What Do You Do When Home No Longer Feels Like Home?

This is a question that I have been struggling with the last few days, since being deported from Indonesia for a tweet. Where do you turn when your birth nation, the place that brings most people joy and warmth to their heart, just feels cold and alien?

America is driven by materialism and consumerism, two things that I — and most long-term travelers — do not agree with. Neither one is sustainable in the long run, in the grand scheme of things, so why should both be pivotal to daily life? “Oh the economy is doing bad.” “Go out and spend some money to stimulate it.”

Home No Longer Feels Like Home: Define Necessity

Not only does this mentality keep most Americans locked in a financial prison (much to the joy of big businesses profiting off them) but it is also destroying our beautiful planet. We are consuming natural resources at a scary, unprecedented pace, and this continues to escalate exponentially. We are raping the world to retrieve these raw materials, polluting the environment to refine and manufacture them into desirable commodities, and then further trashing the landscape six months later when all those countless “like new” laptops and cellphones end up in landfills across poorer nations like India and Ghana. Are you proud to be a part of that?

Home No Longer Feels Like Home: Work Buy Consume Die

I can take a minuscule amount of solace in the fact that right now I am in Austin, one of the most forward-thinking cities in all of the 50 US states (still waiting for marijuana to be 100% legalized…) but even here this possession-based mentality persists. As such I now find myself a stranger in a strange land.

  The folly of endless consumerism sends us on a wild goose-chase
for happiness through materialism.”     ~Bryant McGill

I may still hold an American passport however I am no longer an American, not in my heart and certainly not in my mind. So now the only question is: where do I go from here?

  What Country Is Next?

I’m currently researching countries to travel next. I’d like to go somewhere new but also somewhere not terribly expensive. Thinking maybe India or Laos. That, or I could go somewhere that I’ve already been before and focus primarily on catching up on work, such as maybe Mexico or the Philippines. What would you suggest?

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About Derek Freal

"Some people eat, others try therapy. I travel." ย  Cultural enthusiast. Adrenaline junkie. Eater of strange foods. Chasing unique and offbeat adventures around the world since 2008. Derek loves going to new destinations where he does not speak a word of the local language and must communicate with hand gestures, or places where he is forced to squat awkwardly to poo -- supposedly its healthier and more efficient. For more information (about Derek, not squat pooing) including popular posts and videos, check out his bio.

33 thoughts on “What Do You Do When Home No Longer Feels Like Home?”

    • Are you going to TBEX? I’m thinking about it…actually fairly certain I will if still in this hemisphere. Oh and hey, BTW, don’t know if I ever told you but I mentioned you in my Occupational Hazards Of Travel Blogging post…oh wait…now I remember why I never mentioned you…because I don’t think I actually you a linkback. Hmmm, if that’s true I’ll have to update it. Anyway, now ya know. So, see ya at TBEX?

      • Its kinda pricey to be honest, but I might be in the area before or after … I have no idea what my itinerary is gonna be when I touch down in Mexico City. Stay in touch and we’ll see what happens!

        • Thank sounds like a plan, will keep in touch. Yeah, I haven’t looked up hotels yet but the TBEX tickets are a lot more expensive this year. Still not 100% sure I’ll be there, just figure that if I’m so close it would be a shame not to stop in.

          Oh and yes, I did stay at Six Degrees my first trip to Jakarta, before I had friends to live with. Was there for nearly a week (after a particularly drunken club night I sprained my ankle running down their stairs and had to go to the doctor and get crutches) and made friends with the owners. Had some great times there ๐Ÿ™‚

  1. I think I have to leave my fingerprint on this article, because I feel the same thing after living abroad from my home country for many years. I’ve tried hard to readjust myself with my own enviroment, up to now, I still can’t move on. This Reverse Culture Shock is a process, some people just continue their routine life, back to 9-5 job, and for others, continuing their nomadic journey may be their favour. I guess, the second option works for you ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Good luck, Derek.

