Being Back ‘home’ in Montreal after a year of Travel
We came back to Montreal after a year of travel with a lot of conflicting feelings.
There was stress. For the last year Lissette has been working from a distance and the agreement with her employer was that it would last for just a year. Coming back, she knew there was no way that she could go back to working 9-5 behind a desk. And we were going to keep on travelling no matter what. Would they allow her to continue doing her work from overseas?
There was also relief, especially after the 2 week trip through Croatia, Slovenia, and northern Italy that culminated our year of slow travel (we realized during that rushed trip that travelling that way was no longer our style. From now on it’s nothing but slow travel). Coming home would be a bit of a break from the constant planning required when travelling. In Montreal we have our favorite restaurants, our specialized grocery stores, and we know how to get around. It would be a bit of a mini-vacation from travelling. I think we both secretly looked forward to that.
We were also happy with the prospect of seeing friends and family that we hadn’t seen in a year. Lissette and I don’t have huge numbers of either (we can count friends and family on one hand) but the ones we do have are important to us.
Bittersweetness. In the past we would come back from long vacations to our beautiful Montreal condo. ‘Home’, literally home, was what we’ve missed most about Montreal. Our condo is now rented out to two wonderful tenants. We were coming back to Montreal to stay in another Airbnb apartment. The bittersweetness of being home would be especially evident when we visited our storage space and saw all the memories of 10 years of living together jammed in that small unit.
This last point really brought home that ‘home’ is no longer ‘home’. Montreal was another stop, just like Prague, Nong Khai, and Split. Despite the personal connections, we no longer felt the emotional connection of coming back to a city where we had both lived for 25+ years. Would our feelings change over the 6 weeks we would be back? I’ll come back to that further below.
Related: A Guide on What to See and Do in Montreal (written by a local)
Random observations/reflections on being back in Montreal after a year:
– You realize when travelling the ethnic diversity you have in Canada, something you don’t see in many places around the world. Montreal may not be as ethnically diverse as Toronto or Vancouver, but walk around downtown or the lower Plateau and you’ll see a lot of racial diversity. We ordered Indian food on our first night back (and 7 more times during our stay). We went to Jardin de Panos for Greek, to Arepera for Venezuelan Arepas, and to Amir for Lebanese Shish Taouk. We went to Quartier General, one of our favorite French Bistros. We realized when travelling that ethnic cuisine was one of the things we missed the most and were happy to be back in Montreal for the food.
– We had set out to explore Montreal as we would any city that we visit. We ended up so busy that we didn’t really accomplish that…we did however visit Notre Dame Basilica which is the #1 ranked tourist spot in Montreal on Trip Advisor. I haven’t seen Notre Dame in 25 years, mostly because I had a bug up my ass about the $5/person entrance fee (it used to be free, then later it applied only to tourists. Now it applies to everyone). After seeing some of the most beautiful cathedrals/churches all over the world for free, why would I pay $5 to see a church in Montreal? In hindsight I realize that I was being pig-headed – because Notre Dame Basilica is simply gorgeous. You also get a free guided tour with your $5. So you get your money’s worth.
– The ugly sides of Montreal are still on display, more than ever: 1) the never ending construction in the summer resulting in traffic gridlock all over the city. Montreal is always a construction nightmare and the only conclusion I have after 25+ years is that officials are either incompetent or really don’t care too much about the public. 2) Montreal has some of the most aggressive drivers you’ll find anywhere. Maybe because of the above traffic gridlock. But it doesn’t take much to bring drivers to blows on the streets of Montreal.
– Perspective. It’s funny being away and coming back to see the same people a year later. I was at the optician’s where I saw the same ladies that greet me every time I go. They looked like they had aged years. Same thing for my barber who looked gaunt and sickly. Maybe you don’t notice these things if you’re there regularly but when you’re away for a while and come back you see how time has weathered people. It also reminds us of our decision to travel – we’re both nearing 50 and who knows when other things will intervene to maybe prevent us from doing things we want to do?
