Going home: When your travels lead you back

Written From… an unfinished cabin in the woods of South Carolina’s upcountry, USA

No matter how far we roam, there’s a paper trail leading back to the place we were born. For many, that place is where family still lives. With each holiday comes a pilgrimage to the homeland once again. A nomadic lifestyle is replete with its own difficulties and moments of stress, but going home can be the source of an entirely different set of challenges.

Often, this return means staying with siblings, parents, or relatives for several days. Here are five considerations to take with you, whenever your destination is your parents’ house.

Practice self-care when going back home

Practicing self-care is imperative. For many, a supportive family is what makes the traveler’s life possible. Exploring the world on a budget makes one all the more appreciative for a comfortable place to stay.

However, going back home can bring an abrupt change to your pace of life. Routines are bound to be disrupted, and the pressures of participating in family life can be amplified when they’ve largely been absent for a long stretch of time.

Workout regimens have a way of lapsing when confined to your spouse’s high-school bedroom. Indulgent home-cooked meals are often prepared with the intention to spoil, but rarely consider preferences in palate, portion size, or time of consumption. Requests for a meal without ham can leave one sounding awfully ungrateful when proffered through bloated lips.

It’s important to be an active participant in family life for the time you spend with them. It’s also important to know when to take a time out. This can mean taking a walk, taking a nap, or taking a swig from the secret bottle of tequila stashed in your room. By giving yourself some boundaries, it makes it that much easier to brush off a stray cutting comment or moment of stress.

The unfinished cabin in Westminster, South Carolina – Photo by Two by Tour

We both have a tendency to run a bit hot, seemingly passed down through just as much nature as nurture. If you’re in no head-space for game night, then best to turn in before that game of Marbles has a chance to get out of control.

For the sake of everyone involved, don’t let being dragged into another round be the reason for a feud over who gets to play with the blue balls. Attention to self-care is not only important for your mental well-being, but your relationship with your family. Just as you may feel a bit pushed to your limits, your family may feel equally overextended without their place to themselves.

How to be patient when visiting family

Your family is a culture and tribe unto itself, so how to be patient when visiting family? Use the same grace and patience you exhibit when you travel to foreign countries. You work hard to be a conscientious traveler, so do not behave like the tourist that you would be embarrassed to be.

It is not anyone’s job to change their culture to suit your preferences, so do not make demands on how they live their lives. If an outing is taking longer than it should to organize, remember that your pace of life can’t be applied to your family’s. Not everyone is used to breaking down camp and rolling out in a matter of minutes.

Choosing amongst a myriad of interchangeable, child-friendly restaurants may incredulously become a struggle. Take heart in the fact that your party will be enjoying their meal in comfort, despite the in-tow toddler’s experiments with food, speed and gravity.

Hour one of twenty, over the Ecuadorian Andes – Photo by Two by Tour

Approaching your family from an outsider’s perspective can also yield some striking revelations. Things you take for granted are sometimes entirely new concepts for family members.

When telling stories or answering questions, take your time. Being family does not preclude insight, especially when visits are infrequent. When family members question whether things like democracy, medical care, and paved roads exist outside of their corner of the world, be gentle.

You once presumed Pittsburgh would have better cell reception than an Ecuadorian city in the Andes Mountains too. Some of their views may not align with yours. In such cases, it’s important to hear them out and consider the angle they offer. We have both won arguments by default on occasion when the berated party has left the room.

Appreciating perspectives at home is just as important as it is anywhere else on Earth, and can help you forge a stronger relationship built on understanding with your family. Allowing political discourse to escalate to a point where you may not be called for the next day’s breakfast is inadvisable.

Travel questions: Be prepared

For some working 9-5 jobs, the thought of leaving the city for a weekend trip can be overwhelming. The traveler’s life isn’t for everyone and some may imbue it with an almost mystical quality. It’s little wonder that your friends and family will be genuinely curious about your adventures. Be prepared for travel questions.

