What Makes a Place Feel Like Home
They say home is where the heart is, and I believe it. I’ve written before about how being in Wyoming feels like home, even though I’ve never lived there. What is it about certain places that instantaneously feels like home?
I admit that home doesn’t have to be a place. People can also feel like home, and make the unknown places you visit better if that person is with you. But for me, home is a place, where things are open and spacious, inspire awe, and make me joyful to be alive.
For me, a place feels like home when I can be myself, when I don’t have to hide who I am or pretend to be someone I’m not. I can live in jeans and t-shirts, forgo almost all makeup, and not worry about having the latest hairstyle or making enough money. I’ve lived most of my life in Dallas and have spent most of that time trying to get away. Even though my closest friends and family are here, as are years of memories, it’s not where I belong.
The first time we drove out West to visit my then-husband’s family, I felt like I relaxed for the first time in my life, like being surprised to realize you’ve been holding your breath and tightening your shoulders. All that melted away when I saw the beautiful, sweeping grandeur of the West.
At first I thought it was just the landscape that made it feel like home, like finally being somewhere I could explore the outdoors and hike and run in beauty. But it was more than that. I lived in Switzerland for seven years in my early twenties, and despite its breathtaking scenery, I never felt comfortable there. I felt like an outsider, and it was a feeling that never left. Switzerland couldn’t have been more different from Texas in every way imaginable, and I was the stranger next door peeking in.
There is something about being in the West that speaks to my soul. I can understand traveling across the country on foot, next to a wagon, following a trail that leads to an unseen place to start a new life. I can understand taking that risk, especially if it brought me to a place where life was what I could make it, not what someone else told me it should be.
I don’t like crowds, and generally avoid large cities when I travel. I especially take to emptiness and lonely landscapes. I like having space. Most people find the places I love to be boring, a whole lot of nothing. Not me. I imagine lying in the grass, watching the clouds slide by, or viewing the heavens on a star-filled night.
I used to do a lot of that when I was a child. Being outdoors, with no particular purpose, may be my best childhood memory and the thing I miss most about being a child. Just being. Outdoors. Just enjoying.
Some places feel like more than home, they feel sacred. Utah is that place for me. I don’t really believe in energy vortexes and all that stuff, but there is a certain feel about all that dry, barren, rockiness that seems electric. It’s almost an unnameable mystery that makes me want to be there. I think of walking there, exploring, trail running, or meditating, of vision quests and being creative, living in a trailer, rejecting modern society, and making things with my hands.
Utah brings out my inner hippie.
Home feels like a place where you don’t care what others think of you, because you know most of the people around you either think the same, or you know they will be accepting of your differences. You speak the same language, so to speak. It doesn’t matter your political views, your stance on religion, or what kind of car you drive. When you’re outdoors, you’re a member of the same tribe.
Remember that old John Denver song, Rocky Mountain High, about “coming home, to a place he’d never been before?” It happens, and when it does, even if you can’t always be home, you know you can live anywhere because home is never far from your heart and mind.
I hope you find your home.
What do you consider “home?” Is it a place, or the people you love? Is it where you grew up, where you now live, or someplace else?
I grew up in New Mexico and lived there for most of my life. My family traveled often to Colorado, Arizona, and Utah. Seeing these beautiful pictures of yours makes me miss all of the sights of ‘home’ that I took for granted while I was there. I live in Tennessee now and I always feel like I am home when I go back to visit NM.
I love New Mexico as well, especially northern NM. I would love to spend more time there one day. Thanks for visiting!
This piece is just lovely. I hope you have a chance to retire there – or to build a summer cottage there. And while the dry wild-west is not the place I feel most at home, the Appalachians stir my soul in much the same way.
I love the Appalachians as well, but they are a little too “civilized” for me. 🙂 Even if I never live in Wyoming or the West, I’ll be happy getting to visit each year.
really nice post. brought a little tear to my eye. that feeling you describe so well must be amazingly comforting. i don’t know that i’ve ever really thought about it or been that many places that i could feel it, y’know? i hope to someday be able to travel more to see if i feel different than i do now.
But I’m sure you still get that feeling just being at home with all your kids, no matter where you are, right? As crazy as families are, it’s still the ultimate home for most of us.
I had been pondering the same sort of question! I guess we live some places by default, but they don’t feel like home. I don’t have any answers, but I’m ready to move and have a fresh start. Thanks for the post!
I love fresh starts. I also love knowing there are places in the world I can escape to, that all I have to do is jump in my car and hit the road. I like knowing I always have that option, that if life in my current place ever becomes less than desirable, I can leave and go someplace new yet still familiar.