– Climate. Many people will write me, asking me how warm it gets in Montreal. They have the impression Montreal is cool even in summer. They’re always surprised when I tell them how hot and humid the city gets – Montreal can be stifling and, no kidding, feel as miserable as Bangkok during the hot season. During our 6 weeks in Montreal I flew to Mexico to visit my mom for a week. San Miguel de Allende was actually a pleasant break from Montreal’s sometimes unbearable summer weather.
– We stayed in an Airbnb apartment on avenue Laval. Recommended. For those of you who go to Montreal, avenue Laval is one of the prettiest streets in Montreal containing some of the most photogenic ‘typical-Plateau’ style buildings in the city (the ones you usually see on postcards of Montreal). See my guide on the Plateau.
– Montreal is a very young city. I came here at 19 to go to University. It was a great place to be a young guy. Later, when single again in my 30’s, it was again a fun place. Montreal is full of restaurants, bars, and exciting nightlife. Over the years that aspect of Montreal has lost its shine. But coming back we were reminded again of what a young and exciting city it is.
– Cost. Coming back to Canada after a year abroad is a price shock. Montreal is amazingly expensive. The thing is, unless you’ve travelled, you don’t realize how damn expensive things are in this country. You go to the store to get groceries and $60 later you look at the bag you just bought and try to figure out where it all went. I’ve written before about how expensive Montreal is compared to places we’ve travelled over the last year. What I never mentioned is that travelling the way we do, with Lissette still working and me renting out the condo, we managed to save $40,000 over the last year of travel. That is $40,000 that we would not have saved living in Montreal. I’ve mentioned that to some people I know in Montreal and they’ll say stuff like “well, I had to pay $26 for a beer in Oslo”. Fine, maybe that’s true. I know places in Bangkok where I could pay the same amount. But those kind of prices are far from the general rule. My point is that if you plan properly you can save a lot of money (with a better quality of life) in many places overseas.
– Personally, people told both Lissette and I that we looked good, that a year of travel looked to have ‘rejuvenated’ us. We were both a little surprised because although we enjoyed the last year, there were stresses involved and we didn’t always feel very relaxed. We’re still learning how to best organize our new lifestyles and have some plans going forward. So while our life of travel is a lot more fun and satisfying, it is also a work in progress. But it’s great when people say that we look more relaxed and happier .
We’ve had a good 6 weeks in Montreal. We did all the administrative stuff on our list. Lissette’s employer told her that she could work from overseas as long as she wants. We saw friends and family and had some great diners. Did we feel the emotional attachment that we used to have for Montreal? No. I think both of us made our mental goodbyes to the city when leaving last year. But it’s nice to see that our love for the city has been passed on to our tenants. Originally from Toronto, they’ve fallen for Montreal. They remind us of ourselves 25 years ago. It’s also reminded us of the expats we’ve met in different places, whether it be Bangkok, Nong Khai or Prague, who’ve told us of their new found love for an adopted city. Maybe that’ll happen to us one day. But in the meantime, we’ve realized that Montreal is no longer home to us. 6 weeks in Montreal was long enough.
Related: Going from travelling full-time to having a base. Memories of the Good, the Bad and the Complicated.
Have you ever felt that ‘home’ was no longer home to you?
PS. Looking to book flights, hotels, tours, or rent a car? Have a look at our Travel Resources page.
If you haven’t subscribed yet and want to get our posts and newsletters sent to your email, just insert your email address below
So far John and I have not had the chance to travel for more than 5 months at a time. As much as we love the experience we are always glad to get home to make sure our house is still standing, our family is still up to no good 🙂 , and most of all I miss our dog and horse! Maybe doing slow travel like you two would make a difference.
5 months is still a lot! We always used to love coming back to the condo, the first thing we would do would be to order Indian food 🙂 . It’s just that we would eventually just feel bored getting back into the routine and just felt we wanted to explore more, plus Lissette had the flexibility to work remotely. Who knows what the future holds.
HA! I’m glad I’m not the only one who was shocked at prices. I could not believe the 15% tax… then at restaurants add the 15% or more tip for service and WOW! I fell in love with Montreal though, what a fantastic city 🙂
Yes, they kill you with the 15% sales tax. Restaurants don’t actually include the tip in the bill…but you’re kind of expected to include as much for tip as you paid in taxes.