    • Yeah, I’ve been the same way since I first moved back from Tokyo at the end of 2008 and tried to resume my old job. I couldn’t do it. Was unable to focus at work. Dreaming in Japanese every night. 24/7 travel and Japan were all I could think about. So I quit the job and began traveling. And every time since that first experience, every time I step back on American soil, I just find myself disappointed and confused. Why are insignificant things here so important? Why are the devastatingly important issues, not just here but around the world, completely ignored?

      Anyway thanks very much for the support, be great to cross paths with you somewhere later this year ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. I felt this way when I made a visa run to the states back in Dec. While it wasn’t my hometown, it was still my home country and I honestly couldn’t wait to get back. Even though I did stay a few extra days to hangout with friends. When I got back to Mexico, I actually felt home, hah. Not that there isn’t consumerism here, that shit is worldwide, but there’s something about the states that I can’t quite explain. An air of something, something I don’t like, and which is why I had to leave, heh. I’m sure you’ll get what I mean.

    • Yup, I completely understand where you are coming from.

      Am actually highly considering returning to Mexico, especially since TBEX will be in Cancun. Who knows, might finally get the opportunity to meet you and Tim and Cris ๐Ÿ˜‰

  3. I hear you loud and clear on all of that. It is a really strange feeling! As an aside I will be in Mexico in Sept, going to TBex then planning to live in Playa for a bit! Seems like a lot of people congregating there. Laos is lovely but I couldn’t catch up on work there with the internet speed!

    • Glad to hear that you can relate Mary. Yeah, with each passing day I grow more and more convinced that I’ll be in Cancun for TBEX. After all can’t be this close and not stop by. But in the meantime I need to get back on the road and fast. By next week fast. This is the first I’ve been back to the States in a while and although it’s only been a few days but I’m already eager to get out of here lol. I love my friends but they all have families now and we don’t have much to talk about. I’ll bring up cliff-jumping and ancient ruins, white-water rafting and ziplining, UNESCO sights and crazy foods…and they respond with photos of birthday parties and schoolkid drama and others things that are so far removed from my current life, it’s hard to compare.

      But yes, internet speed, good point. However even with Laos’ horrid internet speed I could possibily still get a fair amount done. Have countless videos that need editing, photos that need sorting, resizing, and watermarking, and various articles in draft form that have never been completed. Even if I do make it to TBEX as planned, I’ll most definitely end up in Laos or Malaysia (or somewhere else nearby) soon after. Maybe I do need a brief digital detox somewhere in all of this…

      Anyway, sorry for rambling on…keep in touch, be great to see you at TBEX ๐Ÿ™‚

      • I suggest, and favourite it because it’s my homebase and think it’s a great place to travel! We’ve oceans on 3 sides, a couple mountain ranges, and a variety of (both natural and consumer focused!) places to visit. Plus it’s summer so you don’t need to travel with the heavy winter gear right now. Always a bonus. What area were you in when you last visited?

        • Lol sorry, total brain fart on my last response…had been awake for over 24hrs straight and was not thinking. Ontario and Quebec. Hmmm…might be nice to get some slightly cooler temperatures in my life. Since I left last year I’ve been in 30-40 degree weather nonstop. I plan to return to Asia in a few months (or perhaps sooner) but I’m uncertain where to visit in the meantime. Canada is tempting, love the people and the sights there, but I have a feeling I would spend way too much money there :/

  4. Yah Canada is too pricey for a travel bloggers home base if writing if your blog is your only source of income. SE Asia and Mexico and Central America are your best options no? Im hoping to hop my way 3 months at a time starting in 2015 so will be checking back to see where you land!


    • Agreed. I’m thinking a few months in Central America again before returning to Asia to await my return to Indonesia in proximity. CA is okay but the food is nowhere near as varied as in Asia so I cannot wait to get back there.

