At Home Anywhere and Having a Sense of Belonging Everywhere. A street stall in Chinatown, Bangkok. Copyright © 2023 Terence Carter / Grantourismo. All Rights Reserved.

At Home Anywhere and Having a Sense of Belonging Everywhere

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Many expats and long-term travellers talk about that sense of belonging nowhere – of never really becoming accepted as a local in their adopted country or the places to which they keep returning. And yet they return home to find they don’t fit in there anymore either. We’ve learnt over the years that we can feel at home anywhere.

After having lived abroad for sixteen years, being at home anywhere and having sense of belonging everywhere is how I have come to feel, no matter where I travel. It doesn’t take me long to make myself at home, no matter where we are. It’s a brilliant feeling, but emotionally it keeps me busy.

At Home Anywhere

From time to time, I look at a photograph I have of a cook whose food stall we frequented when we lived in the Thai capital and I fret about her. I wonder if her life has been impacted by the coup or the floods or whatever events are occurring in Bangkok.

During the floods that submerged much of the city in 2011, I imagined her living on the ground floor of an old Chinese shophouse, rising each morning in the darkness to cook in her cramped, dimly lit kitchen, and I wondered whether she managed to store her valuables on a higher floor for safe-keeping as I’d read the government was telling everyone to do.

I worried about whether the woman was be able to continue to run her business as I knew she supported her family in Bangkok, as well as extended relatives in the northeastern Isaan. Though by the determination and strength on the hardworking woman’s face, with which we had become so familiar, I guessed she’d do just fine. At the peak of the floods, she was probably feeding her hearty food to her neighbours at a refuge centre.

These are the sorts of things I ponder when I scan the images and stories on the news sites each morning. Because we’ve lived in and spent time in so many different places around the world, I see old neighbours and friends in so many familiar faces. People no longer look foreign or strange. They look like someone I should know or might have met.

People’s customs, rituals and religious practices don’t seem peculiar or odd anymore. I know more about some than others, but those I’m not familiar with I find myself eager to discover.

That sense of tolerance and open-mindedness are things I have come to truly value, things the world, and my parents, gifted to me. In a way, they’re souvenirs of our travels.

The irony is these things I value so much were free, they didn’t cost me anything. I didn’t learn them at university. They weren’t job skills I gained from work or techniques I developed. My upbringing and heritage certainly had something to do with it. But I tend to think that most are largely the gems of experiences we’ve had as Terence and I have traversed the planet that have most enriched us.

The result is a willingness to understand, accept and appreciate a culture and place that in turn inspires its people to welcome strangers into their lives, even in small ways. Take that attitude with you wherever you go and you will quickly begin to feel at home anywhere in the world.

Having a Sense of Belonging Everywhere

But I did once know that feeling of not belonging. I began to feel it a few years after we moved to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates in 1998. Ironically, I started to experience that sense at the same time that I started to feel very much at home there.

It came with the wisdom of recognizing that the more you know, the more you realise you don’t know.

At the time I felt that we could only understand so much, only be accepted so far – we knew something about the local history, we knew a lot about the culture, we worked and lived with locals every day.

And yet still I told myself that no matter how long we lived there we could never really know all the things that people innately understand who are born into a culture and place.

Back on Australian soil it was a different yet similar experience altogether.

When we went ‘home’ for the first time after a few years living in Abu Dhabi, I felt I’d missed out on so much – the 2000 Sydney Olympics, for starters, that had boosted the confidence of our nation and strengthened an identity that I was starting to feel that I had lost. I no longer knew the city I had been born in and deeply loved as well as I had.

Rather than return ‘home’, Terence and I spent our turn of the millennium new year’s eve in Barcelona, drinking champagne in the streets with tens of thousands of strangers from around the world. It was an act that would say a lot about how we’d spend the next decade and a half of our lives.

So when did it all change? Slowly and over time. I guess, as with any relationship, the longer I came to know the world, the more I began to lower my expectations of it and of myself. I began to take it as it came, accept it as it was, and stop demanding too much of the planet.

The more accepting I became the more I felt that the world and its peoples were welcoming me and, in turn, the more I came to care and started having that sense of belonging everywhere.

