Do we need a place called home?

There’s this scene in Shakespeare where the straight-talking Rosalind tries to make sense of Jaques, a guy who travels all the time and is plagued by melancholy.

“I fear you have sold your own lands to see other men’s,” Rosalind says to him in “As You Like It.”

“Yes, I have gained my experience,” Jaques responds gloomily.

Rosalind then offers her tough verdict: Your experience has made you sad, she says to him, “and to travel for it too!”

We all know people whose bags are perpetually packed. Airports are their gateway to excitement. Every spare moment and unallocated dollar goes to exploring a new place.

Wanderers on tight budgets forgo investments in cars, homes and furnishings, squirreling every last cent for travel to distant islands and other continents. On one hand, this sounds admirably post-materialistic. On the other, it sometimes seems as if home life is not valued so much as seeing other men’s lands.

There’s the phenomenon of “senior gypsies” — retirees who dump their homes and possessions and use the proceeds to travel all year round from one high adventure to the next.

Of course, they have every right to spend their time and money as they choose. Travel is broadening, and most of us need a change of scene now and then. But there are downsides to trading in the thing we call “home” for life on the road.

We see the Facebook posts of friends on perpetual around-the-world tours. They share photos of themselves on mountains, in country villages and among ancient ruins — along with bubbling commentary of their exploits.

You wonder whether you should be jealous and also whether your itinerant contacts are showing off. You also wonder whether they are really your friends — outside of social media — never being around for coffee or to see your puppy or to engage in the town’s civic life.

Most of all, you wonder whether they are really as happy as they purport to be. Don’t they feel lonely on, say, a Sunday, when the locals are home with their families? Do they mind knowing that the natives regard them as tourists who will soon move on and so figure, why bother getting to know them?

Entire books and college courses explore the “meaning of home.” For these purposes, home is simply about having a physical and emotional perch, an ongoing relationship with a place and people in it.

A rented apartment can be as much a home as a farm. The concept applies equally to city, suburban and rural living. This is about not money but the “familiar.”

You have a history with the mail deliverer, plumber and next-door neighbor. A local gas station that looks ugly to outsiders might be a welcoming beacon of light to you as you head home at night in the rain.

At a certain point, we all become fragile, needing medical care and other help. Perhaps the senior gypsies assume they can return to the communities they abandoned years before. They can rent a place, spend an afternoon picking up cookware, and they’re all set.

Or perhaps they’ll settle in another country and come to experience that new place as home. Almost 400,000 Americans now receive their Social Security benefits at a foreign address, a 40 percent jump from 10 years ago.

What’s important is having relationships with people that go deeper than the commercial trading of money for services, which is the usual traveler’s experience. These things take time and nurturing. And that’s why a life of always passing through can make a person sad.

Froma Harrop is a Providence Journal columnist. She can be reached at

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