No matter how rootless your life may be now, we all have hometowns. For many of us, we remain tethered to them by the family still residing there. Most of us end up making that pilgrimage home, whether for holidays, celebrations, or due to a biologically ingrained desire to watch a red, wrinkled potato of a nephew blink and then puke on your only pair of pants. These visits often rely on the generosity of siblings, parents or relatives. Your lifestyle may look glamorous on Instagram, but having an enthusiastic host willing to put you up for free is easy math.
Nomadic living is suffused with its gauntlet of challenges. The lack of a solid home can amplify otherwise manageable crises. However, returning to one’s childhood home can be the source of an entirely different set of perils. Your family may have produced you, but their culture has evolved in your absence. Elements are bound to be foreign, more so if your visits are infrequent. You may no longer be party to where the Tupperware is kept, or find that your sister has suddenly developed an allium allergy (not really, but she’s really aggro about onions out of nowhere). Here are five considerations to take with you when you come home.
Be Prepared For Questions
J’s mother once told him not to make the world so big, which he accepted as a challenge. Two decades later, he’s doing a bang-up job, but is largely the exception to several generations’ worth of traditional careers in the Rust Belt. The traveler’s life isn’t for everyone, and may even be bathed in an almost mythical quality for some. Loving friends and family will be genuinely curious about your adventures. Don’t be insufferable. The alternative is that they pointedly fail to inquire after your grand journey because they don’t actually like you very much. Resist the urge to humble-brag your way through every conversation.
The world doesn’t revolve around your experiences. Hanging out with family members who haven’t ventured very far can be a great opportunity to de-mystify travel and even encourage them to take a trip of their own. However, it can be just as enlightening for you to learn from them. Visiting Y’s dad in the house he was building informed our ideas about the type of house we would like for ourselves someday. Hearing about the commonalities in the daily lives of others can be both refreshing and inspiring.
There may be moments where it’s up to you to offer a counterpoint to crass generalizations and cultural falsehoods. That obnoxious Uncle in the MAGA hat who keeps suggesting Latin American countries are dangerous (whilst never having traveled beyond the tri-state area) is wrong. You’re well within your rights to let him know how wrong he is. Diminishing an entire group of people based on cultural differences is, to put it lightly, fucking bullshit. But do it gently and respectfully. Remember that we’re all human beings working towards similar goals. Far from being polar opposites, most of us are reasonable people, occupying some spot in the middle ground of the human experience.
If the journey was long, it may be tempting to run directly for the shower or the comfort of a horizontal nap, but take a few moments to field questions, hugs, and smiles. Ecuador is neatly within the Eastern Time zone, so when we last came to Cleveland, we were lucky to avoid jet-lag. What we did not avoid was a 19-hour, four-flight odyssey. J’s family has never lacked for personality, and rooms are quickly filled with laughter, cussing, and yelling whenever a new player enters the arena. After the exhaustive hassle of air travel, it was surprisingly lovely to plunge ourselves into a few minutes of unpretentious bullshitting. The clock on vacation time started with the clink of glassware, and after a sip or two, we were slightly closer to being human again.
Subscribe To Some Self-Care
Coming back home can be an almost violent change in your pace of life, even when it doesn’t begin with a pair of massive dogs knocking you over in their excitement to reacquaint with your crotch. We tend to remember the best in our family, but proximity to your brother-in-law may exhaust your threshold for cordiality within a few hours. Keeping to an exercise regimen can be difficult under the best of circumstances. It can be exponentially so when staying in a snowbound part of the world. Your spouse’s high school bedroom is probably not the most ideal place to sleep, let alone fit in a workout. We ate incredibly well at J’s parent’s house, and they are gracious and generous hosts, but our diet went from pseudo-vegan to lots of protein and cheese overnight. We ignored the complaints filed by our intestines.
Moments of quiet can also be hard to come by. J’s two-year-old nephew tends to throw a very loud wrench in points of calm and has a crush on Y, so hanging out in common areas is not always especially relaxing. However, not being an active participant in family life defeats the purpose of your trip. While the situation can sometimes be stressful, completely disengaging from everyone is not the answer. Stepping out for a walk, taking a half hour to sit down with a book, or venturing out to meet an old friend for a beer can not only give you a chance to reset but better your relationship with your family. Just as you have limits, you can damn well bet they have theirs.
Both of our families tend not to mince words so much as they mince souls, so it’s important to keep a cool head in the rare event things get heated. Better yet, remove yourself before you let that tongue slip. Our tendencies to run a bit hot may have won us both an argument or two by default when people have left the room.
