In recent years my employment has required more travel than I have wanted. While there are some perks, most nights after a long day I find myself wishing I was home with my pets, in my neighborhood, and surrounded by my own ‘stuff’. Especially on those days when things didn’t go as well as I had hoped, being in a strange city, far from the familiar comforts, can be tough.
I suspect that I am not unique in that I seek out places that give me some aspect of comfort, no matter how small. One such place is the local grocery store.
I guess it reminds me of the years when my kids lived at home & I had to provide for them. Perhaps it goes deeper – reaching back to my childhood at the grocery store with my own mother, but regardless, I find that no matter what city I’m in, a short trip to the grocery store is comforting.
I usually don’t buy much – some unsweetened tea, breakfast bars, Starbucks VIA, and sometimes a magazine, but I’m not really there for the shopping. No, I’m there for the mingling with familiar rows of national brands; for the comforting sameness of the rows of cereal brands, diary products and frozen foods and for the strangely common pace and activity level that I have found to be consistent across many cities.
I sometimes wonder if guys do this, or if younger women find it as comforting as I do, having honed a lot of my mothering skills over the years in search of meals that began with a trip to the grocery store.
I’m sure my routine when I travel is much different than it would have been for me in my 20s or even 30s, and I would have rolled my eyes at anyone who took this position at that point. Now, it’s me who can inspire the eye-rolling as I wax euphoric over the comfort I find roaming the aisles of strange grocery stores in cities far from home.
I think that we humans crave ritual, and travel that requires multiple nights away in a hotel removes us from most of the “rituals” we rely on as touch points in our daily lives. This separation from long-standing ritual can have negative effects on us, especially in prolonged periods, and it makes sense that we would “self-correct” by seeking out experiences that closely mimic something familiar.
So, here’s to all the grocery stores whose rows of dry, canned, frozen and refrigerator items have helped keep me from feeling traveler’s despair: thanks for being there!