Where’s your old home?

The Springs of Saratoga
October 28, 2011
Photo from the Road: Cornish-Windsor Covered Bridge
November 9, 2011

Where’s your old home?

Nineteenth century scholar Max Mueller said that by going to India, we are returning to our “old home” full of memories, if only we can read them.

I believe we all have an old home, not necessarily India, but someplace, some part of the earth where we feel particularly drawn to or some culture that feels somehow comfortable to our soul.

Many are still living in this place. Those who feel an extraordinary magnetism or excessive attachment toward their homeland or ones who have been displaced and feel obliged to return, they needn’t unwrap this riddle that plagues the rest of us.

Others, like some of the travelers and expats I meet, are different. They feel compelled to “return” to certain places they might have lived lifetimes ago—places where perhaps their ancestors lived for centuries. Places in which the cultures of the peoples inhabiting that space feel innately right to them.

I have a Swiss friend who fits this description. Although she travels around the world and embraces different countries and their cultures, she is drawn year after year, back to one place: Nepal.  Her spirit is pulled there. Even at 74 years of age, she still returns. This desire, I believe, comes from a longing in the soul, and not just from the superficial enjoyment or interest of a culture or its people.

Another friend I met while traveling in South Korea. A North American, she explained to me that she was drawn to certain Latin American cultures, based on their outwardly sensual nature, their inhibition to express themselves with dance, their open displays of affection. She was lured to these characteristics. These were cultures and an environment that was comfortable to her, one where she thrived, not just survived. I believe she enjoyed the experience of living in Korea, but I could tell her heart was not 100% there.

So where is my “old home”? I think somewhere in Asia. I know, Asia is huge and hugely culturally diverse, but I’ve traveled the length and breadth of Asia, from Syria to South Korea, and these countries and cultures are vastly more compelling to me than those of any other places I’ve been.

It goes beyond interest or obsession; I’m drawn to these places subconsciously. I should be able to narrow it down to a country or region more specifically than the broadness of Asia, but I haven’t been able to yet. I’m not actively seeking to pinpoint a place or culture; just being aware of this phenomenon when I travel is enough for me right now. Recognizing and developing these ideas take years, and it takes deliberate effort.


Mueller calls us to try to remember these “memories” or as I interpret, bits and pieces of past lives. But it’s not easy.  Remembering past lives is not something for the spiritually faint of heart. I wouldn’t even know where to begin with that, except for following your train of thought after experiencing déjà vu, which is not a simple task either.

Have you been able to pinpoint your “old home”? If so, can you recall memories of that place? How do you cultivate these fleeting glimpses of lives’ past and follow them?

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Stephen Bugno
Stephen Bugno
Stephen Bugno has been traveling the world and writing about it for the better part of 20 years. His articles and essays have appeared in The San Francisco Chronicle, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Seattle Times, and Transitions Abroad magazine. He blogs at Bohemian Traveler and edits the independent travel magazine GoMadNomad.com. He most recently set up a tour company offering authentic, small group tours at Unquote Travel. Follow him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.


  1. Amber says:

    I’m a huge vagabond wannabe… dreaming of travelling the earth with just a backpack, some art supplies and a smile. But the last few years, the Siren Call of the North has been SCREAMING in my ear! So i spent a year planning & waiting to leave… and this past June, left my partner, home, friends & family and moved to the sub arctic for a year or two. Me. The wimpy Vancouver girl who whines when it even starts to get a little chilly! Never mind the girl who’s never lived alone her entire 53 years!

    I feel this deep, unexplained yearning for the Arctic. I don’t want to just visit this place… i need to LIVE in it! LIVE with the aurora borealis, dog sleds and snow! I’m especially drawn to the Inuit culture, and am presently learning as much as i can about it. Learning the traditional arts to start, and possibly Inuktitut syllabics and whatever else i can. I’m only in the sub-Arctic, being in Yellowknife, but at least there is some Inuit people here.

    Although getting to the high Arctic is where i actually WANT to be, it’s not an easy feat. Unless you have a government job or have a specific skill that’s needed (neither of which i have)… what are the chances of being able to live in a small hamlet where you can count the houses on your fingers & toes? So, i live in the sub arctic (in an adorable little city in the middle of nowhere) and… i have never felt so happy and content in my life! I’m at least close to where i want to be, and nearer the people i want to live with!

