Homesickness, as risks go, tends to rank pretty low among things travelers worry about. For a long trip, most of us will read up on the place or places we’re traveling to, get the relevant vaccines if we need them, and, if you’re as accident-prone as I am, perhaps pack a small first-aid kit — just in case. But the idea that a trip might be ruined because of homesickness simply doesn’t register.
A bad bout of homesickness, however, can have just as debilitating an effect on a trip as falling seriously ill. Associated with feelings of depression, anxiety, and even grief, as well as insomnia, appetite changes, and difficulty concentrating, homesickness is every traveler’s nightmare. And while the bad news is that it can’t be prevented, the good news is that it can be managed. All it takes is a little understanding, so here is everything nobody tells you about homesickness.
What is homesickness?
Research indicates that up to 70 percent of adults may experience homesickness, along with related loneliness, depression, and anxiety at some point in their lives. This frequency stems from homesickness’ causes. Homesickness is a result of the brain craving the familiar. When we’re uprooted from the routines and relationships most of us associate with home — whether that’s by going to camp for the first time as a kid, starting college, or heading off on an epic around-the-world adventure — it’s only natural for us to miss the security and comfort they represent.
Homesickness is far from the sign of weakness it’s often misunderstood to be. Well-seasoned travelers, in particular, might aspire to both feel and act like hardened, intrepid adventurers and attach a stigma to homesickness, or feel wimpy themselves should they suffer from it. But homesickness is nothing but a natural response to being somewhere unfamiliar and a comforting sign that one has a home to return to.
Cures for homesickness
Feeling down when you’re away from home sucks. Feeling homesick is even worse, especially since it’s tempting to think of as something you can just shake off, get over, or power through. Unfortunately, homesickness is rarely that simple to get rid of, although there are steps you can take to make life easier for yourself:
1. Accept that you’re homesick.
Whether you’re traveling, working overseas, or away from home for the first time, the most important step you can take is to recognize, accept, and reflect upon how you’re feeling. There’s no shame in missing home, and once you accept this, you can start to ask yourself why you’re feeling homesick and what you’re homesick for.
Maybe it’s Christmas and you miss your family’s particular traditions. Maybe you’ve had a tough week at work and you miss being in a comforting, stable environment. Maybe you’re in a country where you don’t speak the language and you simply miss being able to order a sandwich without miming.
All sorts of things can trigger homesickness. But the good news is that figuring out what caused your homesickness is also part of the key to stopping it, whether that’s by ringing your family on Christmas Day, asking your boss for help, or buying a much-needed phrasebook.
2. Reach out (in the right way).
In this digital age, you’re never more than a Facebook message, a phone call, or a Skype session away from a ready-made support network. Make the most of it but exercise caution, especially when it comes to social media. It’s easy to fall into the trap of wanting to keep up with everything old friends are doing back home, which will probably only make you miss them even more, or, worse, make you feel as if you’re missing out.
Pay attention to how you feel when you’re online. If seeing what your old friends are up to is making your homesickness worse, maybe try to limit your usage or replace social media scrolling with calls to friends and family back home for a proper catch-up. They’ll appreciate you making the effort, and you’ll have a chance to really confide in them about how you’re feeling.
3. Be sociable.
One of the hardest things about being somewhere unfamiliar is not having your usual established circle of friends and family and having to start from scratch. It’s certainly true that nothing makes you realize how irreplaceable some of your friends are quite like moving hundreds of miles away from them.
Nevertheless, there’s always room in life for a few more irreplaceable friends, and you’ll be amazed at how easily a busy social calendar makes you forget about homesickness. Local sports clubs and activity groups, as well as sites like MeetUp, are all great ways to meet people with similar interests. Or, if you’re traveling and staying in hostels, try to stay at ones that run sightseeing trips or bar crawls so that you can meet other guests.
4. Look after yourself.
When homesickness strikes, all you really want to do is veg out and feel sorry for yourself. This is probably the worst thing you can do. Instead, resist the urge to wallow and try to build a new routine incorporating healthy eating and regular exercise. Not only will these boost your endorphins, but they’ll also help keep anxiety and depression at bay, and get you out so that you can familiarize yourself with your surroundings.
5. Indulge in some home comforts.
It’s impossible to recreate everything that’s special about wherever home is to you, but it is possible to ease the burden of homesickness by bringing some of your old home to your new one.
This is a good opportunity to think about some of the smaller comforts you might miss from home. In my case, it’s the taste of a particular brand of English chocolate and my favorite English radio station. Yours might be another type of candy and your favorite weekly late night talk show. These small treats are relatively easy to indulge in away from home (especially if you’re not overseas). Ask your friends back home to send you a care package, then give yourself an evening of self-care. It might not be exactly like home, but it’ll transport you right back there if you ever need a quick break from adventures, exploring, and seeing the world.