For the sake of both parties, sometimes it’s best to turn in before that game of Risk has a chance to get out of control. To this day, J’s dad won’t play the game of global domination after J annihilated him some ten years ago (vengeance for an endless losing streak in childhood). Dragging family into game night or allowing yourself to be dragged shouldn’t end in a feud over who gets to have the blue balls. When we were preparing to set off on our first big adventure across the United States, we made liberal use of a Nalgene bottle filled with tequila kept in our bedroom at Casa del Endress. However, we would be unable to chase our dream without our families’ support. Giving yourself some boundaries makes brushing off a stray comment or stressful situation that much easier.
Your family is a tribe unto itself, so use the same grace and patience you exhibit when immersing yourself in foreign cultures. Do not make demands, swear unnecessarily, or threaten to sell the small children that may or may not be throwing food at you. Do not ask them to change their culture to suit your preference. Even though you’re family, you’re still a tourist and a visitor here. Not everyone is accustomed to packing up and rolling out in a tight fifteen, so if it’s taking a minute to get the crew together for a trip to the ice rink, pool, what-have-you, relax. If a family outing or errand is dragging, remember that your pace of life can’t be applied to your family’s.
Take your time when regaling them with stories. For some working 9-5 jobs, even the thought of leaving the city for a weekend can be hard to fathom (Even as restaurant workers, taking weekends off was unheard of for the two of us).The things you’ve come to take for granted may be entirely new concepts. Sometimes understanding that paved roads and political parties are universal can be a stretch, let alone understanding how currency works. While some of their views may not align with yours, it’s important to hear them out and consider their outlook, just as it’s important anywhere else on Earth. Approaching family from an outsider’s perspective can yield striking revelations, which can help forge a stronger relationship between you. It is never advisable to allow conversation or politics to escalate to a point where you may not be called for breakfast the next morning. Love trumps hate, breakfast foods trump basically anything else.
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. J has had a bedroom in every room of his parents’ house, including the basement, (conveniently located adjacent to the catboxes. He partied a lot as a result). Resurrecting old arguments and reliving your teen years might be tempting, especially when siblings are involved. If you wouldn’t say it to a host in another city or country, at least think twice before saying it to a family member, especially when you’re under their roof. If they’re just popping by for a family meal and being a pedantic turd, however, you have our full blessing to call them out on it. If there’s one kind of turd we hate, it’s a pedantic one.
Internalizing good guest behavior will keep stressful situations to a minimum, even with the most prickly of relations. When you visit, make sure to bring stories, gifts, and manners, and make sure to express gratitude every chance you get. We cannot stress enough how much harder our lives would be without the support of our family and friends. Cooking a meal is a solid gesture unless someone holds court over the kitchen. In that case, no one (we’re interested in meeting) ever argues with pizza. A simple thank you is nice, but doing the dishes every night will speak much louder. Better still is knocking out a chore that may be harder for an older relative or just beyond their schedule.
Know When To Leave
While many family members will say they’re happy to host you for extended periods of time, it’s incredibly important to not overstay. We had the misfortune to run into this last summer. Due to unforeseen circumstances, there were three families in one household, which was a little tough to handle. That sitcom would make for some abysmal numbers during sweeps week.
Your presence is going to be a disruption, however welcome, to your hosts’ daily life. Small issues like bathroom occupancy or space in the refrigerator can quickly multiply and spiral into ugly situations. Older people sometimes really need to go and don’t appreciate the rights of young whipper snapper’s bladders. 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. If your visit falls around the holidays, the added stress of the season can exacerbate just about any situation into a Holly Jolly Fuck This. Clear and honest communication will help manage expectations and is important if you wish to stay in the good graces of your hosts. Leaving before those good graces expire ensures that you’ll have a place to stay the next time you visit.
A brief pause in your travel doesn’t mean approaching the world with an open mind and heart has to stop. Keeping the same positive attitude and philosophy you embrace on your travels will help you make the most out of any stay with whoever is kind enough to open their home to you. There’s no reason why your patience and understanding with new situations can’t help you travel back in time to heal old wounds. If we can learn to wait five minutes for a woman to scrounge for proper change in the public market, then we can wait for anything, be it the bus, a new season of Rick and Morty, or even our loved ones. Relationships can be strengthened, new understandings can be reached. The goal of any stay should be to have fun with your family and leave your host excited for your next visit.