A homebody with the soul of a traveler
When it comes down to it, I am a homebody with the soul of a traveler. I oftentimes feel a bit torn between the two, but this contradiction has also endowed me with a great gift—I can feel at home just about anywhere I go, because I make my home away from home my home, even if it’s just for a few days. I thought that I’d share some tips for how to make your home away from home feel more you’re your space.
Feel at Home Away from Home
Trying on a different home
Part of the joy of traveling means placing ourselves in unfamiliar surroundings, and where we stay is part of that. I don’t mean re-creating my home everywhere—perish the thought. I just mean making where I’m staying feel more like my place, however temporary. I feel like I’m trying on a different life, including a different home, and part of the fun for me is seeing how it fits.
These tips work for trips long and short—and business travel, too
For most of my personal travel, I’ve stayed in places for a week or two, but most recently, I stayed in apartments for a month at a time in my Balkans travels, and I have found that these tips work for trips long and short. It becomes simply a matter of degrees.
They also work for business travel. Indeed, like the tips I shared recently to help make coming home from a trip easier, I learned a number of these tips for feeling more at home away from home from my frequent business travel. Until a week before the pandemic hit for real, I traveled frequently for business, which usually meant relatively quick trips that can really throw a person. I’m not George Clooney in Up in the Air, and I suspect you aren’t, either. Having a place to land that feels like us is comforting and can add to our travel experience.
9 tips for feeling at home away from home
Feeling at home away from home doesn’t take much by way of planning or execution, but following these tips can go a long way toward making you feel at home wherever you travel.
1. Making your home away from home: where will you stay?
While Airbnb and the like have taken it on the chin, and for good reason (pesky fees, weird requirements), I still very much prefer staying in an apartment to a hotel room. Yes, you have to make your own bed and likely strip the sheets (and possibly exacerbate local housing woes—let’s be honest), but an apartment lets you experience life in a location a bit more like its actually lived.
Apartments can make you feel more at home
You usually have a kitchen and a living room-type situation, and you’re more likely to be around people who live in the neighborhood. Hotels have their place, especially for overnight stopovers, but, by their very nature, they’re a bit more anonymous. You can still make a hotel feel homier, but an apartment generally has it built in.
Can you see yourself there?
When looking at potential places to stay, study the photos and read the reviews to see if there’s something that makes you see yourself staying there. This doesn’t mean that it looks like your home—but it’s a place where you could feel at home. Sometimes this means trying on a different version of you, which can be fun to explore.
Know what you like
I tend to look for places with what I call “character”—lived in, a bit eclectic—that have great views. I’ve lived in upper floors for most of the last twenty years, and I have come to very much appreciate a view (if not always the stairs that get me to it). A friend of mine loves a sleek, minimalist vibe. You might love something else entirely. Seek it out. Or seek out something very different and try that on for size.
When traveling for business, do what you can to find someplace cool to stay
If you’re traveling for business, you likely have more constraints than traveling for pleasure. We still had some choices, though, and while when I stayed near an office outside of St Louis, I pretty much had one option, I could still make that rather soulless Marriott homier.
2. Pack a bit of comfort
You know what makes me feel at home? Slippers. I discovered this several years ago after a business trip where I’d walked around barefoot on hotel carpet, feeling uncomfortable. So, I started stashing my ballet-style slippers (they pack into nothing) in my bag, and I felt instantly better. Same goes for pajamas that can double as lounge wear. I don’t know about you, but I’m one of those people who puts on the soft pants as soon as no one’s watching.
I discovered that a travel robe makes me feel right at home
I packed a travel robe for my Balkans trip, in part because I was going to be gone for so long, I figured that I’d really want one eventually, but also because I stayed at a rooming house with a shared loo for a few weeks and didn’t feel like sprinting across the hall in a towel. I shall bring a travel robe with me forever more. What a little luxury.
Just a little something—don’t overpack!
I’ve heard of people bringing a candle (I don’t recommend burning it), or some kind of scent with them (be careful with air fresheners that they don’t linger after you’ve left—not everyone likes the same things). Maybe you have a little trinket or something that helps ground you. While you don’t want to have to check a bag over it, a little something that makes you feel at home is packing space well spent, if you ask me.