The challenge of staying connected and being engaged

Now I have that sense of feeling at home in a world that was once strange, I probably care too much about too many places and their people.

That’s what I meant when I said emotionally it keeps busy. Every morning, after I check my email and before I start writing, I read the news. I don’t have one particular news site to which I go, but rather I visit half a dozen or more, depending on where we are and what’s going on in the world.

At the moment, I feel like a news monitor. My first stop today was the Bangkok Post to check the flood conditions in Thailand, and then the Phnom Penh Post to see how things are going there. Next, I went to Al Jazeera English to see what’s happening in the Middle East – my main interest for now is Syria, but I’m always keeping an eye on Lebanon, Palestine, Egypt, Jordan, and Iraq. I’ll take a super quick look at The Daily Star, before heading over to The National to read the latest news in the UAE, then, depending on what’s going on in Argentina, I might look at the Buenos Aires Herald. I’ll nearly always finish with the Sydney Morning Herald, my ‘hometown’ newspaper.

I love social media, especially Twitter, and I love exchanging emails with friends around the world. But nothing enables me to stay in touch and stay engaged with a place like its local news. I don’t need to know the minutiae of politics.

Sometimes it’s just the mundane details of the everyday, like a new metro line opening in Dubai, that keeps me connected and helps me slip more easily back into the swing of things when we return to that place again.

Of course, the more we travel, the more we know, the slower we go. We naturally find we want to spend longer in places.

And the more people we meet, the more everything on this planet seems so connected and interconnected, someone always knows someone we knew from some place, and we start to feel like a link of some kind.

Despite the increasing connectivity we have with our family, friends and acquaintances from social media, it can be a challenge to stay connected and be engaged. It can be overwhelming to stay in touch with everyone and every place we’ve been. But it’s worth trying.

When you return to that place that you made your home for a while, it will all feel familiar. That sense of belonging anywhere and everywhere, that sense of feeling at home in the world, will be strengthened and deepened with each return visit.

And you’ll feel all the more enriched because of it.

That’s why I travel.

Are you at home in the world or do you feel disconnected? Do you feel like you belong anywhere and everywhere or nowhere?


Lara Dunston Patreon


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A travel and food writer who has experienced over 70 countries and written for The Guardian, Australian Gourmet Traveller, Feast, Delicious, National Geographic Traveller, Conde Nast Traveller, Travel+Leisure Southeast Asia, DestinAsian, TIME, CNN, The Independent, The Telegraph, Sunday Times Travel Magazine, AFAR, Wanderlust, International Traveller, Get Lost, Four Seasons Magazine, Fah Thai, Sawasdee, and more, as well as authored more than 40 guidebooks for Lonely Planet, DK, Footprint, Rough Guides, Fodors, Thomas Cook, and AA Guides.

48 thoughts on “At Home Anywhere and Having a Sense of Belonging Everywhere”

  1. Great post and totally understand what you say. I love how you say you have learned to expect less from the world the more you have gotten to know it.
    I also have a greater sense of how we are all interconnected- it is beautiful and breaks down those barriers we often place between each other

  2. Beautifully said. I feel very grateful that I’ve been able to feel “at home” in many places in the world, and I only hope that I’ll continue to make friends and make homes and make memories all over the world. When/if the day comes for me to return to California, I only hope that I haven’t changed too much to appreciate “home.”

  3. Thanks, Caz. Totally agree with you. Although, just want to clarify, I didn’t mean to say I expect less in a negative way. I haven’t been let down or anything. I just prefer to accept places and people as they are – like we do old friends, faults and all – and then I inevitably become more fond of them. Thanks for dropping by!

  4. Hi Christine – I think you’ll still appreciate ‘home’. Most expats say when they return they find ‘home’ the same, that nothing has changed, which is why so many don’t return for so long. We didn’t return to Sydney for a few years for that reason, and then had a gap of 9 years before returning again recently. If anything, I fell in love with Sydney all over again – and many things have changed, but intrinsically it’s still the same. Having now been to so many of the world’s great cities, I appreciate Sydney more if anything.

  5. Beautiful post, Lara. Your ability to see the world through the lens of someone who has walked in those footsteps sort of gives a new definition to the term “global citizen.”

