Consulting is a bit of a unique job. Consultants (including myself) spend their time traveling to their clients, fixing their client’s problem, and moving on to the next client. When my friends ask, “so are you still in Chicago?” and I reply that I am, the immediate follow up, “wait, so why don’t you just move there?” Fair question. But it’s a pretty easy answer, “Because who knows? In two months, I could be in San Francisco.”
Consulting has rocked my perception of what “home” means, taught me how to live out of a suitcase, taught me routine in places where there seems to be none, taught me to drink (like even college did not), and has radically changed my opinion on sustainable family life strategies. This post explores what is arguably the biggest thing to perplex people about the constant traveling: home. My intention with this piece is to reflect on “home”, what it means to me, how I’ve coped with traveling, and what I learned while I’ve been “away”.
For the last 30 days, my travel schedule has looked like this:
Indiana (3 days) -> Chicago (3 days) -> New York (4 days) -> Chicago (4 days) -> Mexico City (3 days) -> Chicago (5 days) -> Mexico City (36 hours) ->Chicago (4 days) -> Virginia Beach (11 days, wow! long time)
Given all that…where do you think I consider home? Virginia Beach maybe? No. New York, which is where I’m based? Not really. Chicago? Well, that’s where I work and spend most of my time. That must be it. Nope. Mexico City? You got it. Yes. While technically based out of NYC, while working in Chicago, and while only spending 3–6 days at “home” per month, to me, Mexico City is home.
But why do I still call it “home”? Mainly, it’s where my girlfriend and a growing portion of my friends live. And what’s more, Mexico City feels like home. Walking through the sunny streets of Polanco give my soul a feeling of being at peace. I can enjoy brunch at the local restaurants, have a bottle of wine on one of their terraces, or just chill by the pool. But I’ve also discovered that there are different kinds of homes, that home doesn’t have to exist only in one place, and that people’s meanings and requirements for “home” vary greatly from person to person. For me, home is a combination of a few things:
- Proximity to Important People
- Cultural City-fit
- Availability of Hobbies
Proximity to Important People
This is obvious, “Home is where the heart is.” I’m no different. Proximity to my family, friends, colleagues is the most important aspect of all. This is made significantly more complex because my family is very geographically separated (Mom and brother are in Indiana and Dad is in Virginia Beach) as are my friends (many of my best friends are overseas right now). For all these reasons, traveling a lot and having the ability to visit everyone is actually a preferable situation. Most of the colleagues that I’m close with reside in either New York or Chicago, so that’s one thing I have going for me!
Cultural city-fit describes how well you mesh with your surroundings in your home city. Are they polite? friendly? keep to themselves? drinkers? suburban? multi-cultural? monochromatic? Are you a tropical bird? Or you like the cold? This is something that you need to decide for yourself.
For me: multiple cultures, fun, eating/drinking culture, the arts, work hard/play hard culture are all important. More or less in that order. Having multiple cultures is my most important requirements in a city. It’s actually one of the few things I dislike about Chicago. Chicago is full of white, American culture (at least in the portions of Chicago to which I’ve been introduced), and tends to “think” that way as well. I love to learn about different cultures and take lessons from them. Everybody’s got their own perspective and all of them are valuable if you just listen closely. I’ve lived in India and China and I learned so much from those experiences that I want to bring back to American culture.
Availability of Hobbies
Home also depends on your ability to do the things you love. For me, many of my hobbies seem directly in opposition to my cultural city-fit. My hobbies are hiking, rock climbing, other high adventure sports and software.
Hong Kong is my favorite city in this regard because of its:
- proximity to mountains (<1.5 hrs or less by public transit),
- proximity to rock climbing (~1 hr or less by public transit),
- proximity to work (1 hr or less by public transit),
- proximity to beaches (~1 hr or less by public transit).
You’ll also note, if you’re familiar with Hong Kong, that it also has a thriving arts culture, brilliant food scene and many different cultures living in the same place. The sad part is that Hong Kong is very far awayfrom my loved ones.
Note: Something I didn’t notice before I made this list explicitly is that the “quality” of my actual dwelling does not even approach the top three drivers of what makes home. If there is ever a reason that my quality of dwelling would affect those other three items, that could change, but as it stands, the conditions in which I live don’t matter so much as long as I have running water and some space to myself.
“Home” as a gray and ever-changing concept
When I first wrote this post, I wrote it expressing that New York City was home. That is, when I first wrote this post a few months ago (it has until now been unpublished in my Medium drafts), I considered New York home. I still do a little bit. I have many friends there, almost all my colleagues are there, I visit often, and moreover, when I walk the streets of NYC, I almost get more of the warm, fuzzy “I belong here” feeling than I do in Mexico City, though Mexico City is quickly gaining traction. I am only recently more comfortable calling Mexico City home than New York. And that could change back very quickly if my girlfriend, Adriana, moved away from Mexico City. If I had to be perfectly honest, I have a few places that I at least partially consider home, all of which have different degree of…well…homeliness:
- Mexico City
- New York City
- Virginia Beach
- Hong Kong
Funny enough, to some extent, I consider all of these places home, but Mexico City takes the cake.
Is it worth it?
Many people come up to me and say things like, “How do you do it?”, “Is it hard to be on the road for so long?”, or “I just need my own space and a routine”. Yes, yes. Everyone is different. Don’t do anything that you are sure won’t fit you. However, if you’re unsure, why not give it a shot? I’ve had a blast traveling around the country, occasionally traveling the world and I highly recommend it to anyone who thinks they can handle it. It will test you. You will grapple with a lot of the same questions that I have, but ultimately, you will learn a lot, you will become self-sufficient in ways you didn’t expect, and you will truly discover what home means to you.