3. Unpack everything and put away your luggage ASAP
This is the most important tip for feeling at home when you travel—do not live out of your suitcase! Generally right after I do a little inspection to make sure that everything looks OK, I set about to unpacking. I put clothes in the closet and drawers. I move my stuff into the bathroom. I put my computer and such on the desk (or stash them somewhere appropriate). And then I hide my luggage until it’s time to pack to leave. Business travel included.
Such an easy task for such a big reward
If you’ve packed well, this takes about ten minutes, and it also serves to orient you to your new space. It doesn’t take that long to gather everything back up to pack, and it makes a huge difference in feeling at home when you travel.
To every rule, an exception (or two)
The one exception to this rule is if you’re only staying for a night. And, if you’re on a long trip and you do not need certain items for this leg of it, then just keep those packed in your (put away) luggage.
4. Do a bit of (careful!) rearranging
I had a beautiful apartment in Zagreb, which was a good thing, as it was the one that I spent the most time in. The apartment had been built into the medieval city walls and looked out onto the forest park. It had unique architectural features and a well-thought-out living space (also, the best shower I’ve had in Europe).
Make the space work for you
What it didn’t have, however, was great light throughout the apartment. The main source of light came from the window built into the city walls; the kitchen window looked onto a dark corner of the interior courtyard. In addition to the bed I slept in, the apartment had two daybeds, the front one arranged like a sofa. It was darling, but dark, and so I fashioned a sofa out of the other daybed by the window. It simply meant rearranging cushions, and it took all of thirty seconds.
Stash a few things that aren’t useful
I liked most of the knickknacks, but the ones on the dresser ate up some valuable space, and some stuff in the bathroom did the same. I snapped a photo of them and put them away for the duration of my stay. When it was time to pack, I simply put them back the way I found them. I’ve done the same in most apartments I’ve stayed in.
Take great care with any rearranging
It’s important to be careful with this—you don’t want to go moving major stuff and possibly doing damage—but a little bit of careful arranging can make a place feel a bit more you. Just snap a photo of how things were and make sure to put everything back exactly as you found it before you leave.
5. Keep things reasonably tidy
Part of feeling at home is having a place that’s a bit lived in. Still, it’s helpful to keep things reasonably tidy so that when you get back, you’re relaxed and not stressed. If you’re staying in an apartment, make the bed and do the dishes. Pick things up at the end of the day, and you’ll feel tons better when you wake up in the morning.
6. Go grocery shopping
One of my favorite things to do is go grocery shopping in new places, especially foreign countries. You can learn so much about a culture from its food and what better place to learn than where people shop for it? Even if you don’t have a kitchen, having a few snacks on hand and coffee/tea will help you to feel more at home. Not having to dash out immediately in the morning (unless you want to) can go a long way toward feeling more comfortable in your temporary home.
7. Pick a favorite mug
Some Airbnbs have rather soulless mugs and hotels definitely do, but you can still establish your mug for the duration of your stay. It’s small, but it helps.
8. Pick a morning spot where you’ll have your coffee
When I think of my ideal home, I flash back to my apartment in Lisbon, with sweeping views of the city, including Castelo de São Jorge in the distance. Every morning, I would pull a chair up to the window and slowly drink my coffee. I’d write with my notebook in my lap, utterly content.
In Santiago, I had a gorgeous light-filled apartment off Forestal park. While the comfy (and gorgeous) sofa offered a lovely spot for coffee, I often sat in the window.
9. Have a local café
Part of feeling at home is having a neighborhood, and having a local café when traveling is one of life’s great delights. My first trip to Paris, I stayed in the 9e, near the base of Rue des Martyrs. While that street had plenty of lovely cafés, there was one in the opposite direction that I made my home base. In the mornings, I’d get a coffee, in the evenings, a glass of wine and a nibble. The server got to know me a bit and began bringing me my coffee order when she saw me. Nobody knew my name, but it still felt like home for the few days I was there.
My “home” café in Dobrota, Montenegro
More recently in Dobrota, Montenegro, I had a little café/restaurant that I frequented. Given the time of year and the location, Platanus didn’t cater exclusively to tourists, and it gave me an opportunity to see a bit of life as it was lived. The servers got to know me and would just look over at me to confirm my order before bringing it to me (the funny thing is that sometimes I like variety, but I very much appreciated the gesture).
What are your best tips for feeling at home away from home?
I hope you find these tips helpful and that your home away from home feels more like you. What are your best tips for feeling at home away from home? Please share them in the comments below!
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