In 1997, I remember frantically stuffing everything I owned into two large duffel bags with my name stenciled on the sides. I quickly laced up my combat boots and walked out into the biting Oklahoma wind.

I had just finished 16 weeks of hellish training as an artillery observer for the Army. Having endured live rounds, the wrath of drill sergeants, a broken finger I fixed myself with duct tape, and situations I thought only existed in Hollywood movies — standing with frozen blue fingertips at the bus stop seemed a small price to pay:

I was going home for Christmas.

Somewhere there was a tiny, six-seat chartered plane waiting to buzz me to Dallas, where a proper plane would carry me home to Kentucky. As the pilot fussed about weight distribution and flipped switches on his console, it was all I could do to keep tears off my cheeks.

For the first time in my life, it had all clicked into place. My priorities properly aligned and I realized how important family and friends really are to me…rather than just giving it lip service. Despite bad weather and lots of delays, I made it home just in time to enjoy the sweetest Christmas of my life…and it had nothing to do with packages, elves, or spiked eggnog.

In 2004, I sat by my mom’s hospital bedside for two months, through the Christmas season and New Year expecting bad news. Miraculously, although not in the same health as before, she has recovered since from a life threatening illness. Needless to say, the following Christmas with her at home and out of bed was quite a special one.

No matter what atrocities life or the road throw at me while trying to squeeze some adventure out of my short time in this world, I always try to be home for Christmas.

Many of my friends feel the other way around and make it a point to hit the road for Christmas and New Year. I don’t blame them…and maybe I’ve grown softer in my thirties, but now even the nicest island beach with the best diving, tallest volcano to climb, and most sunshine wouldn’t substitute for loved ones on that special day.

I firmly believe that constant travel is better reinforced with some type of reference point anyway.  After the 30th ancient temple in Asia or towering cathedral in Europe, you become numb and they all barely merit a camera click.

It takes a few weeks of time off, stepping back, to fully appreciate the road once again.

In 2006, I left Egypt to be home for my first post-vagabonding Christmas. In 2007, I left perfect island weather in Thailand to fly home and pay $8 for pad thai rather than 50 cents. Yes, it was hard to leave those places behind, but despite the crappy weather and rampant traffic brought on by crazed shoppers…I considered myself lucky to be at home.

Despite being at home fighting for travel funds and other assorted problems for most of this year, I still wouldn’t wish myself anywhere else. I’m ready for Christmas 2008…tell the fat guy in the red suit to bring it on!

Besides…2009 is almost here…and it’s definitely time for vagabonding to begin. Again.