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« All That Money Can Buy? | Main | Finding Courage in a Foreign Language »

What If We Didn't Go Home?

by Ellen Barone


“So, when exactly are you coming home?” my father asked.

“I don’t know, Dad. Our visas allow us to stay in Peru for at least three months, then we’re thinking of heading on to Argentina and Chile...”

The broken and sputtering magicJack connection at the South American Explorers Club in Cusco broadcasted about every third word of our conversation, but the message that traveled down the steep stone streets of the ancient Inca capital and across the continents to the lush green lawns of Newark, Delaware, the college town I’d grown up in and where my parents still live, was crystal clear: We weren’t coming “home”. 

Plaza de Armas at night, Cusco, Peru. 

The truth was, my husband, Hank, and I had no idea when, or if, we were going home. We didn’t even know what “home” meant anymore. We’d been winging it, temporarily inhabiting Mexico, Nicaragua, Ecuador and Peru: itinerant and loose in the world in a manner that both worried and intrigued family and friends back home.

We were four thousand miles from our homeland, eleven thousand feet above sea level, south of the Equator where summer is winter, and living in a fourth-floor walkup without heat. Yet, life felt sweet and rich and fortunate. 

We were foreigners, at the other side of the world, landed there by grace, on the cusp of discovering something we couldn’t yet articulate.

A year had passed since we’d crammed a lifetime of belongings into storage in New Mexico, driven cross country, and parked our six-year-old Corolla in my parents’ Delaware driveway with vague promises to return for it in a year—or so. 

As a freelance travel writer and photographer I have journeyed to six continents, crossed the Sahara on camelback, traversed the Malay Peninsula by rail, walked up and down mountains in Patagonia, snorkeled with whale sharks in Belize, and photographed lions in the Serengeti. But after years of working on assignments that parachuted me into foreign cultures for compact, intense periods of time, I wanted to experience the deeper pleasure and challenge of learning to live a different kind of life: One with all the hours in the world to read, write, practice my Spanish, enjoy the tastes, smells, sights and serendipitous pleasures of another place, and generally just work out who I am.

I wasn’t one of those people fortunate enough to understand myself at a young age, but I know how it feels when I try to be someone I’m not. How it exhausts and depletes me, and leaves me feeling angry and resentful. I have spent a good many years — too many, I think— being ashamed of my unwillingness to live for a mortgage, car payments, social status and obligation. I thought for a long while that this meant I was a selfish failure, the flaky, lazy black sheep of a society that believed in a success that is measured by education and achievement, status and possessions.

It’s taken nearly fifty years to accept that all I really want in life is freedom — the ability to wake up every day to a life of my choosing, to work at a pace and place that suits me, to have time for walks and talks, to create something beautiful with my life, and to share it and be sustained by it. 

Everyone has reasons for the lifestyle choices they make — to have children, not to have children, to live in one place or to move away, to remain in a secure job or follow the path of an entrepreneur. But I imagine there comes a time when most adults reexamine those choices and ponder who they really want to be when they grow up. 

For me, that person is gradually taking shape, emerging in greater clarity with each country and each new experience; like a wispy Etch-A-Sketch drawing. On good days, I’m proud of that person; on bad days, she’s an embarrassment. 

Still, looking back, I see that hidden away in my luggage was a seed of potential, an embryonic self hidden beneath the shallow surface of doubt and ridicule that germinated in the warm soil of Latin America. A seedling that lay waiting, ready to sprout and blossom under the sunshine of self acceptance. I liked being who I wanted to be without anyone to remind me of who I had been.

Being Away has opened us up, turned old habits inside out, and unearthed new priorities. Outwardly, nothing has changed but the countries we called home. I have not transformed into a size-two picture of perfection and poise. Hank did not buy a Harley or run off with our doe-eyed, twenty-four-year-old Peruvian maid. Inwardly, however, there is something new — the glimmer of possibility. 

As the uncertainty over my life choices began to ebb, I slowly began to suspect that the simple pleasures of our foreign existence—walking miles each day, eating unfamiliar foods, enjoying a lazy siesta in the warmth of the afternoon sun, or watching the moon rise over an unexplored horizon—were, in fact, the joys of home.

“What if we didn’t go back? What if we kept going?” I said to Hank one night as we walked home after dinner. The urge to continue suddenly felt overpowering. 

“OK,” he said. Just like that. Not a moment of hesitation as he reached for me and scooped me in his arms. “Where to next?”   