And what makes most people angry, especially those coming from other places, are those hidden items. Why not include the taxes in the full price, so you can figure out exactly what you are paying? Because that $100 on the sticker price will in reality be $115…
And Paula, you think we have it bad with sales taxes? How about income taxes that for most people vary between 20% and 30% of your income?
There are many great things about Canada. But it is not cheap.
But the one thing you have going for you now Paula – the weak Canadian dollar. A year ago the USD and CAD were at par, now as an American you’re getting 20% more on the dollar. At least that helps 🙂
Natascha from Westwards
We had the same experience of “not feeling at home anymore” even in cities where we lived for years and still had many friends, like in Berlin and Tokyo. I studied in Berlin University and spent an important part of my live in this city. But when we settled again in Berlin after three years of traveling the feeling of home came back. I was surprised to realize how much for me this feeling of home is connected with things. We still travel a lot (7-8 month a year sometimes), but having a flat to go back to, a book shelf with my favorite books and a choice of clothing when I go out has to do a lot with it. I would somehow prefer the “home is where the heart is” variety. On the other hand, I didn’t miss anything during our nomadic years and I still can settle into a hotel room in minutes and feel “at home”. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
Hi Natascha. Totally understand, I think it is always a bit difficult not having a “base”. We will eventually have one too. But we just realized that at this time in our lives it won’t be Montreal. No idea where it will be but I’m sure we’ll be in the same position as you in a few years 🙂
What a wonderful post Frank !
For better or worse, the vast majority of us do – and have to – live in cities. Those cities, like it or not, form and shape us, make up a large part of what we are, and what we become, enabling us to live – and hopefully thrive – full and satisfying lives. Within their basically immovable framework and confines (climate, History, physical structure etc) cities perhaps, tend to be very much like their inhabitants – they change and evolve over time, not necessarily in the same direction, not necessarily for the better – but neither not necessarily for the worse (although that often can be the case!)
In fact, the changes and evolution over time are probably much more within ourselves as individuals, than within a city itself. Factors that make a city attractive, fascinating, “a magnet” to us, when we are 20 or 30 years old, often hold very little or no interest when we are 40 or 50. Other assets or qualities of life or living in a city, or ‘our’ city, take on more importance – or not. The dynamism of night-life, bars, the excitement and exuberance of being young in a city like Montreal, slowly but surely give way to other priorities and interests, whatever they may be. Usually, it seems, we tend to identify pretty strongly with ‘our city’ – especially if it is a city we have chosen to live in, and especially if it has and does support us, fulfill us, and satisfies us, in our professional and career ambitions – a very large and important part of most of our lives.
Cities, I feel are very much like lovers. Our degree of attachment and length of the relationship with them, depending on the overall depth, intensity and satisfaction of the ‘love affair’. But when the ‘love affair’ is over, its time to move along. Otherwise the old love can and often does, turn into impatience, dislike – maybe even hate … Your postings on Montreal over time show a strong and deep attachment to much of what the city is, and has to offer, but they also show you surely and not so slowly, “outgrowing” the place. For sure, it was time to change Lovers – or at least that Lover… (:
Your ‘ode’ and ‘adieu’ to Montreal, Frank, is a really touching tribute to your “old home”, to a city that managed to attract and nuture you physically, emotionally, for 25 years plus. That alone is something worth its salt, as unlike so many others – even many who have posted comments to this particular posting – you have travelled much of the world and seen, even lived, in a myriad of other places since you were a young boy. But during those times I guess, you still felt that Montreal was ‘home’.
And after all, Montreal was where you and Lissette, a) met and got together (the new, big Love … Lol) ; and b) provided you both with the wonderful opportunity and means to fulfill your dreams, projects and Lives of ‘slow’ travel. No mean feat at all, a unique and wonderful way to see the world at your pace – something that a great many people dream of doing, but which very few people can attain simply because of the practicalities and limitations of Life. And that is not only Fantastic, but Priceless. Bon Voyage nos amis !
