Where’s Home, Anyway?

My little cottage in Negril – Jamaica

Is home where you were born, where you choose to be or is it where you end up out of circumstance – grad school, kids, family, comfort?

It’s a question that’s haunted me since I moved to the US for college eons ago. I ended up in Washington DC. My dad had a house here and was working already. So the family followed, like we did to Cote d’Ivoire and England. I was under 18 so it was a given.

At 20, I started wondering – where is home for me? I didn’t pay much more attention to it until ten years later, at 30.

When you leave your native country at age 1, it’s hard to tell where home is. When you end up in a city because you went to college there and because it’s where your loved ones are, it’s hard to justify the need to leave.

When you start traveling and being a nomad for half the year, it becomes even more nebulous.

For those with a spouse or children, it seems easier to pinpoint a place called “home” (for most).

But when you’re solo and you love travel and you’ve figured out ways to fund those travels, the world is your oyster. Not a complaint, but it can be overwhelming. The choices are infinite. From Indonesia to India or even Ethiopia.

This year, my goal is to plan for my desire to leave Washington DC and live overseas year-round. It’s one I’ve had for too long already.

So, what country calls my name?

Since my return I’ve been meditating in prayer and I’m more present and observant in my day-to-day, because signs are everywhere. I watch where my attention is grabbed and what attracts my heart. As much as I’ve loved visiting Belize and Jamaica for winters, they didn’t grab me enough to pack up and move permanently.

What are the other choices? All the “relatively-stable” countries in Africa, Asia, Australia… or there’s South America.

When I read about folks who have packed up and moved to far-flung places like South Korea or Japan – there seem to be more and more each day – I feel my body shift back and a sort of unease –  and yet my mind tells me it could be a huge learning experience. To conquer that level of culture shock would make me a stronger person.

Yep – as much as you all think I’m brave, I have fears too. Fear of moving to a country where the language is made up of symbols I can’t read. Fear of being too far away from my aging parents and my nieces and nephews. But fear of regrets too – and one day feeling a loss that I didn’t explore the opportunity to be an expat year-round at at time when I was free to do so.

Recently I attended Chris Guillebeau‘s $100 start up book tour in Washington DC. I’ve been following his brilliant blog, the “The Art of Non-Conformity” for three years and I’ve always found him super inspiring. At the meet up, while in line to get my autographed copy, I met a fascinating Japanese lady. She gets to travel with her professor-husband and works remotely as a writer wherever he teaches – from Rome to Vancouver. Talk about a sweet life. But no, she wanted to hear all about my transition since I left my full-time legal job.

She was so excited for me – genuinely excited. Happy to gab about my adventures, I mentioned along the way that I had downsized my life in the US over the years. I got rid of “stuff” and recently, I sold my car. Of all the things I mentioned, selling the car is what made her gasp the most. “Wow that’s huuuuuge!” she said. I was silent for a couple of seconds. She was right, that was huge. It was a commitment to my dream of living abroad and living a simpler life. It hit me that over the past three years, I had faced multiple mini-fears head on and conquered them because I just did, I didn’t think or dwell. Like my car, a snazzy black BMW which at one time I loved dearly – after all, we were together for 10 years. But I was no longer attached to things and after all my travels, I knew that happiness came from experiences and not objects (except, I do love my camera gear, let’s not get that twisted).

So while I spend the next three months deciding on the where of my big move for 2013, do feel free to help me conquer analysis-paralysis (I still suffer from that sometimes as a lawyer). You can share your thoughts on where I should live in the comments below – whether it’s a country or a continent – or you can even feel free to email me here. I may even have a guest posts or two from fellow bloggers who have lived abroad. At this point, I’m  absorbing all good information.

Where would you send me?