This is the Hank I love, a man of few words and quick ease when it’s least expected and most appreciated. We talked for a while about Chile and Argentina and then an email we received from our Spanish tutor in Nicaragua.

When we set off on this journey of discovery, we assumed it would end with us setting up a new home in a new place, something we’d done before and were prepared to do again. But the path has proven unpredictable and has inspired a question that I keep asking myself: Is home more than a physical place on the map? Something that we carry inside of us? publisher and co-founder, Ellen Barone, is currently in Latin America at work on her first book, "I Could Live Here," a memoir about home and belonging.   


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Reader Comments (27)

Beautifully written Ellen, never, ever, be embarrassed about your life. You have accomplished more in the nearly 50 years you have been on this planet than the majority. You are Blessed and Wise, very wise to know yourself so well. I am honored to know such a woman!

June 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRene Clayton

I don't know if it's because I so identify with what you've written here, but in my opinion, this is the most beautiful and moving piece I've read of yours. Thank you.

June 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLorraine Chittock

A big hug to Rene and Lorraine for your kind words. I am acutely aware that without travel I would be without your friendship. New friendships, in my opinion, has been one of the greatest blessing of our adventures.

With affection and gratitude,


June 26, 2013 | Registered CommenterEditors

Love this. Please send more stories on slow, deep travel.

June 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJean Kepler Ross

Ellen, thank you for sharing a beautiful piece and for exploring the question of 'home'. I now live in the town I grew up in, but I never felt more at home than when I was figuring out a new place. The ties that brought me back to my roots and have kept me here for longer than I thought they would were inside me the whole time I lived 'somewhere else'. Home--to me--is the love for people in my life and not a place you find on a map...that's just geography.

June 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNicole

Thanks Jean! We'd love to feature more articles on this topic. Additionally, I will share more as we continue on this journey.

Many thanks for your interest,


June 27, 2013 | Registered CommenterEllen Barone

Nicole, you've beautifully stated what I've long suspected; that home is wherever the people we cherish are.

At one point in our journey I asked Hank what he liked most about our nomadic lifestyle. His reply, "It's the people we've met."

Then I asked him what he liked least about it. "Always having to say goodbye."

I love exploring this topic of "home" and belonging.

Many thanks for bringing your insights to the conversation.

With gratitude,


June 27, 2013 | Registered CommenterEllen Barone

Ellen - this was wonderful! I loved this line: "I liked being who I wanted to be without anyone to remind me of who I had been." I felt the same way when I relocated from Pittsburgh to Seattle...a new chance to invent the life and person I had always hoped to become. I look forward to the next relocation, wherever the wind will blow. Great stuff!

June 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKirsten

Thanks for reading, commenting and sharing, Kirsten.

I love the commonalities - and differences - that this piece has unearthed.

Thanks again for your kind words and, most importantly, for bringing your voice to the topic,


June 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEllen Barone

Great to hear the thoughts of a fellow nomad! We have had similar conversations many times, as you can imagine. We keep coming up with the same answer: home is where we are.

June 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGary White

Love it, namesake! By comparison, Gary and I are less nomadic and more rooted: I look around at our beautiful rented top-floor apartment in Girona (Catalonia, Spain), with our big balcony filled with plants, the view over the medieval walls and towers of the town.... Bookcases filled with books I've acquired, closets filled with clothes and shoes and.... Our computers, printers, etc. We are very happily "at home" here--for the time being! But who knows when we will pick up and move again, "turning on a dime" as we have done before when we looked at each other and said, "Let's leave our lovely home in Santa Fe and have an adventure! Let's go live in Europe!"
Many blessings. Many adventures. Many new friends, new experiences, new challenges.
They say that the best way to keep an aging mind young (I'm 66, Gary is 76) is to keep challenging it to learn new tasks. At this rate, we're getting younger all the time.
Hope to see you on our side of the pond--

June 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterElyn Aviva

I was touched by your wonderful piece. Having lived abroad in different continents for almost 20 years now, I totally agree that home is more than a physical place. I know I will probably never live again in my country which sometimes makes me a bit nostalgic. At the same time, every few years, when we change countries and continents, the excitement of a new place is so rewarding. The discovery of new landscapes, new people, new cultures, new flavors, there is nothing like it! I confess I get restless when I have to stay too long in one place now. Some of us were made to wander I think...

June 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMaria

Yes, home is wherever you truly are and wherever you are truly you.

Happy journeys through life,

June 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterB.J. Stolbov

What a joy to awaken this morning to the comments of kindred spirits.