What a great comment. You are so right Tony and I didn’t want to lament too much the fact that we’re getting older and moving on…but you nailed it on the head. I totally, totally agree with you in every way.
Montreal was fantastic to us in so many ways. I raised a son there, had a fantastic career, met Lissette. I owe the city a lot. And like a lover it makes you sad that you just can’t feel the same for her anymore…But as you say, we change. I remember as a teenager hating Ottawa; it was such a small ‘town’, so boring. I couldn’t wait to get out. Montreal was the ‘big city’, exciting and exotic. It does make me sad that I don’t feel the same way and when we saw the stuff in storage we both had to take deep breaths because of all the memories they represent. Having them in storage is akin to saying farewell in a way, while also opening yourself up to the uncertain…
Thank you Tony for the wonderful comment. You absolutely ‘get’ it.
Love the topic of this post and appreciate your thoughtful observations. I think I’ve previously mentioned that I’ve always lived on Oahu though traveled frequently. After getting into social media a couple of years ago and getting connected with folks like you, I’ve begun to see that there are a LOT of people of all ages who have chosen to live a different lifestyle from their parents before them. I’ve been constantly inspired and learned so much from folks such as yourself. Once I’ve taken care of commitments here and set the financial foundation for a mobile life, I’d seriously like to take a year to slow travel, probably starting with the U.S. and Canada. When I was younger, a friend and I used to see how many states we could visit in a single road trip, but like you and Lissette, slow travel is now my goal. My ultimate destination, however, is to get to Europe, specifically Switzerland. It won’t be for a couple of years yet, but I’m making plans. Thanks for sharing your experiences and always interesting observations.
So happy to see that our way of travel is inspiring to people. Sometimes people just don’t get it when I explain how we travel. We have to explain that we’re not tourists rushing through, that we attempt to live in a place like locals and try to get a feel for the place. Granted that 2 months may not be enough to know a place inside out, but it is enough for us to get a feel of a place and figure out if we would ever go back.
It is also economic. Slow travel is the best way to save money when still earning a salary at home if you can live somewhere cheaper. As I mentioned above, we can both have the adventure and freedom we want while saving money. We just think it’s overall a better quality of life.
On that note; you’ve mentioned slow travelling the US, Canada, and Switzerland. All very expensive places, especially Switzerland which is outrageous. If you’re going to slow travel without draining your money quickly you may want to use different bases and use them for short excursions to more expensive countries. We, for example, based ourselves in Prague and visited Dresden (Germany) which we found almost twice as expensive. But it was a quick 5 day trip so we could justify the splurge.
If I can ever help feel free to shoot me an email Sarah!
It’s always bittersweet returning home after a long journey! Aside from the things you’ve missed for so long, in reverse suddenly everything can seem so mundane! Just discovered your blog and looking forward to having a good look through it!
You are very right, everything is so mundane when you go home. I love going up ‘the mountain’ in Montreal, have done it several times a year for over 25 years. Didn’t do it this year, no time and honestly I wasn’t that motivated. Terrible eh?
Thanks Andrew, I’ll check out your blog.
Everything you write is so interesting. Your photos are amazing. I’m surprised about traveler’s reactions when they go back ‘home’. Home is no longer home. That makes me really sad. When I was 17 I lived in Toronto for one year, and what I discovered to be true for me is that I have to live where the weather is mild.. middle of the road.. easy to live in. Top priority. The heat, haze and humidity just about did me in. So I beetled back to my hometown of Vancouver where I intended to stay for ever after, and for the most part, I have.
As 20 year olds, hubby & I moved to Calgary for 5 years, discovered the TRUE meaning of the word “COLD”- can you say minus 40?!, had our twins there, and we decided it was important to us to ‘go back home’ to where we grew up to raise our kids. We’ve been here ever since. Our twins are now 37 years old and they continue to live and raise their families here. We have about 5 days a year where it’s humid. It rains a lot, which makes it so lush, beautiful and green. Winters are very mild, occasionally we have snow – our local TV meteorologist says we have a white Christmas on an average of once every 9 years. Summers are mostly warm and pleasant. Spring and Autumn are perfect – my two personal favourite seasons. We don’t have to plug our cars in here! Home heating is cheap! I love it!