    I still would love to travel the world, but… can’t seem to get the Arctic out of my head! Maybe after i finish my first winter, with -40C temperatures (not counting wind chill), i’ll have had my fill! Only time will tell. But now that i’ve read your post, i wonder… is the Arctic my ‘Old Home’? The STRONG pull is unbearably hard to deny! I wouldn’t have had ‘ancestors’ here per say, but… maybe a past life?

  2. Noel says:

    Mine is Spain and by extension Latin America. I love the language and the Spanish culture. Although Latin American cultures are quite different from the Iberian Peninsular, but they resonate with something inside me. Maybe in one of my past lives, I was a Spaniard sent to the new continent.

  3. Stephen Bugno says:

    @Noel Interesting. I would say my soul felt much more comfortable in Spain than it did in the predominately Spanish-settled cultures of the new world.

  4. Stephen Bugno says:

    @Amber Thanks for stopping by to leave a comment. Your adventures in the Canadian Arctic sound fascinating. I wish you lots of luck, especially through the cold winter. I spent a winter in Mongolia and it was one of the most difficult times of my life. My only time in the Arctic was in Murmansk province of Russia, another really interesting region, so I can understand why you are so pulled to the north.

  5. Heath says:

    I would echo the sentiment about Asia. For me it was probably Thailand that I felt the most at home, especially the northern part. Then again I think a lot of white people have an admiration for Thailand too. However after living in Chiang Mai for a month, I felt like it was my second home.
    The only other place that comes to mind for me is Belize. I’ve traveled there a handful of times, and each time I’m there I feel like I relax more and more into my own skin. And its not just central America because as soon as I cross the border into Guatemala, the whole energy of the experience shifts and I’m in ‘travel-alert mode’ again. Something about that itsy bitsy country in the Yucatan that keeps pulling me back…

  6. Stephen Bugno says:

    @Heath Thanks for sharing. I definitely agree that Chiang Mai and the north of Thailand as a whole feel quite comfortable. I didn’t stay there for as long as a month, but I do see myself going back there and staying longer next time. And I know we aren’t the only foreigners to feel this way. Interesting to hear your thoughts on Belize differ so much from the rest of Central America. I spent some time traveling in Nicaragua and Costa Rica and while I appreciated my experiences there, I definitely did not feel like my soul was a ease.

  7. Juno says:

    So far, I can say it is New Zealand. Only few days after I arrived there, I felt the place is remarkably comfortable and natural, even though I didn’t speak the language. So I went back, and still want to go back. Sometimes it’s afraid to go back, to think maybe it will change everything, but it’s worth to risk. Though, I’m looking forward to discover more places. Last few years, I’ve rediscovered Asian culture by traveling different parts of the world-not necessarily Asia. It is something I grew up with, but it has extremely long and complex history. I’ve learn how to look at things as an outsider’s view, and learn a lot about my cultural background. It’s very interesting to discover and understand my own people. So who knows, maybe my old home was here, but to know that, I’m still searching.

  8. Stephen Bugno says:

    @Juno Good to hear that about New Zealand. I think you should return. A place is different if we re-visit, not necessarily because that place has changed, but because we have changed. We are constantly maturing and evolving philosophically and spiritually (or we should be anyway) and we look at the world differently as time passes. I guess I have that fear about Spain. It won’t be like it was when I lived there in 2008, but I really should return.

  9. Amber.DH says:

    My old home
    ….when I was in the 4th grade I randomly chose to do my country report on New Zealand. Photos of the mountains, the ocean, and the sheep left such a deep impression I continued to day dream about living on a sheep farm there for, well, I guess I still do.

    ….my Mom’s side of the family is Swedish and I find myself drawn over and over again to Scandinavian folk tales and art. While others might choose a tropical island destination I find myself desiring a toasty fire in a little cottage in the woods with a view of reindeer out the window.

    ….falling in line with the sheep and snow theme I have going, Iceland calls to me about once a year.

    Here’s the thing, I have traveled a decent amount, Central and South America, Germany and Australia, but I have never been to any of these three locations. I guess that’s the thing about your old home, you know where it is without even having been there.

    I would however like to narrow it down a bit more so I guess I will have to go check out each of my homes to really see which is coziest 🙂

    PS. I think it is interesting that the Ambers are both drawn to lands of ice and snow

  10. Stephen Bugno says:

    @Amber.DH Yep, I can see you in New Zealand on a sheep farm 🙂 Interesting that you haven’t been to any of your “old homes”. Iceland sounds amazing….but I haven’t been there either.

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