charm and spontaneity of the city, surviving through a turbulent summer and finding myself more grounded than ever. Do I feel like I’ve found home here? Every day. Will this be my one and only home until I die? Good god, I hope not!
It’s about time we ditched the notion of home being an exclusive geographical spot and accepted it for what it is — a feeling of belonging which comes from within as we keep exploring the world.
This article originally appeared on Matador Network