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Lebawit Lily Girma

Lebawit Lily Girma is an award-winning, Ethiopian-American travel writer, photographer and author of several Caribbean guidebooks for Moon Travel Guides, including Moon Belize, Moon Belize Cayes, and Moon Dominican Republic (October 2016). Her work focuses on Caribbean culture and adventure, and has been published in AFAR, CNN Travel, BBC, Delta Sky, The Guardian, Sunday Times Travel Magazine, and Every Day With Rachael Ray, among many others. Lily is also the 2016 recipient of the Marcia Vickery Wallace Award for Excellence in Travel Journalism for her Caribbean coverage, from the Caribbean Tourism Organization. Lily calls herself a “culture-holic”–she speaks four languages fluently and has lived in Cote d’Ivoire, England, Jamaica, Belize, the Dominican Republic and traveled to some 30+ countries around the world. Last but not least, she is a former corporate attorney who ditched her Washington DC office for the road in 2009 to pursue her dream of becoming a storyteller. Lily holds a Bachelor of Arts in French and Spanish (summa cum laude) from the University of Maryland at College Park, and a Juris Doctor from the University of Virginia School of Law.

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21 Comments

  1. drew bolyard 13 May, 2012 at 7:47 PM #

    wonderful… i, too, left my birth country (Brazil) at an early age- three… i have longed for the tropical feel all my life… travel and experience travelling beckon me and i yearn for such a refreshing world.

  2. Lebawit Lily Girma 13 May, 2012 at 8:10 PM #

    Hi Drew, thanks! And I completely get that. It’s amazing how what we experience as kids can stay with us (like you said, that tropical feel). Where are you now living?

  3. drew bolyard 13 May, 2012 at 8:15 PM #

    I live in central California in the agricultural insurance industry… i travel all of central and southern Cali as well as some Arizona… it is a very good profession with opportunity in other USA areas, but never beyond the country borders… ahhh, my dream is to travel and write, document and view, experience and expound, much like you. I shall dare to dream, I suppose.

  4. Lebawit Lily Girma 13 May, 2012 at 8:19 PM #

    Ha! Thank you Drew – but you can do it, too. I am sure there are opportunities in that general industry abroad but perhaps you would work in it in a different capacity. It all depends on how much you would like to live abroad and what your family situation is. But with solid planning, anything is possible. Also, you don’t have to move abroad year-round to be able to travel and write, it can be done even on just a week’s vacation here and there or while you travel for work. Something to think about. 🙂

  5. Jacquelyn Hughes Moo 13 May, 2012 at 9:39 PM #

    I’m sitting here trying to pick up my jaw as I read your entry “Where is home”? I’ve returned several times to my birthplace, New Orleans, only to when the wandering urge hits again.

    Now a dream of living abroad has been handed to at 61yrs & 9 months to live outside of my home country. Like you I’ve have the “analysis paralysis” although I’m the aging parent doing this.

    I chose Belize for several reasons part of which in some ways there’a some similarities to New Orleans . I’m eager to travel with you as you make this leap. BRAGS, cherie

  6. Robyn 14 May, 2012 at 12:29 AM #

    I can totally relate to this blog. My vote is for Indonesia or somewhere in SE Asia 🙂 Also, how cute is your house in Negril! Good luck, very inspiring!

  7. lorraine 14 May, 2012 at 4:06 AM #

    Options!! Thats the key! Would you go somewhere you’ve already been or take the leap to move somewhere you’ve never set foot? Once you know where you dont want to live, maybe it will narrow it down for ya. Still waiting on you to hit scandinavia. I mean, you want to weigh all your options, right? Trod the trod. Nuff love.

  8. Lebawit Lily Girma 14 May, 2012 at 10:03 AM #

    Hi Jacquelyn – how ironic, thanks for posting your story. I can’t wait to hear about your move to Belize, and I love that you are taking that leap at 61! Why not. Kudos to you.

    Robyn – I know you can identify! Indonesia hasn’t been ruled out. It could be a great base to explore from for a year.Thanks for your wishes and for chipping in! I’m starting to create a list of readers’ suggestions, ha.

