There are a million and one reasons why we want to get out there exploring the planet and so incredible are these journeys most of the time that the rough bits seem to get glossed over – and there are rough bits. One such pitfall is the homesickness bug which bites almost every traveller who has been away from home for any extended period sooner or later. The gloom of this can significantly dig away at your enjoyment of these new lands you have rocked up in. However, there are a few tricks for pushing through these times and to get you back out into the having-as-much-fun-as-possible territory.
Understanding is Your Biggest Weapon
Homesickness isn’t simply about missing loved ones back home. Homesickness – or the anxiety and emotional distress which are its symptoms – tends to kick in at those times when we are feeling most vulnerable for whatever reason. The mere nature of travel sees us stepping outside our comfort zone again and again, challenging ourselves with strange situations, surrounding ourselves with the slightly unfamiliar to the bewilderingly alien and feeling as if we are most definitely not in control – culture shock in fact. And it is culture shock which feeds homesickness the most.
These effects of adjusting (or rather having a little difficulty adjusting) to culture shock might hit you immediately – the first time you push your boundaries – or they may not kick in for some time. At first we might be too busy being fascinated, charmed and awed by all the brand-new we are experiencing and then gradually finding, as time passes, things wear us down a little…We have gone longer periods without the familiar and as a result start to miss them more. Typically speaking if we are having loads of fun while feeling comfortable in our new cultural surroundings we are OK and we don’t tend to get homesick (although it is possible – there are no rules here).
Understanding why we might get homesick and accepting homesickness as an almost inevitable part of our adventure can really help us move through it when it hits. After all, to experience the strange/different/weird/alien is a huge part of why we travel – isn’t it?
Pack a Picture or Two
Sometimes all it takes when you are suffering from a spell of homesickness is a little something to perk you up and that little something can be a photograph. Sure, we all have heaps of photos on phones and other electronic devices but nothing beats an actual physical, non-digital photo to hold in our hands. Not sure quite how this one works but it seems to for many people. You will have to use some foresight because almost certainly you will not think you need such things while your feet are still planted on home soil but once you are out there you’ll be glad of this particular just-in-case item. Just in case you’re thinking looking at pictures will make you miss some-one even more remember…homesickness isn’t just about missing home but being yanked out of the familiar. Right here in your hand is a little piece of familiar whenever you need it.
Is it Just Me?…Knowing You’re Not Alone
When you are feeling a little emotionally vulnerable any sense of alone-ness can be heightened. This can also be true when the little grey cloud of homesickness hovers above you. You look around and everyone else seems to be having fun…just getting on with it…which just makes you feel alone and even as if you are failing at this travelling business. Don’t you believe it! If you should really get talking to anyone who has been on the road for months (and sometimes just for days) you will start to see that the homesickness bug bites each and every one of us at different times. And talking with some-one else about the silly stuff can really help. When you let slip you miss roast potatoes so much you dream of them or you miss those nights cuddled up with your cat watching Breaking Bad and some-one says ‘me too!’ you will realise you are most definitely not alone.
Technology to the Rescue
Once upon a time the only means of contact with folk back home while travelling was letters which took months to arrive (if ever) or phone calls from dedicated telephone exchanges which either cost a bomb or didn’t connect at all. Luckily these days, as global nomads, we have any number of instant connection possibilities and many of them are free. Skype, FaceTime and Facebook Messenger calls and the like are all there at our fingertips and few of us don’t have phone, tablet, computer or some other device with Internet connectivity capacity which to use them from. And the greatest thing of all is Wi-Fi – almost always of the totally free variety – is everywhere these days.
Even when you feel you have embraced the intrepid and ventured out to remote parts, the presence of Wi-Fi is almost a given. Every hostel (there must be exceptions but we haven’t found them) and a vast number of cafés, bars and restaurants are Wi-Fi connected. So, when the longing to speak to friends and family kicks in it is almost always possible right there and then to have a chat, whenever you want, for as long as you want…and it won’t cost a bean.
Organise a Friends or Family Meet-up
Tons and tons of gap year takers and travellers away from home for extended periods these days are punctuating their trip with a family get together. Mums and Dads it seems, leap at the chance to come out to where you are and see for themselves what you’ve been up to and how it’s all going (as well as having a holiday of course). Don’t worry if your parents are of the lesser-intrepid variety and need a few more home comforts than your typical hostel somewhere in Asia for example might provide. Wherever you are they will have hotels or guest-houses suitable and you can even use the chance to enjoy a few more comforts yourself for a brief period. What better way to beat the homesickness blues than knowing at a certain date you’ll be able to give some-one from back home a hug in person.
Taking Yourself Too Seriously
As already mentioned, part of feeling the whole homesickness thing is related to culture shock and the sensations of being far removed from all that we know well. As trite as it might sound a great weapon in the armoury for combating homesickness is to learn to smile and laugh at what confuses, scares, overwhelms and bewilders us. Even big monsters can shrink to tiny and non-threatening nothings when faced with laughter. Tension and stress are instantly released. When you are tired, hot and have been stuck on a bus for 12 hours or seem to have been completely stymied by a language barrier issue laughing might be the last thing on your mind. We get that and we don’t say it won’t take some practice but try it…we think you are going to be pleasantly surprised. End result – less culture shock reaction = less homesickness.
Get Some Gifts In
Going shopping for gifts for parents, siblings, friends and even pets can really help to move past a homesickness episode. As you browse shops and markets to find something that is just right you will be thinking about them heaps and connecting with them in a way which can act as medicine. Once you’ve found that special something you can imagine their face when you finally hand it over and see them again. It really doesn’t matter if you don’t find that perfect gift either….this is all about distracting you from something else and finding a tool to help you cope.
When Illness Strikes
If you are going to be away from home for an extended period it is almost inevitable that at some point you are going to get sick. Even if this is just a 24 hour upset stomach or a slight bug there is nothing like illness to make you feel a long way from home and, no matter how old you are, to want your mum. However, just know you are never going to be alone in a hostel full of travellers because many of them will have been both physically and emotionally where you are now and the backpacker set always looks out for each other during periods of illness. Push through it and accept that homesickness of the acute kind is a natural part here and use all those hours flaked out on your dorm bed to Skype or FaceTime with people you’ve been meaning to contact for ages.
As we have already mentioned homesickness can be partly linked to feeling far removed from the familiar and the comfort that brings. So, allow yourself some comforts or a little of whatever it is you need if homesickness hits. If you miss a comfortable bed or the luxury of your own bathroom book yourself into a private room somewhere for a day or too. If you are missing Western food or dishes from home find a nice restaurant which serves up something you are craving and splash the cash a little. Don’t feel guilty – you don’t have to always eat or even want local food – it doesn’t mean you are not a real backpacker just because you don’t constantly embrace all things alien.