  6. Great post! I also feel comfortable in most places and call many places ‘home’. I can even visit a new place and sense whether or not I could live there (like with Santiago in Chile recently). Like you, I worry when I hear about earthquakes in Japan, or floods in Vietnam, because I wonder how it has affected people I know, or families of people I met.

  7. It is really interesting to read your perspective on this. I have just started my long-term travels (year anniversary coming up in a few days), and I cannot say that I feel at home everywhere. But good to know it is possible and may happen for me one day too.

  8. Lovely post, after overcoming the fear of having an identity crisis, now I too feel like I belong everywhere, I can just adapt anywhere I go. And although I know people who don’t like living abroad, I’m still convinced mine is simply the spirit of adaptation common to every human being :)

  9. Lara, thanks for your post. After having lived/moved to three continents and four countries in the last ten years, I’ve felt both a pull and restlessness all the same. I feel a very distinctive pull towards Europe, and yet, with my plans to pull up stakes and travel far and wide the next year, I’m eager to find out how it might feel to belong somewhere else, everywhere else for the next while.

  10. Thanks, Joanna. It sounds a bit wanky, doesn’t it, but we do feel like global citizens. I think it’s because we spend so much time in each place (4 months in Bangkok this time) and connect with so many local people that we become so involved in a way people don’t when they only stay a few days or a week or just hung out with other travellers. But I’m sure lots of other long-term travellers must feel this way too.

  11. Thanks, Brit! I’m so glad you know the feeling. Terence and I always have those conversations after a few days in a place about whether we could live there. That’s one of the reasons we’re still on the road – far too many places we want to live. But, Brit, what do we do about this worrying about natural disasters and problems in the places we’re fond of? (I wonder if the condition has a name). Do you see it as a problem? What will we be like when we’re old and not only fretting over our nearest and dearest, but over people scattered all around the planet? :)

  12. I think it will definitely happen over time and it’s something you can look forward too. As I say above, for a while there, after having been an expat for a few years, I felt like I belonged ‘nowhere’. And that feeling of disconnectedness is what mostly gets written about, which is why I wanted to write about this feeling. Maybe this is what comes ‘after’? Like the stages of culture shock that some expats experience. These are the stages of the long term traveller perhaps. Perhaps that’s another post?

  13. Good afternoon, Lara, and thanks for your question.

    After getting an advanced degree, I left my home country of Canada to Germany, which was the first “other” country I’d lived. The short 2-years there left its mark, and the pull about which I wrote applies generally (and positively) to Europe, but more specifically to Germany. After Germany, I lived in Minneapolis in the upper midwest of the United States. I sure miss MSP a lot: big city, but not too big, great people there, and I don’t mind the (relatively) extreme contrast in seasons. From a day-to-day standpoint, I did not perceive (or encounter) vast differences between living in Canada and the U.S.; so, it was easy to get back into the swing of things in Minneapolis. For the last five years, I’ve been on the (south) Pacific coast here in Chile. The “problem” is that I knew that I wanted to be elsewhere within a few months after arrival. All of this has arisen because of academic work for which I’m grateful for having had the opportunity to live in all these places. But now, I’ve big changes ahead, which include finding something else completely different to do. In the meantime, I’m going to go explore for a bit. But yes, Lara, the strongest pull I feel is for Europe. It’s funny really, because my friends from Europe feel their own respective pulls elsewhere, to North America or to Asia.

  14. Thanks, Angela! I *knew* you would know this feeling. But I’m not so sure that every human being has that spirit to adapt. What about those people who never have the inclination to leave their home towns? Or the people who leave for a holiday and are so home sick – even while they’re basking on a beautiful beach somewhere – that they can’t wait to get home? What about the people to do the same jobs for decades? Do you think they have that ‘spirit’ but they’re just suppressing it out of fear? What’s your theory?

  15. I definitely feel the same way too…Its great to get involved with the locals so we know the place better. Oh yes, we would also to exclusively invite you to our Anggun KL boutique hotel in Kuala Lumpur for stay & review purpose. So if you are interested do drop me a line asap as offers are very limited!

  16. I think travel is freeing precisely because you don’t belong. It does not exclude the need or desire to care for the people or want the best for others where you go, but it’s not the same as being a part of the community and sharing in the joys and struggles that connect them on a level you can’t always access as an outsider. I think in travel you get a glimpse, and you gain insights, but you are always apart by nature.