So I have an intense emotional connection to my home town and my beautiful province of British Columbia, and I figure if I haven’t lost it by now, age 59, I don’t think I ever will. That’s just me, I guess.
I had tears in my eyes by the end of your blog. I know you’re loving your new lifestyle, and I’m looking forward to reading all about your future travels and looking at your photographs. I’ll live vicariously through the two of you!
Cheers to you both,
That’s a great comment.
I lived out in BC a few years as a kid and have gone back a few times. I’ve been meaning to go with Lissette and we almost did for August…but Vancouver is SO expensive (at least Airbnb apartments are) and it just wasn’t the right time with all the uncertainties in the air. But we want to go in the near future, maybe next year. I’ve always said the West Coast is the most beautiful area in Canada and that Vancouver is so incredibly gorgeous. I remember being there about 15 years ago and taking the ferry to Vancouver Island and seeing the Killer whales. Just so incredible…and the mountains and forests.
You live in a great part of the world Carol.
I’m still working the exit plan but as a native, I already feel like a stranger in my LA home…I like Asia, may Vietnam or Taiwan for my next long term base?
Have you always been in LA Ron?
We always miss the Asian food! Vietnam particularly interests me.
I started high school at a young age of 10. The worst part for me was that it was in a government boarding school (long story, but l tried to sabotage my tests so l could go to day school). I was shocked and very upset at the thought of leaving home, but l think that conditioned me to never get too attached to places. At 13, l moved to Boston and was there for ten years. When it came time to leave, l just did. Hollywood was probably the hardest for me as l lived there for just under 20’years. Once l left though, it’s like you said, you sort of say your goodbyes and every time l would visit afterwards, it was kind of bittersweet. We are going back in November to do what you have done, clean out the storage unit. I wonder how l will feel going back to Houston, even though l never felt a connection o that place at all, not even while we lived there and the memories are not the best. I am however looking forward to L.A and Palm Springs to catch up with my friends that go back 25-30 years. I don’t know where we will end up settling, or if we will settle, but slow travel is definitely more our style now too. Great post Frank. Really nice!
Great comment Kemkem, you have an interesting history. I’ve noticed the general consensus on these kinds of posts is that people coming home often feel a sense of disappointment in how they feel towards ‘home’ and the people they’ve come home to see. Maybe disillusionment because of certain expectations going back?
We weren’t disappointed because I think we were about 99% sure of our feelings about how we felt about Montreal. We still have obligations there and will always be happy to pass through – but the love affair is definitely over. Sounds like you’re under no illusions about how you feel going back either.
Dee (Dee's Butterfly Garden)
Thanks for this beautifully written article! I love the photos, this was the first time I’ve seen Notre Dame Basilica and it’s amazing and beautiful. We have huge traffic issues with road construction here in Chicago too, it ever sees to end. Rush hour is awful, I drive in it twice a day, 5 days a week. I often don’t even drive the car on the weekends and if I have to and I’m home from errands before the traffic and crowds come out. Chicago can get very expensive too, there are lots of taxes. I’ve never lived anywhere else, but I can’t take any more of these brutal winters. Even the summer was cool and rainy. This was our first week of warm weather in the 80’s without rain. After reading your articles, you’ve inspired me to travel. I don’t know where or with who, but I’m going to see the world.
Thanks Dee. When I met Lissette back in 2005 she hadn’t done any travelling except for work. We went for our first trip together that year to Colombia and haven’t stopped. I actually think she’s more of a gypsy than I am. I don’t know where it will lead but we don’t want to stop travelling, we love the freedom and adventure of it.
I hope you do travel Dee. It’s like anything else, once you have a trip or two under your belt you’ll be asking yourself what you were ever afraid of 😉
Sarah (Jetsetting Fools)
We don’t know what ‘home’ is anymore…only that it was incredibly difficult to spend 6 weeks back int the USA after traveling for more than a year. We are in Australia now….decompressing. 😉
You guys pretty much experiencing exactly the same things as us, so many parallels. Nice to know the two of you 🙂