      Let’s definitely keep in touch and find somewhere to cross paths ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. I have lived in the US for 2,5 years, I moved there when I was 18, from Poland where I did not have access to huge shopping malls and pocket money, as I did have in the US. I worked as an au pair. All my expenses were paid by the host family and I had a fair amount of money to spend on whatever I wanted each week. I even had my own car! I quickly fell into the consumption trap that many americans live in. I shopped for new clothes every week, I was crazy about the sales and never really satisfied with the things I bought, hence I was buying more. When I look at it back I am ashamed of it. When I think about how the cities are designed (residential areas and entertainment areas) it just all makes sense. You need a car to access everything, a coffee shop, gym, school. I could not walk out of the house and go for a walk. I would have to drive first to go for a walk! It is insane! Shopping malls are a place for young people to hang out, so this is what they learn from an early age. Christmas time was always the worst. I could not believe how much presents the kids were getting. Christmas was all about getting gifts, and not just one – at least 10 if not more! And what would people do after Christmas? shop even more because of the Sales!! Once I was back in Europe it took me a while to leave the old habits behind. I didn’t have a choice, as I was a student and had to support myself. Suddenly the bubble I lived in bursted and I am happy that it did, but it did take a while. Sadly this is not only happening in the US. Europe isn’t any better. Take Spain for instance. The country was/is in such crisis, but I have seen stores full with young girls shopping for new stuff. Last december the shopping mall in Berlin needed security guards to control traffic in the shopping centre, because it was so full of people mindlessly shopping for xmas gifts! The sad part is that people really do shop to make themselves feel better. I think getting yourself something new is like getting a reward after a long week of work, something that you earned for good behaviour, therapeutic. We are brainwashed by the commercials and we truly believe that new iPhones, shoes or clothes will higher our state in society, and sadly it kind of does, especially among kids! It is a vicious circle that spins faster and faster and spreads on more and more countries. I could easily observe that in South America too. I hope more and more people are going to understand that Stuff doesn’t make us happy. I am really happy that I understood that through travelling, and I can see that more and more people slowly begin to understand that too. I just hope that it won’t be too late until the majority will finally get it! now…I think this is the longest comment I have ever posted! ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Wow Marta, thank you for the wonderfully lengthy comment…honored to have it ๐Ÿ™‚ And I completely agree with everything you said. I will respond in equal fashion. That was an especially good point about all the gifts for Christmas (and birthdays as well). Both of which should have about a dozen gifts to be considered proper. It really is amazing — and shocking — how crazy people go for it too, especially during sales. One of them is even called “Black Friday” and for good reason, have you heard of it or experienced it? People have been trampled to death by crowds fighting over toys. WTH has the world come to, this is insanity.

      Shopping malls are a big trend in Indonesia and other parts of Asia as well. The market is there, especially among those that are well off, but I find the greed isn’t present as much. People will happily buy a used phone from a hawker-style vendor and are happy just having that phone, with no lingering desire for anything more. The also don’t have exorbitant way of life that Americans do, with a house and the desire to fill every room and have a backyard with a pool and barbeque pit. (87% of Americans have one, according to a trivia fact I heard July 4th, American Independence Day.) If they go to the mall, people leave with one bag at most. They don’t go on spending sprees and certainly don’t put everything on credit.

      For this brief trip back to the States I staid in a guest room at the house of one of my best friends, his wife, three kids, four dogs and a myriad of other pets. The sheer amount of money I watched them spend on the one birthday that passed while I was in town was scary. For starters one of the kids is from a prior marriage and is only there half the time. Regardless, he has a room at both the mother’s and father’s houses. He also gets two birthdays every year, one with each. That means double presents. He returned with $150 cash as well and took that straight to the video game store.

      Then there is food. Imagine how much three hungry kids and all their assorted neighborhood friends consume during summer, when there is no school and they are home 24 hours a day. This also leads to a large amount of dirty dishes and trash from packaged foods, especially those individually wrapped. On a daily basis at least one if not two giant bags of trash is taken out.

      I told them on my way out that they could move to a different country, eat $1 meals and send the kiddos to a fancy private school with the money saved. They could raise cultured kids who understand more of the world and hopefully turn out to be less materialistic. I really hope they consider this. Not saying it would be easy or perfect but it’s definitely an improvement.