I know exactly how you feel. Being born and raised in multiple states in the West I could relate so well to this post because it summed up my feelings. I would have to say that my “home” is Arizona. Something about that place keeps drawing me back there. I don’t know if it’s the desolation of its deserts, the mystery of its mountains, or the lonliness of it’s miles of roads but something about that place just burrowed under my skin long ago and never worked its way out.
That’s a really good way of putting it, that it “just burrowed under my skin long ago and never worked its way out.” I love the desert more than any other place, and I seem to be drawn to desolate, empty, barren spaces. I haven’t spent enough time in Arizona to know much about it, but I would love to visit in the future.
Great post. My home is where my family is. We have been traveling the US in our trailer for the last two years. One to get back to a simpler life, to concentrate on “family”, and to figure out where we wanted to call home. What a unique experience to travel every state to see if “this is the place.” I know exactly what you mean when you say a place “just feels like home”. For me it is a place where we fit in. Though family and friends are important I know that I can always reach out to them. If I can not feel calm and rejoice in an area I will never feel like I belong. I lived in the mountains and the place was beautiful but we did not fit in. This was such a terrible experience. Now that we have experienced so much we know that we do belong on the west coast (that is where we came from). Now we just have to narrow down our search. By the way…I love WY and the Tetons!
Thanks for commenting! What a great experience you must have had these past two years, traveling the US and figuring out where you want to settle down. Interesting that the journey took you full circle, back to where you started.
Oh, boy, this really resonated with me! I’ve been living in Illinois for nearly 30 years now (how did THAT happen??) but when, as a freshman, I flew out to Seattle for college, I experienced exactly the feeling you have described of coming home to where I’d never been. So, for me, Washington is it and the only question now is, when can I get myself there? How about you, do you envision yourself moving “home”?
Yes, I do, I envision it all the time. For the moment, I’m satisfied with just visiting every year or so, but my dream is to one day move to Wyoming. I wouldn’t mind living in the Portland, Oregon area to be closer to my daughter before that, so it may still be awhile. I know what you mean about living in Illinois for 30 years. Even though I escaped to Europe for seven years, I can’t believe I’ve spent almost all the rest of the time here in Texas. That was never the plan!
Reblogged this on Off the Beaten Path: Hikes, Backpacks, and Travels and commented:
Just love this post.
Thanks for the reblog! I’m honored to be included in your wonderful blog, which is one of my favorites.
Oh, just perfect. Beautifully written….thanks for saying what I’d say if I could just get the words right!
Thanks so much. I think we feel the same way, and you’re lucky (or smart) enough to actually live in your dream location.
I feel the same way about the West, particularly the Southwest, where I grew up. I have a sense of calm I don’t feel anywhere else come over me when I’m there.
“A sense of calm” is a great way of describing it. Thanks for visiting, Margaret.
Wonderful blog, superbly written! “Home” to me is a state of mind and a condition of the heart. Last year I threw away every thing that wouldn’t fit into my car and, after most of my life in Florida, hit the road. Montana, Wyoming, Utah, California, Arizona – that’s my “home” now, any wide open space with lots of stars at night . I just spent three months in Yellowstone National Park. I have no legal address and I couldn’t be happier! Thanks for your post.
You are living my dream. I’m jealous, but happy that you were able to chuck it all and hit the road. Amazing!
The words and photos flow together so well and end so powerfully. Inspiring.
Thank you so much for your comment. Some posts almost write themselves because all you are doing is stating the obvious. For me, home is a place that’s taken hold of my heart.
Where I live now feels like home to me, but I do have other places that seem to welcome me home whenever I go there. I feel that way in Chincoteague, VA, or the river country all along the Chesapeake. There is something about the ocean that calls to me, but for some reason, rivers are more like home. And the mountains!! If I can get up in the mountains, next to a river, then I’m in heaven. But then there’s the ocean calling me again…I can’t make up my mind!! Sometimes I wonder if the ancient recycled atoms inside us are pulling us to places they used to be – pulling us back to things we used to be a part of, like our bodies are aching to go back home.
I love how the ancient recycled atoms keep popping up in our comments. I think it may be the underlying theme for us this year, Michelle! I love the ocean as well. There is something incredibly calming about walking along the edge of the water, or watching the waves come in. The smell of the salty air, the sound of the waves and the seagulls . . . Perhaps it harkens us back to our beginnings.
