I Gave up Travel for a House in Detroit

The dream is now.

The dream is now.

Travel has ruled my existence for the past decade and a half, with life always revolving around ‘away.’ Starting with a backpacking trip around Europe and branching out to a string of destinations around the globe, I eventually even managed to make writing about travel my job. My life felt incomplete if I didn’t have at least one trip in the works. Big plans were underway with my husband to celebrate my 40th birthday with a major trip — more than a trip, we’d move to Paris for several months.

Then I found Detroit and everything changed. Though I’ve traveled our own country from coast to coast, I still spared little thought for travel in these United States, always lured to more exotic locales. Istanbul, Siem Reap, Marrakech, Seoul, Bali, Saigon, Guadalajara — they were more my style than anything in America. But I just hadn’t been to the right place. Detroit was a whole other kind of America. It was America at its best and worst. It was what our country could have been if it hadn’t been swallowed whole by generic chain malls, big box stores and fast food chains. It was brimming with possibility and threatening danger at every corner. I fell in love, hard.

Despite the many fears that kept me (and still keep me) awake at night, my husband and I decided to become part of the transformation that is sweeping the city. We bought a house, a sprawling brick thing so big we can lose our dogs in it and have to call each other’s cell to find one another. The purchase — even at Detroit fire-sale prices — plus the renovations plunged us immediately into a world that no longer involves trips anywhere but to Detroit itself, a six-hour drive from our home of Louisville. We fled the country for one last hurrah, a quick getaway to Mexico that depleted our airline miles, and came back to start work on the century-old house.

After a summer of work we now have — besides two rental flats — a retreat in the D, an attic garret that we’ve filled with treasures from our travels (plus a huge, empty basement that we’ll gradually finish, starting with a whiskey room). And instead of begrudging the house for the money it’s drained from our bank account, money that could have sent us to a garret apartment in Paris, we are beside ourselves with excitement at having our own place in Motor City.  My list of places to go grows faster than I can get out and explore. Even if it’s years before we can swing another international trip, I have no doubt we’ll still be finding new adventures in Detroit.

Katoi’s Thai fried chicken

The food scene alone is enough to tempt me to pack up and move there full time. The best Thai food I’ve had — including anything I’ve eaten in Thailand — was at a food truck parked behind a distillery, under the shadow of the old, abandoned train station. Sunday mornings find me slurping big, steaming bowls of beautiful ramen from a new noodle shop under the bridge to Canada. I can have New York style pizza at Supino before wandering the immense Eastern Market, or thick squares of Detroit-style pie at Buddy’s in Hamtramck, just the fuel I need to power through a few hours of rehab work. The whiskey is flowing, the coffee is brewing, and the chicken and waffles are hot and happy-making and there’s oh so much to still discover.

Or we can sit around the firepit in our back yard with Detroit friends, talking like a group of expats in a new land as we swap Detroit stories and marvel over the rumble of fireworks coming from the Tigers fame that we’re here in this amazing place at this pivotal time in its history. “The world is watching Detroit,” a friend said last Saturday night. Sparks flew from our fire — easy-burning wood our friends cut from an abandoned lot by their house. Let them watch. I want to be there, and for the first time in my adult life, there’s nowhere pulling me away.




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