    Lorraine – So right, options, thank God for being blessed with those. I’m open to old and new places – except for Jamaica or Belize since I’ve tried both and I know I wouldn’t be stimulated enough. Still leaves a whole lot of countries. 🙂 Scandinavia is definitely on the visit list my friend! Now if only it weren’t election year and fares weren’t so absurdly high. Thanks for the guidance always! One Love.

  9. Diana 14 May, 2012 at 10:35 AM #

    I have been thinking along these terms for months now Lily. As you know, I packed up my life in the US and moved to Indonesia. Since my move the “where is home?” question has been plaguing me more. I still have no clue. What I do know is that I will enjoy visiting and living in other countries until I find, The One.
    And who says I will have just one home? The notion of settling down seems to be part of the societal controls that we travelers shun. One must have a home in one spot. I challenge that notion.

  10. Lebawit Lily Girma 14 May, 2012 at 10:46 AM #

    I couldn’t agree more on that last point, Diana – just like, who says you can only be or do one thing? Who says you can’t be a lawyer, AND a photojournalist and and and… Life is short and is about learning. The privileged few have options – that’s us. Very interesting on still questioning it after your move – and I like that strategy, keep traveling and explore until you find the One…or the two ones. Anything is possible. Any countries you think I should add to the list from all your travels? 🙂

  11. Jacquelyn Hughes Moo 14 May, 2012 at 11:39 AM #

    I absolutely agree with all the comments thus far. Why can only 1 place be THE ONE? Belize will be a jump of point for me. My son & his family are moving there to raise my granddaughters to experience another culture.

    I had looked at St Kitts /Nevis, Nova Scotia, South Africa, Southern France, Wales & a host of places.

    While I’ve never been particular drawn to Southeast Asia, my brother travels there regularly especially Indonesia & raves on it. Another friend has a brother who moved to Japan several years ago, loves it. Still another moved to Morocco & adores it.

    LILY, Cheri, I don’t know how old you are, but again brava for learning early on to do this! I’ve chafe against wanting to do this for decades. I love travel.

    Please if you don’t mind, tell me your high & low points in Belize . I, too, need some stimulation,though I can get that via travel. Thanks

  12. Lebawit Lily Girma 14 May, 2012 at 4:45 PM #

    Jacquelyn, thanks for the encouragement and for sharing! Great to hear I’m not the only one with a long list of places! Have heard great things about southern France, by the way. And same here, I was never particularly drawn to SE Asia but reading more about it through fellow travelers has piqued my curiosity. While I’ve always felt more connected to places which remind me of my youth, which makes sense, I would also like to add more dimension to that while I can.

    As far as the good and the bad of living in Belize, feel free to email me and I’m happy to share based on my experience.

  13. Monique 15 May, 2012 at 3:18 PM #

    Where’s home, anyway? Please let me know when you’ve discovered the answer. Great post, btw, and good luck deciding where to go.

  14. lovenia 15 May, 2012 at 4:23 PM #

    Great post (as always!). You are right, what a provocative question for some of us. I haven’t lived abroad, but I’ve moved around the US so much that my family has taken to calling me a “gypsy”. But I believe one of the beauties of life is that each of us gets to discover the answer to that question for themselves. In any case, I’m pulling for S. America for you simply b/c that’s my dream…I plan to go to Korea 1st, but after that, it’s where I plan to head. Seeing the area through your imaginative lens before I get there would be wonderful I think! p.s. I’m planning on giving up my car too and I don’t know if it’s the “wise” thing to do, but it’s what I plan to do!

  15. Lebawit Lily Girma 15 May, 2012 at 9:54 PM #

    Thanks, Monique – I’ll let you know once I’ve figure it out!

    Lovenia, thanks for your vote, I’m interested in what my readers want to see too, LOL. Korea will be very interesting, I can’t wait to hear about your experiences there. I do have temptations of Latin America- especially when I think of Brazil, Peru or even some parts of Ecuador. Work will clearly be a narrowing factor as well.

    As far as the car – I really don’t miss it! In fact, from the moment I moved to the city, it was parked almost all the time and I was paying for nothing. Now if I were still in the suburbs that would be a different story. But no more gas, parking fees, no more insurance headaches, and no more driving stress… I’m relieved!