Haha, I thought about that when I wrote it – “she’s gonna think I’m nuts for bringing up the atoms again!” You may be right about the ocean – talk about ancient. Also, that may be a big part of it, what calms us. The ocean makes me feel huge and small at the same time, a part of it, but also an outsider. Rivers and mountains make me feel like I blend in there, like I could melt into those spots and just be a part of that scenery.
No, no, I love the atoms thing! It reminds me again that I need to read the book. The night sky filled with stars makes me feel “huge and small at the same time.” Looking out into the universe is almost always a euphoric, yet mind boggling, experience for me.
You explain it perfectly! It’s euphoric to understand that we belong to THIS, this magnificent, grand thing, that we are one with it. And mind boggling at the same time, especially to grasp that we are such a tiny, tiny bit of that grand scheme.
These pictures… they strike at my soul
I’m happy they have that effect on you. I think Utah is amazingly beautiful.
I traveled to the Valley of Fire for the first time. I felt totally comfortable and not afraid of anything. I felt like I was home. Every canyon, foliage and critter felt familiar. I know it sounds crazy, but I felt totally at peace and where I belonged. Now that I’m back in NY all I want is that feeling of peace I had in NV. I’m wondering if in another life, I lived with the Anazasi
I’ve had similar feelings in other locations as well. Once while driving through southern Montana I had this feeling that everything was so familiar and comfortable, as if I had been there before. I had the same feeling the first time I visited Arches NP. Maybe it’s just an intense feeling of connection we have with certain places that makes us feel that way.
Wyoming holds a place in my heart as do some locations in the Dakotas. When I first caught site of the Badlands I couldn’t catch my breath. I felt at home and feel I coud make somewhere near the Badlands my physical home. On the other end of our country, when a transfer took me to Buffalo, New York I stepped out the car and felt immediately at home. When it came time to leave the area, It was a tough transitions. BTW, thank you for the “like.”
I love the Badlands as well. So dramatic and stark. I’ve had several people tell me they feel that connection to upstate New York, which I find interesting, especially since I’ve never been there. I’ll have to make a trip!
Take the opportunity when it comes. Something about upstate New York (and we could have a whole different conversation about what constitutes “upstate”) it feels Midwestern to me, although there is really little similarity. I think perhaps it is because the people living in both locations are straightforward and say what is on their minds. They can come off as a little curt and tough but are incredibly giving and thoughtful people.
Interesting. I love people who are straightforward and don’t mince words.
Nice post. Home for me is the place I currently live, for no reason other than the fact that I live here now for a while. However it doesn’t truly feel like home, neither does the place I moved here from. I think about going back “home” – the place where I grew up and I realise that I don’t want to. I also don’t want to stay here forever either. I want to find my home, but I don’t yet know where that is. So I will keep searching.
Sounds like you just haven’t found a place yet that’s spoken to your heart. It’s out there, and you’ll know it when you find it. Good luck searching for it!
You’ve stirred the memories and want-to-go-back-soon of many special places: the personally-defining experiences of backpacking the French Creek Natural Area in South Dakota; the many wonderful 10-day bushwhacking adventures in the Mt. Zirkel Wilderness of northern Colorado; the spiritual solitude of the North Rim of the Grand Canyon (at sunset); but mostly it is protective comfort experienced standing beneath the Giant Sequoias of Northern California – the size and strength of living nature is overwhelming to the soul, yet enlightening to how we must constantly steward the fragile environment of home. Great post!
I love the giant sequoias and redwoods as well. There is a marathon I’d like to run one day through the redwoods. I can’t imagine how I would ever finish, though, because I’d have to keep stopping and looking around (and up at) the trees.
What an absolutely wonderful post Angela, not only with beautiful images but about something important for us all to reflect upon which is, what is it that makes a place feel like home to them. Finding those places is so different for each person. Some love the feeling of the big city, others the water and others the big sky open landscapes. Whatever it is, like you I also hope each of us has that chance to know that feeling. Very well done post!
Thank you, Rick. Part of the fun is being able to travel and discover new places and new “homes.”
Just ran across this post. You have captured that feeling of ‘home.’ It happens to me in the oddest of places and in others I immediately know it is a fine place to visit but not anywhere that calls to me.
I agree. It’s more of a feeling than anything else. You just know a place is home when you feel it. And you’re right, other places are nice and you enjoy being there, but it doesn’t feel like “home.” I’ve lived in Dallas most of my life and it’s never felt like home.
Enjoy your writing!
Thanks for reading and staying in touch. Would love to see a fresh blog from you. I love your thoughtful writing.