    I find it very easy to drop into the slipstream of any place I travel to and equally easy to disconnect when I leave.

    When I travel I have a sense of freedom that lets me be ultra present and attentive to my surroundings without feeling responsible for them. I know that may sound odd or calloused, but it’s a sense of what will unfold will unfold and I am just an observer not trying to influence the outcome. While in my home life I must assert a certain level of control and routine in order to accomplish the necessities of life and create a livelihood. Perhaps if I lived and worked from the road that might be different, but I don’t know.

    Then I went to Sicily and it was different. Although I found Sicily to be a chaotic crock-pot of beauty and blight, warmth and indifference and a weird sense of welcoming coupled with distrust; it felt very familiar to me. It probably had a lot to do with family roots and the recognition of the shape and pace of the people there. I looked like those short stocky folks and I felt connected to them and their physicality. I felt like I belonged, yet ultimately it is just my illusion.

  17. Such a timely post. I was just writing about my experience of finding home in a place I never would have imagined I could belong. Despite the confusion, the worry, and the inconvenient processes of changing that comes with long-term travel, I think it’s such a blessing to discover that home can exist in so many places through several contexts. My first “home away from home” was in Tanzania, and I love that a small village that seemed so separate from my “real” home eventually became just as genuine and welcoming to me as the place where I was raised.

  18. It’s good to hear the pull is a positive one, rather than you feeling stretched in a way you don’t wish. I think many of us are attracted to the things that are different (while others fear them) and want the opposite. We want to know the unknowable I guess. Terence and I certainly get more excited by being in places that are exotic and foreign. We love being somewhere unfathomable and then taking the time to begin to make sense of it all. For us, that’s the thrill of travel, and it’s more exciting that jumping off a bridge with a rope tied to one’s ankle or throwing oneself out of a plane.

  19. I’m glad to hear that. Are there any special things you do at your hotel to help guests get a ‘local’ experience?
    Thank you for the invitation – that’s very kind of you. Unfortunately we won’t be passing through Kuala Lumpur until January, but when we do, I will get in touch.

  20. Thanks, Briana. We’ll have to come and have a read of your post. I’m eager to find out if you felt so at home in Tanzania because of the people. Because we often find our most fulfilling experiences of places are made so because of the people we meet. Thanks for visiting!

  21. But the kind of travel that is freeing that you’re talking about is ‘the holiday’ or the ‘backpacking trip’ or ‘the tour’ or whatever, right? When you flit through a place for a short time, seeing the sights, visiting the museums, eating the food, drinking the wine, etc.

    I do like – and have liked – that feeling in the past. But now I prefer to travel differently – staying longer, settling in, connecting with people, and becoming (albeit temporarily) a small part of the social fabric of that place.

    When you travel in that way, you do share in the joys and pains of your neighbours – the street food vendors you buy lunch from, the supermarket checkout staff you greet, the motorcycle taxi guys you pass every day, the bartender at the bar you become a regular at, the restaurant owner you see every once in a while.

    Sometimes it’s only small anecdotes you share, other times it’s life stories, day to day challenges and struggles, a little victory here or there. It could be over two weeks, one month, or four, but those encounters become meaningful, and special. And you do begin to feel – perhaps not responsible – but obligated to give back or share something.

    I can definitely relate to how you feel about Sicily. My mother is Russian and I felt the same when we took her to Russia some years ago. I’m dying to return and settle in there for a while. Was it really an illusion for you though? I’m not so sure. How long did you spend there?

  22. Hi Lara,

    I am so glad you seem to feel at home in more than one place. I feel the opposite: while I am comfortable enough in quite a few places, the more time I spend away from those, the less I can continue calling them home. And London? London was never designed to be “homey” in the first place; it is rather somewhere people go temporarily and leave before you get used to the sight of them around.

    As for keeping in touch, sure you can keep yourself updated about the happenings across a score of places. Social networks are such a blessing in this respect. However, it just hit me last weekend (while visiting my parents in Riga) that personal contact with a handful of people who REALLY matter is absolutely irreplaceable. Petty news updates would just make me cry at the thought of not being able to share the actual events with my nearest. Hence I have booked another visit to Riga in a few weeks :o)

    Enjoyed reading this. Still waiting for your email response ; )

    Have a great day.