  16. eternitysojourner 16 May, 2012 at 5:29 AM #

    an important question that we (our little family of three) still ask ourselves after leaving the states in 2008. sometimes i’ve found myself restless, wondering if this is “the place” or should we keep looking but a sweet sister friend reminded me that you’ll know when it’s time to move on. i’m learning to trust that we will know when it’s time. there is no utopia and i shouldn’t suspend making wherever we are “homely” just because i’m unsure if it’s my final destination (because what is it, really?). thanks for sharing your thoughts. no war zones is a great idea!

  17. Lebawit Lily Girma 16 May, 2012 at 9:15 AM #

    Thank you for sharing yours too, Sojourner! Where do you now live? How true and I share your outlook on learning to trust. For myself, I think it’s this urge to explore and learn, and a desire to share my talents for the greater good, as cliche as that might sound.

  18. eternitysojourner 17 May, 2012 at 1:16 AM #

    we’re currently in oman- living quite comfortably, to be honest. this is part of the restlessness, i think. we’re content, safe, and saving- all important, no doubt- but at the end of the day, it’s not the money that matters most. i do advise others to firstly prioritize debt relief because who wants to travel with “the man” on your back? 😉
    then, the pursuit of any pilgrimages or journeys of personal/spiritual/religious significance, but after that, the possibilities are endless. we envision “planting” ourselves in a place where our skills/talents are best put to use- a place of need but not so overwhelming that the future of our own child(ren) is compromised. it’s great that you know you have something meaningful to give.

  19. Lebawit Lily Girma 17 May, 2012 at 8:54 AM #

    Oman! Fascinating. I’ve heard a lot of good things lately about it and working in Qatar, or Dubai. Interesting about comfort turning into restlesness. Perhaps you just have the urge to explore and that wanderlust bug we travelers have? 🙂

    I completely agree with you on handling one’s debt first – at least for the big ticket items like homes. I’ve heard, however, of those who have managed to make more and pay off student loans from working in countries such as South Korea (their housing is covered, and so on so they can save more than in the US).

    Personal journeys are also another category, how true that is! Which is why part of me is torn about going to Ethiopia first.

    With freedom comes a lot of responsibility but I never lose sight of what a blessing it is. I think giving back with talent can come in many forms and can be done right at home – or even online through blogs and such. But I have this need to do more, and travel while doing it. Can’t explain it – it’s just there so embracing it is part of this process. If you’d like to share more about what life is like in Oman please feel free to share with us here, or you can message me. 🙂 Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts here, I truly appreciate that.

  20. eternitysojourner 18 May, 2012 at 1:02 AM #

    Just to clarify, I agree with your point. I think if one has debts, they should choose a destination abroad that has a low cost of living, high compensation, great benefits, etc. Those choices are more limited than the traveler with no debts, I think. I’ve met MANY folks successfully cleared their debts while living abroad.
    Re: Ethiopia. That was my suggestion but I didn’t want to assume you already returned “home”. I’ve been wanting to “return” to Ethiopia for years, though I’ve never been. I feel deeply connected to Abesha- it must be my Jamaican roots. 😉
    Re: Oman. Did you see this? http://www.womenofcolorlivingabroad.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/sistas-in-oman-part-i.html
    This is a pretty good intro, in my opinion, but let me know if any questions arise.
    Oh yeah- I have to echo Robyn. Your cottage is too cute! 🙂 I love Negril! It’s amongst my favorite places in JA.

  21. Lebawit Lily Girma 21 May, 2012 at 9:51 AM #

    Hi ES, that’s wonderful to hear – I didn’t realize you were Jamaican. 🙂 Yes I am definitely considering Ethiopia as well. I have read that article on Oman, it was great, I love reading Cha’s website. A Jamaican in Oman too, now that’s interesting!

    I did love my cottage – and I was just 5 mins walk to the cliffs and sea, and 10 mins ride to the beach.

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