(First appeared in Orlando Sentinel May 27, 2007)
Dorothy was right. There is no place like home.
My husband and I just returned from a relaxing weekend at the beach. We enjoyed sun and surf, sand and seashells and quiet nights beneath the stars. It was a great getaway, but coming home was even better.
After 120 minutes on the interstate, we turned onto our long dirt driveway. As usual on the last leg of a trip, the bumpy road triggered familiar feelings of gratitude and longing. I felt grateful to have safely navigated our way home and longed for the world we were about to re-enter.
Each of us lives in a place of our own creation where, whether we realize it, patterns and rituals rule our days. For me, those rituals include my morning row, my first (second and third) cup of tea, feeding the birds and taking walks around the lake.
Enjoying a change of pace and sampling new rituals is refreshing, but nicer still is returning home to familiar objects and routines.
The hotel bed was large and comfy, but it wasn't my bed. And no matter how much you pack, you can't take everything you want with you when you go away.
When our kids were younger, our family traveled extensively in an old Class C recreational vehicle. It was about as close as you could come to combining travel and home. Our camper was an affordable and practical mode of transportation for a couple with several small children. We could fix our own meals, use the onboard bathroom and stow huge quantities of supplies in efficiently designed storage areas. There were plenty of sleeping compartments for everyone and a cozy dining area for family meals.
But still, certain essentials were lacking. The camper's shower was minuscule, and room to stretch and exercise was nonexistent. Whenever we returned from one of our road trips, we were always awed by how spacious our real home seemed.
We no longer own the camper. The kids grew up, and many years ago, we sold the RV to a fellow in Montana. The few trips we now take are done in my van, the fold-into-the-floor seats providing adequate room to accommodate a futon mattress and several storage boxes filled with gear. Although our mode of transportation has been downsized, the supply of "trip necessities" we tote along hasn't diminished proportionally.
Our travel philosophy could be best summed up as, "It's better to have too much than not enough."
Of course, that means everything we take with us has to be loaded into the van and then unloaded when we return home. I'm the driver, while my husband, a less than enthusiastic traveler, spends most of the ride time resting on the futon.
In our family, the rule is that drivers don't have to unpack -- a good thing because I hate that part almost as much as Ralph dislikes sitting behind the steering wheel.
When we get home -- and it's almost always at night -- the only items I carry inside are my blanket and pillow. I hit the sack while my husband makes sure everything else gets brought inside and put away properly.
A successful division of labor is one where both parties feel they're getting the best part of the deal. That's our arrangement to a T.
On this most recent trip, we once again returned home late at night. While Ralph was dutifully carting in boxes and re- stocking the pantry and fridge, I came inside, flopped on the bed and simply lay there. Savoring the moment.
My own bed. My own room. How delightful.
The house -- our house -- is set up just the way we like it. Everything we need is close at hand. As I rested on my oh-so-familiar bed, I pondered the morrow.
First thing, I planned to go for a row. After that, I'd come inside, brew myself a real cup of tea -- no more hotel-microwave brew -- and sip it while sitting on the porch watching the birds. I fell asleep that night with thoughts of paddling drifting through my mind. My sleep was long and solid.
Maybe the best part of going away is realizing how good it is at home. If it takes distance to remind us of that, then sign me up for another trip -- but not too soon. I need to savor this feeling of contentment a wee bit longer.
There truly is no place like home.