  23. I was living and working there (other parts of Italy too, not just Sicily) for over a year. I connected to the people and places, I participated in community social and religious events, and was welcomed into the communities where I lived. I had meaningful encounters, I made lifelong friends. But the stake I held was not the same as those who were true residents. That’s the illusion I think. I want to belong but I don’t.

    Maybe that feeling of distance, outsider status, comes from being a writer.

  24. Outsider status as a writer? I guess it depends on what you’re writing or how you prefer to write, doesn’t it? What I love about being a writer – how we work as writers – is the ability to get a foot in the door to people’s lives, the access we get that the ordinary person doesn’t, the opportunity to participate rather than observe.

  25. Love your description of London! Agree that the personal contact with loved ones is irreplaceable. That’s why we try to get back to Australia once a year. But we also have dear friends scattered around the planet, and I love meeting up with them after years and it being as if we were never apart. I have a French friend I met in Buenos Aires, gulp, around 17 years ago – a journalist who travels a lot too, currently based in Washington – and we try to meet somewhere in the world at least once a year (last year she visited us in Austin). We don’t always succeed but we try and it’s just wonderful that when we do we can pick up like we see each other every week. I met a Mexican friend last year in Mexico City who I hadn’t seen in over 20 years and it was like we’d been in touch all these years. Friendships like those are very special too. There’s something magical about them. They wouldn’t have come about if we hadn’t thrown ourselves out into the world and made ourselves a part of it. (PS. I’ll email you today.)

  26. Great post Lara! I love how you capture the peace travel can encourage. My own “tolerance and open-mindedness” actually wasn’t entirely free (although it’s in my nature, I paid for my degree in anthropology). While I was a travel editor, I found I was more easily myself in unfamiliar places. Every time I returned home, I could feel my confident perspective slowly slipping away. It’s not surprising we can feel “at home” or more like ourselves in foreign surrounds since although our home culture provides us with a feeling of belonging, it also procures ethnocentric ways of thinking – a quality that diminishes the unique character we each have inside.

  27. Thanks! Ah, that’s so interesting, Emily. So you’re saying that when you were ‘away’ you weren’t viewing things through your ethnocentric lens because your anthropological training equipped you with a decentered perspective? (I think I should give some credit to my postmodern studies for that too.) But why, I wonder, did you lose that when you returned home? Just from social conditioning? Fascinating stuff. Thanks for dropping by!

  28. Hi Lara, yeah a lot of people don’t actually feel, or “like” living anywhere else than their home towns, I know so many, especially in Sardinia, so sometimes they don’t even travel, which I find very wrong, even for those who don’t think they can adapt. However, the spirit of adaptation I refer to is a more general one. I think even who doesn’t like traveling or living abroad would adapt if forced to, be it for work or any other reason. My grandfather would have never left Sardinia to move to France if he weren’t forced by the need of a job, he (and my grandma) barely spoke Italian, let alone French, and they adapted very well and very quickly, they had to with seven children! Of course, not everybody has the passion to be an expat, but adapting, I think anybody can do it, at the end of the day all countries are inhabited by human beings, if they (the locals) can live there, why can I not? :)

  29. Love this and it’s something that has been at the top of my mind, as I’ve written about it a couple different times over the last few months. I was once like you, where I didn’t feel connected to one place. I felt this for a while. But, then I moved to San Francisco a few months ago and this feels as close to home as I’ve ever felt. I’m interested to see how that feeling evolves the longer I stay and the more I travel.

  30. Totally agree with you. In Australia now there is an intense public debate in the media on the “boat people”, illegal immigrants, mostly political/economic refugees from Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, etc. Many Australians are against allowing them to reach our shores. When they do, they end up in detention centres, some for 2 yrs or more, some commit suicide or self-harm. Then, not all are allowed to make Australia home, some are sent back. It’s tragic. The thing is, aside from the aboriginal people, we are all descendants of immigrants here, most of us from refugees, whether from world war two (eg. my Russian grandparents), the Vietnam war, etc. People seem to forget that. I think these people have just as much a right to make a new ‘home’ here as our descendants did. So I totally agree with you.