Maria, Gary, B.J., you've articulated the nomadic lifestyle perfectly!

Muchas gracias,


June 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEllen Barone

Your post about the idea of home is timely for us. We have just sold our house and are in the midst of reducing our belongings to travel indefinitely. Most responses to our plan have been positive and often followed up with a comment about our bravery. Western society makes "having a home" so complicated that many sacrifice their happiness to get it and keep it. Choosing a different path despite the consumerism of more is better can be seen as a leap of faith, yes, but we are already experiencing your words, " Inwardly, however, there is something new — the glimmer of possibility" even before we hit the road. Thanks for posting!

June 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCarol

Yeah, but who's mowing the lawn?

With very young twin daughters in tow, we went to New Zealand for a year of adventure. Stayed 14 and still go back all the time. Fuck the lawn.

— jules

June 28, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterjules older

Wow, Ellen. You hit the nail on the head and I am still reverberating.

June 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMaureen Magee


I really enjoyed your article and its honesty about family, home, and travel.
What beautiful thoughts you expressed.

Home is where you feel best and... it's wonderful to have people to go home to when you want and can.

Enjoy your travels with your hubby.

Thanks for the article,

June 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterConnie Hand

Carol, Congratulations on the sale of your home and the launch of your newest adventure.

I traveled over to your blog and enjoyed reading the many responses to your shout out for ideas on where to go first. Bali, seems to be ticking all the boxes and getting rave reviews. Looking forward to following along as you move forward.

Thanks again for sharing your insights and letting me know the piece resonated with you.

Buen viaje,


June 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEllen Barone

Jules, as always, you leave me with a smile.

We should organize a NZ/MX house swap. :)

Best to you and Effin,


June 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEllen Barone

Connie, thanks for your kind words. It's true, having a beloved to share it with is an added blessing.

Many thanks for your well wishes and continued story contributions.

Looking forward to featuring your Algarve experiences next month.


June 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEllen Barone

Thanks Elyn,

I too love the feeling of being rooted, even if temporarily, even in a rental. Like Gary said, home is where we are.

Hank's the one with itchy feet in our family, ready to move on after 3 to 6 months, whereas I'm the one always saying, hey, "I Could Live Here." Hence the name of the book. :)

I've often thought that your Girona existence sounds delicious and tempting. Maybe it should be the answer to Hank's "Where to next?"


June 28, 2013 | Registered CommenterEditors

Maureen, as a great fan of your writing, I'm loving your comment and intrigued to know why it left you 'reverberating.'



PS: How's the book coming? Hope you'll be willing to share an excerpt with the community!

June 28, 2013 | Registered CommenterEditors

Ellen, this is a wonderful piece. Your reflection gives me much food for thought. Choosing to live one's life according to one's own thoughts and feelings rather than the way it's "supposed" to be, takes courage and faith. I so very much admire your ability to leave your car in a Newark, DE driveway. I look forward to reading more about your choices.

July 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNancy King


Many thanks for your kind comment. I love that you used the words 'courage' and 'faith' for these are themes much on my mind these days.

The concept of consciously crafting a life that best suits my own temperament, life purpose. and unique circumstances is a luxury that is not lost on me. And I am grateful that at this moment in time it is a path that I am blessed to be able to follow.

However, the most unexpected pleasure has been the abundance of time that the experience has allowed me for contemplation, introspection, relationship. love and the process of writing it all down in a book I'd never known I would want to write.

Thanks again for sharing your thoughts and insights. .

Kindest regards,


July 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEllen

Ellen! You succeed in putting into words the dreams, aspirations of many who are unable to find the language with which to bring forth their deepest desires. To be free. I don't know what that looks like for me but you help me begin the opening to that process of discovering what my freedom would look like. I expect there are many delightful awakenings ahead but many realizations too of how I have, bit by bit, bartered my freedom away for the table scraps of a high tech, success driven culture, the extent to which I can only begin to imagine. Thank you for opening the way. Kendall

April 10, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterkendall dudley


What a pleasant surprise to see your comment and read your thoughts. Thank you very much for bringing your voice and wisdom to the conversation.

I love how this adventure has transformed what has felt like such a personal and solitary story into a communal one. And how it's brought me together with teachers, like yourself, in whom I recognize a kindred desire for freedom.

I look forward to continuing the conversation as we proceed forward with our storytelling collaborations.

With gratitude,


April 11, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterEllen Barone

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