This blog was originally written for Contiki.
I had been away from home for two months, which to a lot of long-term travellers is absolutely nothing. To me it had been nothing either. I had been having the absolute time of my life, and couldn’t imagine going home at all. I kept thinking of different things to go and see as well as ways to extend my trip. I hadn’t spoken to my parents in about three weeks, bar the odd Facebook message ‘still alive’, and was feeling so relaxed each day.
Then I got off the ferry in Zakynthos, Greece. An island I had been dying to see – it had completely ruined my budget for those few days, as there are no hostels on the island. The island also has next to no public transport meaning a hotel and hire car was a necessity; however, I was more than prepared for that and had booked weeks in advance. I didn’t care about the budget, I just could not wait to pick up the car and get to Navagio Beach.
I arrived at my hotel, which was probably worse than the worst hostel I’ve stayed in. Freezing cold with air conditioning or boiling hot without (no in between), a dirty bathroom, a toilet that was constantly refilling, very dim lighting meaning it was very hard to do anything after sundown. The neighbours could look down directly into my room through a window that was covered by very see-through net curtains. But again, I didn’t care. I was here for Navagio Beach come hell or high water.
On arrival the lady at the hotel told me that the car company had informed her that the car I had booked was facing mechanical errors and they had cancelled the booking. I went into instant recovery mode telling her I’d be back once I had sorted a car, knowing it was high season and knowing how essential it was for me to have a car, otherwise Navagio Beach would not be possible to visit. I ran around like a chicken with its head cut off for an hour, going from place to place, only to find out that all the cars had sold out, and “it was high season after all what did you expect?” Panic began to set in, knowing that I would have to pay 100 euros each way for a taxi to the beach. Then I struck gold finding a hire car that was half the price of my original booking. Hallelujah! I arranged to pick up the car the following morning and went back to my hotel room, expecting to feel triumph and grateful, even a little cocky, that I had managed to get a replacement for half the price of what I had been willing to pay!
In the hour of power/panic/car searching I had messaged my mum to tell her what had happened and that I was on the run to search for a replacement. She phoned me when she got the message, meaning it was the first time I had heard her voice in ages. I told her everything was fine and had worked out for the better. We hung up and I suddenly felt miserable. I sat in my dingy room, admittedly probably a very bad environment when feeling sorry for myself. The stress of that hour, although was not life changing, had really upset me. I worked out pretty quickly that it was because I was by myself and there was no one there to help me, to laugh about it, or to celebrate the success of finding a cheap alternative. Something as meaningless as a hire car had turned me from loving my trip, to feeling like there was a little bubble inside me, which was myself aching to be back home.
What do you do when homesickness kicks in? There are really only two options. Fight it and stay on your trip, or give in and go home. From the way those options are worded it’s almost like it’s telling you the one you should do, and almost shaming you if you choose the other. I hate that. I feel the world isn’t there to make you happy, but if you’re not feeling happy and you know what will make you happy, then that is what you should do. If you start feeling an overwhelming sense of homesickness, don’t stay out travelling for the sake of it, if you really don’t want to. Money spent on travelling while having a bad time, to me, is money wasted. That money could go to a trip you’re ecstatic about, rather than to one you’re not enjoying anymore.
Alternatively if the desire to travel is greater than the desire to go home, but you are struggling with that niggling feeling in the back of your mind, here are some helpful homesickness hints from, (as a full disclaimer), not a pro just someone who loves home and loves to travel.
1) STAY BUSY
It’s hard to spend too much time thinking about home, the local pub, and the place you walk your dog, when you’re too busy to think much more about what is going on next. Try and plan full long days if possible, think day trips, excursions and activities. The more you jam pack into your days the better each day will be, as a memory to look back on in itself. It’ll even leave you feeling happier overall. Having days where you go to bed exhausted, but completely full of a new experience, is a day that you’ll love to reminisce over. It’ll change the reminiscing from home to other days of travel.
2) CALL HOME MORE OR LESS
This depends so much on who you are. While I had been stressed in Zakynthos, it was only after hearing my mum’s voice for the first time in weeks, did the feeling of being homesickness truly creep in (which, to be honest, was ridiculous given that my mum was actually on 3 weeks into an 8 week holiday herself outside of Australia). Sometimes its easier to have updates through Facebook messaging and email rather than Facetime or Skype, because it’s a way to stay in contact without missing family and friends too much. However, this comes down so much to personal preference and if Facetiming home more than anything is what keeps the homesickness away than do exactly that!
3) REMIND YOURSELF THAT HOME IS ALWAYS THERE
Home is always there and you’re always able to go back. You know what that means? That it’ll be right there waiting for you at the end of the trip. It’s not going anywhere while you are, so you don’t have to worry, your home will be waiting for you when you return.
4) LOOK AFTER YOURSELF
When you’re at home there’s a high chance you’re looking after yourself physically a lot more – whether it’s just generally eating healthier or exercising more. Alternatively, travelling can leave you with a bad diet and poor exercise. The unhealthy lifestyle can build up and leave you feeling lethargic, missing the time when you generally felt healthier. Try and combat this by trying to choose the healthy option when available and try to incorporate a few hikes into your sight-seeing. Not only will the endorphins help your mood, it’s likely you’ll stop mixing the feeling of missing healthy habits, with the feeling of being home.
5) ADAPT SOME OF YOUR OLD HABITS
New country, new you? Well maybe. Just because you’ve moved or you are travelling, doesn’t necessarily mean everything from your previous life needs to be dropped. You always went for a run on a Saturday morning? Well that can still happen, your backdrop may be Rome, or Uluwatu, or New York City, but keeping a habit up you enjoyed back home will make the transition a little bit smoother.
6) LEARN ABOUT WHERE YOU ARE GOING
Home is a sense of familiarity. When we travel we step well into the unknown, and often it’s this culture shock that brings on the stress and discomfort that sends us reeling into homesickness. The more you learn about the places you are visiting, the more prepared you’ll feel for where you are going. Meaning less sense of culture shock, less stress and following on with this path, a less of an urge to go home.
7) TALK TO OTHERS
Homesickness is something that every traveller is going to experience to some degree and everyone knows the feeling of it. If you make a friend in the hostel, or you have a travelling companion talk it out. Often feeling down leads you to believe you’re the only one who feels this way – “Why do I want to go home when everyone else is having so much fun, why am I not like that?” Talking it out with others will show it’s highly unlikely you’re the only one feeling that way, the sense of companionship even over mutual homesickness, can make you feel less isolated and in a better frame of mind. It can also help you think clearly about whether you really do want to head home or whether it’s a temporary feeling.
8) TAKE A GROUP TOUR
Last year when I was travelling, I lasted two or so weeks before I realised I wasn’t enjoying my travel experience. I wanted to go home. Instead of doing just that, I booked on a group tour. It changed my mindset completely by combining a few of the above tips. I was busy from dawn to dusk, and even more than that. I learnt about where I was going before I got there, I felt an excitement again that had been previously drowned out in other negative feelings. I didn’t even choose a long tour, mine was just 12 days, but it was enough to change my mindset and it got me excited about why I was in Europe all over again. Sometimes you need that kick-start to remind yourself exactly why you’re out and about.
And remember, if, at the end of the day, you’re ready to go home. Then home is always there.