We travel for different reasons, all of which are justifiable. The rewards of travel far outweigh the drawbacks. Travel educates and nourishes unlike anything else in the world. But one often overlooked side effect of travel is how it reopens our eyes to wherever it is we call home. I returned home to Montreal recently, and it was one of the best experiences I could have asked for.
My heart belongs to Montreal.
I was raised in the boroughs of this northern metropolis. I spent my formative years here. Last fall, I left the familiarity of home behind as I boarded a flight to China, something I had subconsciously been plotting for longer than I can recall. Within hours I was thousands of miles away, and home was out of reach.
That flight last fall was the beginning of what has become 15 months of travel and counting. Since then, I’ve been to 9 countries and more than twice as many cities. I’ve drifted through ancient temples in Japan, partied on white-sand beaches in Boracay and hiked the steps of Elephant Mountain in Taipei. I’ve gained, knowledge and experience.
Suddenly, it was time to go home.
You’ve heard the cliched expressions. “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.” “You don’t know what you have until it’s gone.”
I’ve lived them. They’re overused, but still true.
Honestly, I didn’t miss Montreal for a long time. How could I? While overseas, my senses were being stimulated with new information and experiences almost daily. I knew I wasn’t going home for at least one year, that helped me block any feelings of longing out. But as soon as my 12 month teaching contract ended, I began missing home severely.
Friends ask me how I was able to pick up and leave the life I’d worked so hard to establish behind so easily. Here’s the short answer: I needed to see the world. What I didn’t anticipate, was that I’d come home with a set of eyes that would aid me to see and appreciate my hometown much more than when I left. I knew I’d make it back home eventually, but knowing that didn’t make my first return home any less wonderful.
With each passing day, I realized how much I identified as a Montrealer. In my interactions with locals in different countries and with fellow travellers, the love I have for the place I call home was put on display—“There’s so much to do in Montreal … Montreal has a great hockey team … Montreal has amazing restaurants … Montreal has beautiful women … Montreal, Montreal, MONTREAL.”
My return home was everything I needed it to be.
At the check-in counter in Hong Kong, I laughed and smiled to myself, almost hysterically. The Korean Air airport staff eyed me suspiciously. It was simultaneously the longest and most pleasant 12 hour flight imaginable. I landed in Vancouver, a beautiful city with a distinct personality; not quite home, but close enough. The cool, clean Canadian air reinvigorated me. I felt a little more alive.
Customs agent: “How long have you been abroad?”
Me: “Just over a year.”
Customs agent: “What were you doing?”
Me: “Teaching, traveling, learning, living.”
Customs agent: “Are you staying in Vancouver?”
Me: ”Only for a few days before I head home, to Montreal.”
Customs agent: “Thank you, go ahead.”
Me: “No, thank you.”
Hong Kong – Seoul – Vancouver – Edmonton – Toronto – Home.
Traveling the world is everything it’s hyped up to be—the moments, the friends, the realizations and the memories. And it’s because of my journey through the world that ironically, my return home was just as fulfilling.
I deliberately left my return date undisclosed to my family and friends so I could revel in their expressions of utter joy and surprise. Thanksgiving, a time for showing gratitude for all of ones blessings, was the perfect date.
On the drive back from Toronto, my last stop before Montreal, the English-first signage and smooth roads vanished. French took centre stage and rugged roads dashed by beneath me. The landscape blurred together on a loop: vast fields; red, yellow and orange coloured trees, isolated homes, highway exits and white clouds embedded in a blue sky. “Quebec … Je me souviens,” stood in bold blue on almost every license plate that passed me by.
I imagined a world in which the tree leafs were always multicoloured but never fell to the ground. A world where every household had acres of space. A world where the clouds and the sky always lived in perfect harmony. Slowly, I drifted back to reality as the landscape became increasingly familiar.
I happened upon a small flower shop a few minutes away from my parents house. It had been there for years but it was my first time inside.
Flower lady: “Bonjour, comment puis-je vous aider?”
An enormous smile took hold of my face.
Me: “Bonjour, pouvez-vous me suggèrer un bouquet de fleurs pour ma mère?”
Our conversation carried on in French …
Sporting a never before seen beard, sunglasses, a Montreal Expos baseball cap and more than 80 pounds of luggage in tow, I stood at the entrance to my parents’ duplex.
I eyed my father intently. He looked at me casually as his eyes found his motorcycle once more.
My father: “Hello …”
I climbed the stairs and fumbled with the door handle.
“KYLE!?!?” He shouted seconds after.
Me: “Hey old man, long time no see huh?”
Like most families, my siblings and I grew up and left the nest. My older brother and sister started families of their own. Because of demanding schedules and physical distance, holidays are the only time you can find most of us under the same roof. Over a year later, there we were again, a family, reunited.
“Uncle Kyle!” My sister’s eldest daughter shouted as she ran to me with outstretched arms.
“Did someone say Kyle!? My mother asked curiously.
“I knew it! I knew you were coming back today! I just had a feeling.” My mother and sister discussed.
“Long time no see.” My older brother said in a calm and reassured voice.
“What’s wrong?” My mother asked my father.
Teary eyed and entranced … “I’m just happy he’s back,“ he said as they surrounded and hugged me.
The next few hours, days and weeks saw me recount stories of my travels to all of my loved ones. Each showing levels of warmth and emotion that were unmistakably genuine. It was evident in the way their eyes sparkled, the way they would stare at me in disbelief, thinking to themselves “I can’t believe you’re really here. You’re really back.” A captive audience, they hung to every word.
But as much as I’m thrilled to be back in Montreal. I feel different. I now have the utmost appreciation for things that I may have previously under valued. Buildings that blended in amid mundane backgrounds now stand out. Speaking French, a task that I at times found laborious, is now enjoyable. I no longer pass up on opportunities to visit historical places that people flock from all over the world to see. I jump at every chance I get to dine at a new restaurant or lounge in a quaint coffee shop I haven’t yet experienced.
Maybe I’m catching up for lost time, devouring as much of my home city as possible before I’m back on another plane. The world is still calling my name. Maybe I’m filling my heart and mind with enough of Montreal to keep me high during the inevitable lows I sometimes I arrive at during my travels. Whether I’m eating a poutine at a hole in the wall restaurant, waking up at sunrise to capture the city in its most tranquil and beautiful moments or having a conversation with a perfect stranger that alternates between English and French every other sentence, I’m fully immersed in Montreal, my Montreal.
I firmly believe the pursuit of happiness is why we’re placed on this earth. And traveling makes me happy. So it’s not a matter of if I’ll take off again, but when. The difference this time around, is that I know exactly what I’m leaving behind, and I’ll always make my way back to it.
Home truly is where the heart is.
Did you enjoy this post? Do you have any stories of returning home worth sharing? Leave an intelligent comment or response below. Hit me on Twitter [at]DriftAway2015 or like and comment on my Facebook page, Drift Away – Travel Blog.
Until next time,