When You Forget Where You Are

by Brenna Holeman


Cartagena, Colombia

My ears perked up. “Winnipeg”, I had heard the girl say, I was sure of it. I had a fleeting sensation of excitement, of hearing the name of my hometown dropped casually into conversation, and I briefly wondered why she was mentioning it at all. This entire process took about 1.5 seconds in my brain, before I once again stopped myself, rolled my eyes.

“I’m in Winnipeg, you idiot,” I thought to myself. I had been for a month.


This happens all the time, these moments of forgetting where I am, what I’m doing. It’s sudden and short-lived, but I’ve had to stop myself from uttering out a cry of recognition whenever I’ve heard someone mentioning a place or a city. It happens often in hostels, where none of the faces are familiar, none of us is from that place, and from my chair I can only vaguely make out a beer bottle that might give me a hint of where I actually am. When the accents are all different, when the music is in English, when a few drinks have clouded my thoughts, my initial reaction is sometimes only, “I’m somewhere else.” I hear a backpacker say something about Buenos Aires and it can take me a second to realize that, well, of course he’s talking about Buenos Aires, we’re in Buenos Aires.


It happened in London this week, early in the morning, while I was still in bed. My window open, some construction workers across the street started their usual banter, shouting about coffee and bulldozers and last night’s match. “He has an English accent,” my sleepy brain registered, and in that tiny fraction of a moment, I had no sense of where I was. It’s a fallout of a transient life, of moving so often, of never having roots in one place for long, and I wonder if I’ll ever stop experiencing these tiny splinters in my consciousness.


I’m sure we’ve all felt it, anyone who has ever left home. We wake up to an unfamiliar ceiling, or a scratchiness of a blanket we’re sure isn’t ours. Or maybe, engrossed in a book in a park somewhere, we hear a sound that can’t possibly be of our town, or of our country, a different siren, a different bird. We glance at a sign and expect to see our own language, or our hands freeze when we reach into our wallets to pay for something in a currency we don’t know. The moment lasts not a second, but that foreignness, that unknown, makes our heart skip a beat.


“…that bar in Toronto…” I overheard at a bar in Islington on the weekend, and I could have been anywhere. My breath caught in my throat, just as it does whenever I hear someone mention Canada or when I lose sense of my surroundings. The crowded London club could have been any crowded club in any city. Everything stood still for that flash of time. And if, while in Berlin this week, I forget where I am, even for a moment, I’ll revel in it.


It’s a very good feeling to have, after all. A feeling I’ll never take for granted.


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Christy September 5, 2013 - 8:37 pm

I’ve definitely done that a few times. That photo of you is gorgeous! I love the colors.

Brenna September 6, 2013 - 2:16 pm

Thank you, Christy!

Lauren Harvey September 5, 2013 - 10:39 pm

I had been travelling solo for 15 wks in South America… One night I woke up at 3am, on a sofa, in a condo, looking out a glass door, past the balcony to a dimly lit street below. All looked very unfamiliar. It took me nearly 10 minutes to figure out that I had passed out on the sofa in MY OWN CONDO as at that time I had been back home in Toronto for two days!

Brenna September 6, 2013 - 2:17 pm

Ha ha, I have DEFINITELY done that at home before!

Sarah September 6, 2013 - 3:01 am

I have more or less the same feeling every time I wake up in a foreign bed. Or back in my own bed after traveling for a while. I wake up and think “what? where am I???” And then I slowly remember… It’s a weird thing, isn’t it? Wonder if any psychological studies have been conducted on the matter…

Brenna September 6, 2013 - 2:18 pm

Yes, it happens to me a lot. I also often recognize someone in a new city and then think, hang on, that can’t possibly be him/her…although once or twice it was!

Briana September 8, 2013 - 2:48 pm

This is one of the best feelings in the world. It always seems to happen to me in the morning as I am just waking up. When I was in Ireland,staying at a four star hotel I might add, I had this feeling every moment. I knew I wasn’t at home because the bed was just WAY to comfortable. I love it though! It is one of those moments that reminds me of how amazing my life is!

Brenna September 11, 2013 - 4:22 pm

Yes, these moments definitely remind me how lucky I am to be able to travel!

Amy September 17, 2013 - 8:02 am

I’ve definitely had that feeling while I’ve been travelling – it’s disorientating but oddly satisfying as it reminds me that I’m constantly moving and exploring.

Brenna September 17, 2013 - 5:21 pm

Agreed – it can be a really nice feeling sometimes.

Kisha September 18, 2013 - 10:29 pm

Crap! It seems like since your migration to WP your updates haven’t been showing up in my feeder and, as a result, I’m behind on a few posts! I’ll have to check and make sure I’m still following you….I was wondering why you were so quiet!!

Brenna September 18, 2013 - 11:14 pm

I know, unfortunately in all of the chaos of a) moving to London and b) migrating my blog over to WP, I didn’t even think of the repercussions of dropping out of people’s feeds. Hopefully everyone will find me again!

Jill at Reading the Book May 28, 2017 - 6:57 pm

Oh yes, this has happened to me many times! Especially when you hear someone mentioning that city you’ve been researching for months (you’re now on the trip in that city), or you wake up from a dream about your life at home and can’t remember what country your hotel is in. I love that feeling!


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