I caught the travel bug when I was 19 with a long weekend trip to New York City. Less than six months later I was on a plane to Australia; two months by myself in one of the most beautiful countries in the world sounded like a very good idea.
Over the next two years I split my time between university, work, and travel. I took off on every break I had and put myself through school with loans, grants and scholarships, working primarily to fund my travel habit. When I finished university in April 2008 I had no idea what I was going to do about work, how exactly I was going to pay back my student loans, or what city I wanted to live in. I was 22 years old and other than those two months in Australia had never been out of my native Ontario for longer than about a week at a time. What I knew was, whatever I decided to do wouldn’t involve staying at home, and home for me didn’t mean the house I grew up in or one of the places I lived as a student. It didn’t mean the place I spent four years studying in or the suburban neighbourhood I lived in as a child. It didn’t even mean the Big City — Toronto. No, I was leaving Ontario. I didn’t plan on winding up in a pretty little contradiction of an English town 30 minutes south of London, but here I am.
If all the school holidays and long weekend jaunts, road trips and plane rides have taught me anything, it’s that a sense of home is something you carry with you, slipping it carefully out of your backpack to press between your Lonely Planet pages. Home has never been people for me. It has never been where my family is or where my friends are. Home has never been a specific place, either. I can find pieces of home anywhere; shreds of familiarity, little tributaries of the same river. You can imagine my shock, then, when I found myself in a routine and settled in little Guildford, Surrey, UK.
Guildford is a strange place—the mix of well-to-do locals and university students makes for an interesting culture, but it merges more seamlessly than you’d think it would. Cheap bars sit at one end of town, posh shops at the other, and everyone coexists wonderfully. Now, having been here going on two years, I’ve come to appreciate this town on the banks of the river Wey; its beauty, its people, even its lack of new things to do. I’ve made friends here that have become a second family and learned lessons here that have taught me more than any university lecture ever could.
Home really is where your heart is, and sometimes, when you least expect it, your heart plants roots in the most unlikely of places.
Home isn’t always about the place you hang your hat, it’s not always about where you sleep at night and it’s not even always about there being people you love breathing in the next room. Home really is where your heart is, and sometimes, when you least expect it, your heart plants roots in the most unlikely of places. Guildford is home to me, the first home I’ve ever had that’s been fully of my own choosing. As I get ready for a late summer move to London, it’s only fitting to pay tribute to it.
A few years ago, in the midst of my travels, I described home as the lint in the bottom of my pocket; something I take with me where ever I go. Here’s hoping I can take a little bit of Guildford with me when I make the short trek to the bright lights of London, because even though I could leave my physical home here without trouble, rolling out of town on the train for the last time is going to be one of the most difficult things I’ve done in quite a long while.