Homeward Bound

Many times of the year, the concept of travel evokes images of lush locales, exotic escapes, and dreamy destinations. We imagine winding our way through parks, peering up at iconic facades, and discovering the best the regional cuisine has to offer, all while indulging in the change in climate that comes with landing on the opposite side of the globe. However, come November, December, and January, travel turns in a different direction. With the arrival of the winter holidays in many countries, scattered families reconvene and old schoolmates reunite, if only for a brief few days. Instead of seeking new experiences, we return to familiar faces, nostalgic past times, and re-told stories of the recent past.

Lombard Street, San Francisco

There’s something unique about traveling back to a childhood home or to any place where one has spent a significant portion of his or her life steeped in the daily bustle of a particular town or city. You arrive at a place where you share some of the same language, rather than immersing yourself in a place where the conversation flies by in a flurry of unfamiliar accents and pronunciations. Even if decades have passed since your last departure, during which new buildings have sprung up from vacant lots or windows have been shuttered closed, there are still familiar planes and corners in the geometry of that old street intersection. Instead of passing the night in a hotel, sumptuous or sterile or otherwise, you might find yourself putting down your suitcase in a room in the house of a close relative or friend, a room that may be as familiar as your childhood bedroom, or as foreign as a room you only stepped foot in once, but which still contains that eerily unforgettable vase, perched on the dresser.

Many times, traveling to a new city necessitates a map, a tour guide, or conversations with the locals for directions. Returning to a set of familiar roads obviates the need for guiding, but strangely, your local relations can be all the more willing to chauffeur you about, packing in the extra commentary and gossip for good measure. You hear that the corner lot farm has been slated for real estate development, or that the high school hosted another marching band tournament last month, or that a new strip mall will introduce the conveniences of a cheese shop, a confectionery, and a Whole Foods to the community. You listen to stories about the neighbors who have left and the ones who have moved in, whether you grew up playing with the kids next door, or only knew them by the peculiar choice of holiday decorations that ceased to appear this year. It can be disorienting to hear about all of the changes that have taken place, because somewhere in your heart you assumed that everything should be the same when you came back, even though you knew that of course, it wouldn’t.

Houses on a hill in San Francisco

Every city or town has a local destination for the visitor or passer-by: a city museum, a historical monument, an internationally acclaimed garden, or a hole-in-the-wall whose tasty morsels dazzled on network television. However, when you’re growing up next door, rather than seizing upon the convenience and proximity to visit, you might simply pass by, barely noticing it in the backdrop of familiar sights and sounds. It’s almost sacrilegious to hand over the admission fee and mingle in the crowds, because that’s what people who don’t live here do. Somehow, though, after an extended stint living in a different state or province or within another country’s borders, the opportunity to visit presents itself as a logical pastime. Perhaps it’s the perfect excuse to create memories of home and bring back a souvenir while you’re at it.

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