For most of history, home was simply where you were born. It was your tribe. Your family. Your community—big or small. It wasn’t really something you chose. But today, you have more freedom to go your own way. You can—more easily than ever—travel the planet and find a place you’re always glad to come back to.
In short, in an increasingly-globalized world, home really can be where the heart is—not just where you end up by default.
I could delve into the reasons for this—air travel, the Internet, globalization. But you already know the world is getting smaller, easier to travel, easier to navigate. A more interesting discussion is the opportunities this “new world” has created—opportunities to live, work, retire, and settle into whatever place makes you feel most at home.
Because of these opportunities, in 2013 I moved to a small town in the Swiss Alps—and my friends and family were baffled.
“Why Switzerland?” they asked. After all, I could live anywhere in the world. I’m a self-employed freelance writer, with a job I can do (and have done) anywhere that has a good Internet connection. I’ve been to every habitable continent and fallen in love with more than one place. And Switzerland is, as we all know, one of the most expensive countries in Europe (and my region is one of the most expensive in Switzerland).
So why here, they all wanted to know. Why so far from family? Why Europe? And why a place with a slightly higher price tag?
I always feel the answer should be much more amazing than it is. I feel I should talk about how my valley is known for its 72 waterfalls, and for the fact that it inspired Tolkien’s Rivendell in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I should tell them that it’s surrounded by some of the tallest mountains in the Alps, not to mention the most imposing cliffs, the best ski runs, and the most wonderful forested hikes.
I should mention that the people here speak a beautiful, sing-song-like, Swiss-German dialect that I desperately want to learn. And every year, hundreds of thousands of tourists from all over the world pass through my tiny town on their way to the highest train station in Europe, or to the famous Trummelbach waterfall, which carves its way through caves inside the mountain. Or they go to the 360-degree, rotating, panorama restaurant of mountaintop Schilthorn.
I should talk about all that. But I don’t. Because—while those are some of the reasons that I love this place—they aren’t why I spent my winter gathering paperwork, politely and consistently inquiring about the status of my residence permit, and locating a lovely little apartment with a long-term lease option.
No, the reason I live here is much simpler: This is the one place in the world where I feel like I’m coming home.
I’ve lived in a lot of places—from New York City to Denver, Colorado, to Chiang Mai, Thailand. And while I have liked—and perhaps even loved—some of them, I never really put down roots.
I was always ready for a new adventure, a new city, a new challenge. When I’d take off on a short-term jaunt from one of those bases, I never got homesick or longed to return. I always wanted to see what was around the next bend.
Here, though, something is different. Perhaps I’m just getting older. But it’s more than that. Before I moved here, I came to visit three or four times. Every time I left, I immediately started planning my return. And when I did return, staring out the window of the train at the familiar cliffs, the waterfalls, and the wooden chalets, I always felt a familiar, happy leap in my chest. My whole body relaxed. I couldn’t stop smiling.
And so I moved here—and I still feel that way. I go to Italy and eat my body weight in pasta, wander the wonderful cobbled streets, and meet interesting new people. But I’m still excited to come home. I spend a day or two in Germany, riding roller coasters and eating schnitzel, and still I feel a special contentment when I return.
It’s like my whole life I’ve been searching for home…and here in this little alpine town, I’ve found it.
For me, this has been the great, unexpected joy of my last year. After almost two years of full-time travel, of extended stays in Italian university towns, Croatian coastal retreats, and forested German hideaways, I’ve finally come home. All it took was some exploration, a lot of paperwork, and a little luck.
For me, this is one of the most wonderful truths about the time we live in: Instead of settling for the place you were born or where circumstances dropped you, it’s possible today to choose in retirement (or earlier) a destination that feels like your own, a community that—while flawed, as they all are—welcomes you with open arms.
You may find yours on Mexico’s Riviera Maya, or in the lush mountains around Chiang Mai, Thailand, or in a small country town in France. The beauty of this increasingly globalized, connected world is that you have the freedom to find and make your home anywhere your heart desires.
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