  31. If you’ve become smitten with San Francisco so quickly it will probably last, probably get stronger. Maybe your feelings will mellow a bit. Nice feeling, isn’t it? People are always surprised when I say this but I felt that way about Abu Dhabi very soon after we moved there, and I still have a great affection for that city. Dubai also. And even though we’d been to Bangkok many times before, it took four months of living there this year to form a real fondness for the place. Do you think cities love us back? :)

  32. I am with you Laura, but I feel MORE at home out in the wide world. I am MORE free to be myself, to find meaning and to snuggle up into what-it-all-could-be, and to me this is the essence of ‘home’ – to remind us of who we are, what we are becoming.

  33. I’m glad you relate. Totally agree with you. I do feel I became *myself* when I first began to travel – there was none of the pressures of society, friends or family, to be a particular kind of person or do a particular sort of thing. Moving overseas was like a fresh start in a way. Thanks so much for sharing that :)

  34. Yes, so true. It’s beautiful, the way a heart stretches to hold more room. Your care for the woman in Thailand, your melancholy ache for the maturing of Sydney, and your revelry alongside new friends in Barcelona – all symbols of a deepening care for and connection to the world… Lovely. Thank you for writing.

  35. Every time I read your posts I’m reminded why I’m inspired to travel. It’s that feeling of belonging to everywhere and nowhere that I’ve come to realize some of us are born with. While growing up I had that feeling of not fitting in because I considered myself as a cultural misfit in my own city of birth. But as I grew older I came to terms with the fact that my mind was just preparing me for a love for other places and other cultures sometimes completely alien from my own. I begun to travel in the not too distant past and have come to appreciate other places I visit and my home where I come back to much than I ever thought I would be able to. And most of it I owe to some of the things I find here on your blog. Thank you so much for sharing.

  36. Hey Lara,

    I don’t know if I’m blessed or cursed. I feel at home everywhere because I grew up in a military family. I moved around my whole life so now I find it an exciting challenge to move and see new places.
    But I wonder if this can be bad since I’ll never settle anywhere or never live close to my family again. After three years in Amsterdam I’m starting to get antsy for the next move, a part of me wants to go back to Texas to be with my family but then I think of all the people I will have to leave behind here. I guess its about coming to terms with the fact that there’s always people you’re leaving behind whether at home or while traveling so you just have to go with your own gut about where you want to be.

  37. Hi Sarah – I think you’re blessed. I’m sure you’ll settle somewhere closer to family when you’re ready. And if you don’t, why can’t they come and visit you? I don’t see it as “leaving people behind”, rather that I’m forming more friendships around the world :)

  38. Thank you for the kind words. We’re touched. Terence and I were both cultural misfits in our teens. Don’t worry – it’s not a bad thing! Terence went to school in Brisbane, Australia, where he used to get hassled by the police for skateboarding! And I went to school on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland where life revolved around the beach. We were both itching for more, for more culture and big city life, and that’s partly what drew us together and drew us back to my hometown, Sydney. That thirst for something more has always stayed with us and is what carries us around the globe. And, yes, like you, it makes us appreciate where we came from too. Glad we could be of some inspiration. Look forward to reading about your travels :)

  39. This was a beautiful post and it tugged on some very raw and emotional heartstrings for me.

    I didn’t do the expected thing at all; I began to travel around the world straight out of university; I’ve travelled to and lived in over 40 countries on my own speed. I never wired home for help or money. I also feel familiar in every place; every people are my own. It’s why I refer to myself as a citizen of the world when asked where I belong. After a few years of staying put, I am now going to adventure again. I’m off to Sydney shortly to go to school there. A friend asked me if it was overwhelming to start over again – all over again and I shook my head. No, I welcome it; I look forward to it. It’s who I am.

    My mum told me I was part gypsy; I think she’s right. I’ll probably always be part-gypsy. But that’s okay with me. :)

  40. I agree with this post in so many ways. Following the news of countries we’ve visited helps with perhaps a tidbit we can mention to a friend when talking about said place or to keep that connection going. I love that about this post. We do belong wherever we go, as long as we make that connection happen and keep it up. Great post!

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