Dealing with Homesickness

June 16, 2015 Peter West Carey

You’ve done it! You’ve packed up and shipped out. You’re officially on the road, travelling.

While you look ahead to the list of adventures and experiences in front of you, sometimes a thought of home creeps in, and for a fleeting moment, you start to look back. It’s not quite acute homesickness, but more along the lines of a ‘blah’ mood – one that leaves you distracted and not living in the moment and soaking in your foreign environment.

This not-quite-homesick feeling happens to most of us when we’ve been away long enough. Luckily, there is a cure (a few of them) to allay this feeling so you can dive right back into your travels with full focus.

Eat your way out

We’ve all craved a slice of home while on our travels. For many of us, familiar food is an excellent way to open the door and evict those homesick-like feelings.

I (ahem) visited a McDonalds in Varanasi, India because a break from Indian food sounded like a good idea at that moment. While I regularly bemoan the globalization of fast food, I have to say it was nice being in a familiar restaurant. Like penicillin, I’m okay with avoiding these chains – that is, until I find I really need one.

While in Cuzco I’ve ordered chicken, mashed potatoes and something resembling gravy from an Irish pub. It was American Thanksgiving and I wanted a meal that felt like home.

Paddy's Irish Pub in Cuzco. Photo courtesy Christopher R.

Create a holiday. Invite others

It does not even have to fall on the date of the actual holiday, but crafting a favourite meal and sharing it is a great way to bring your traditions with you.

Share your favourite meal with the people around you.

Share your favourite meal with the people around you.

This works quite well when living in a hostel for any length of time as you’ll likely have plenty of eager mouths to feed – some might even pitch in to help cook. Post a date and time on the message board inviting everyone to join in on the celebration. If you’ve made some contacts in your host city and are not in a hostel, see if you can borrow their kitchen while offering to cook for them. Preparing for the meal can allow you reasons to contact home and ask for suggestions or recipes, giving you a way to be connected to a holiday while getting excited about plans you’re making while travelling.

Let the kitchen at the hostel set the stage of your holiday meal. Photo courtesy O Barcelona.

Let the kitchen at the hostel set the stage of your holiday meal. Photo courtesy O Barcelona.

Don’t cook? Find a way to source the ingredients from local establishments or markets or, armed with the recipes, see if you can convince someone you know in the country to help you prepare your meal. You’ll find that moms and dads the world over tend to like helping a younger generation in nurturing ways. Find a good one and divulge your plan.

Digital embrace

I once called my dad from the middle of the Himalayas. I found a great deal on long distance that afforded me time to shoot the breeze with him as if I was back home in the USA. I used to look down on those who would make calls from such ‘remote’ places because they weren’t really immersing themselves like I thought they should. It turns out, I was wrong.

The rules we make for travel are our own. Don’t let others dictate what is acceptable and what is not, especially if it helps you feel empowered to travel longer and learn more about the world. Call or video-chat home as often as you like. A call to friends or family can often help give that little boost you need to keep your spirits up.

Start to plan your next trip

One thing I learned about my wife during our first international trip together is that she likes to already have her next trip planned before getting home from the one she’s on. I thought doing this would take us out of being in the moment of where we were, but I found that was not a bad thing. Hear me out.

Planning our next trip allowed for a pause in our current travels. It took us out of the moment, but that break was restorative. Sensory overload is common when visiting a new location and especially true if your itinerary is nonstop. We were mentally detaching from our immediate location in order to come back to it more fully and with renewed appreciation.

Looking ahead to your next adventure can give you the break you need.

Looking ahead to your next adventure can give you the break you need.

Ask for photos

Whether it’s just another day at work or a special occasion, ask your group of friends and family back home to send you a picture of what they are doing right then and there. You’ll get a range of photos from cubicle walls or a TV set in a living room (or who knows?). It’ll show you a glimpse into their world that their pictures on Facebook do not – that life goes on and often in mundane ways. It’s not a constant party you are missing out on. If nothing else, the images will hopefully transport you mentally out of your current location and give you the break you need and help to put things into perspective.

Treating the first symptoms when we are feeling ill is the best way to stave off a full-on cold. Likewise, it’s easier to stave off full-on homesickness if you take some action when you spot the first signs.

A slice of home while on the road is often the perfect remedy to help keep you travelling longer and happier. Go ahead, call your friends, celebrate a holiday your own way, or go to a Tim Hortons in New York City (yes, Canadians get homesick, too). It’s not the end of your travels and it’s going to be just fine. Enjoy!

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