      • thank you for your post. You might consider Granada for your next place to live. I would have to agree with you on American consumerism. I’m afraid as China comes online they will increase their consumerism way beyond that of America. I can tell you that my family has been very consumer oriented and I’ve done everything I can to try to stop our consumerism. Unfortunately my kids have grown up in a consumer environment. They don’t know any different. I’m doing my best to teach them. I’m sorry that you cannot go back to Indonesia that you’ve been deported.I hope the next country I live in is anti consumerism and some place that you can actually enjoy your life.

    • Yeah, I’ve heard a lot of things about India (a few of them conflicting) and am eager to investigate them myself. At least was nice to visit with some old friends and eat some of the one-of-a-kind foods I’ve missed but painless to say goodbye again. The road beckons and this nomad yearns to wander!

    • Yup, that’s where I was planning to head to when my Indonesian visa was up. But now that I’m on the other side of the world I figure rather than buy an expensive plane ticket all the way back to Asia when I can just return to Central America and this time see more of it. And make it to TBEX. Then over to Laos and probably Malaysia (to resume speaking bahasa) to await my return to Indonesia. Heard such great things about Laos, cannot wait. Just hope I can avoid the drunken backpacker route as much as possible…

      • The drunken backpacker route is not *so* bad there as they don’t get as many tourists as say, Thailand.

        Central America would be lovely, too. Hmm…

  6. What do you do when home has never felt like home?
    I applaud you for what you are doing, you are an amazing person who chases after his dreams. I wish I could do the same.
    I was raised in a small town here in the states and what they say about small towns is true, you never leave. I’ve mentioned wanting to do what you are doing, just dropping everything and living life on the road, but anytime I say something about it everyone says it “unrealistic” and “not normal”.
    That’s exactly the point. I don’t want to be “normal”. I don’t want to end up like everyone else here. I don’t want to wake up at 5 am dreading to go to work, then come home, go to sleep, and do it all over again. Everyday. For the rest of my life.
    I want to go somewhere. Do something. Make a difference.
    I want to know that there is life outside of this town. I want to learn new things. I want to try new things. I want to meet new people.
    But most of all, I want to follow my dreams..

    • So eloquently put Brandi, I feel for you! And I hope you know that it is possible to get away, it really is. The biggest physical hurdle is often the cost of the plane ticket to wherever, and perhaps a little bit of savings to support you when you first arrive. However the biggest mental hurdle to overcome is being actually able to take that plunge and sell all of their possessions. Luckily that can often times help overcome the aforementioned financial aspects. America is a somewhat expensive country to live in, regardless of whether you live in a small town or a big metropolis. You can go many places where full meals cost $1-2 and a bed to sleep in only sets you back $5 a night. The same simple items you buy at the store here, from Crest toothpaste to Listerine mouthwash to Oreos, are all half the price there. Countless people successfully backpack long-term on $20-25/day, all expenses included. Think about all the expenses of life in the States: rent/mortgage, utilities, food, clothing, cable, internet, cellphone, vehicle, gas, driver’s insurance, vehicle inspection (some states), tollways, vehicle maintenance, home maintenance, credit card bills, student loans, the list goes on and on…that’s the financial prison that Americans become trapped in until they realize that the whole world doesn’t operate that way.

      The last step of the puzzle is finding a way to bring in an online income, however small, to help offset your new low cost of living. This can be done a variety of ways, too many to get in here…and I’ve rambled on long enough. Anyway thanks for stopping by and sharing. I definitely encourage you to follow your dreams ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. I have this trouble every time I go back to the UK too, but I’m not sure what the answer is. I guess just keep running… Have you tried South America? Some parts are still pretty cheap, it just depends how you travel of course.

    • Yup, I can completely relate to that Katie…I have definitely been “running” for several years now and have luckily managed to find a couple places that I prefer living better than America. What made this return trip worse than all the prior ones however is that it was my first time back since selling all of my possessions and vowing never to set foot on American soil again. Looks like I managed to screw that one up, whoopsies…

      In regards to South America, I have only made it as far as Panama. Am very much looking forward to exploring South America and some of the impressive sights there. Thanks for the suggestion, time for me to do a lil more research into SA destinations ๐Ÿ™‚


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