While it may be tempting to commence with a shower and nap after a long journey, especially if it included six modes of transportation over twenty hours, take a few moments to field questions, hugs and smiles.

Yes, traveling can be exhausting, but these people are the reason why you made the effort. Navigating four consecutive airports left us barely able to string sentences together when we entered a room full of festive relatives, but a drink and a bit of gentle ribbing had us quickly feeling human again.

Westminster, South Carolina – Photo by Two by Tour

Travel inarguably makes one more open-minded, and being able to bring some of that same wisdom home to your relatives only helps spread tolerance and understanding. When a family has not strayed from a place for several generations, their ideas of living abroad are likely defined by what they see and read.

The stories that sell magazines and keep viewers tuned in often paint an incomplete picture of a small fraction of a place. Much the same way America’s uniquely terrible gun violence statistics are shocking for visitors from anywhere else, a story about a rebellious political group does not accurately depict what daily life is like for the people of the country they are in.

If your family does not prioritize learning foreign languages and traveling abroad, they are unlikely to be aware that their prejudices are unfounded. Answering their questions provides an opportunity to expose them to the larger world.

Be a good guest

It can be easy to forget one’s status as a guest, particularly if your family is putting you up in the house you grew up in. Rooming in a former bedroom surrounded by siblings can inspire one to resurrect old arguments and relive their teen years.

If you wouldn’t say it to a host in another city, think twice before saying it to a family member, especially when you’re under their roof (Towards pedantic siblings popping by for a family meal, we are significantly more lenient). Internalizing the behavior of a good guest will keep stressful situations to a minimum, even with the most prickly of relations.

More is more at Casa del Endress in Lakewood, Ohio – Photo by Two by Tour

When you come to visit, come bearing stories, gifts and smiles. Make sure to express gratitude any chance you get. A simple thank you is nice, but doing the dishes speaks louder. Knocking out a chore that may be harder or time-consuming for an older relative is even better.

Cooking a meal can be a welcome relief in families where there isn’t a very particular someone holding court over the kitchen (Sometimes maneuvering around a helicopter Chef is tougher than finding common ground between Israel and Palestine). In these instances or for those lacking skill in the kitchen, treating hosts to a meal out can be an equally good call.

Know when to leave

While many family members will be happy to host you for extended periods of time, it’s incredibly important to know when to leave. Your presence is a disruption, however welcome, to their daily life.

Seemingly small issues like bathroom occupancy or space in the refrigerator can quickly multiply and spiral into an ugliness. Having to wait for a bathroom in your own home rapidly grows tiresome.

In smaller homes and apartments, your impact as a guest is magnified, but even in larger homes where space is plentiful, cohabitation can be difficult. Three families in one home is a sitcom nobody wants to watch.

If your visit falls around the holidays, the added stress of the season can exacerbate just about any situation. Clear communication and expectations are important if you wish to stay in your hosts’ good graces. Leaving before those good graces run out ensures that you’ll have a place to stay the next time you visit.

The Blue Ridge Mountains silhouetted behind Lake Keowee, South Carolina – Photo by Two by Tour

Just because you’re traveling somewhere familiar doesn’t mean approaching the world with an open mind and heart has to stop. The same positive attitude and philosophy you employ in your journeys will help you make the most of any stay with your family.

The patience and understanding gained in your travels can help heal old wounds, strengthening relationships and building compassion. If you can believe humanity, though imperfect, is basically good, certainly you can believe so about your family.

Coming home can be difficult, inideal and emotionally taxing, much like traveling. By greeting your visit with the same grace and forgiving consideration you use on your travels, it can be just as eye-opening.


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Two by Tour
Yvette Benhamou and J. Endress are the voices behind Two by Tour, a living experiment in placing experiences before the material. Two by Tour details their travels and their search for adventure, understanding, and inspiration on their quest for an authentic life.
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