Untangling Homesickness

Today I learned that a close friend decided to end their travel early.

They packed their bags, purchased a last-minute ticket, boarded the plane, and will shortly arrive in their home country.

Why?

Because they were homesick.

What is it that makes people decide to up sticks and move back home?

To answer this, we must understand exactly what homesickness is, and how it affects out world view.

But what is homesickness?

Put simply, homesickness is a kind of emotional anxiety that comes from feeling separated. You can’t see any familiar faces, the places are new, and even your routine seems alien.

Western Breakfast Ubud Bali
All the comforts of home – without the home

Everyone I’ve met while travelling has experienced homesickness to a varying degree. For some, it’s a delicacy they can’t find locally (Australia = Vegemite for example), which is relatively easy to overcome. For others, it’s a relentless magnetic feeling – they are drawn back to people and places with a force that’s almost painful.

I think that both of these types of homesickness spring from the same source. For me, they stem from the difficulties I face when adjusting to a new place. I feel lonely, and I’m very aware of how removed I am from my regular environment. In some cases it’s due to language barriers and cultural¬† differences – in others its feeling that I am not in control.

But there are three simple ways to reduce the severity of homesickness, and stop it impacting on your time away

How to untangle homesickness

1. Recognise what’s happening, and accept it as normal

Homesickness is a 100% natural reaction. You are not alone in the experience! Everyone feels it to a certain degree – even if they don’t say anything about it.

Acknowledging the reality of homesickness let’s you move past the paralysing effect it can elicit, and start dealing with your situation with open eyes. You can make conscious decisions aimed at getting over it faster.

One great way of acknowledging your homesickness is to talk to fellow travellers. Ask them what’s great about the area you are in. Discover these places and events for yourself.¬† Then make plans to see more.

Which brings us neatly on to our next point…

2. Explore your surroundings

Bingalow in Rice Paddy, Ubud, Bali
Could this become home?

New experiences help trigger neuroplasticity. This natural process involves changing the layouts in neural pathways and synapses. One powerful benefit of neuroplasticity is that it helps people become comfortable in new situations faster. Your brain does this by literally changing shape to accommodate new information and circumstances. So you can literally get comfortable with the unease brought on by a new environment just by thinking it through.

This means that it’s important to get out of your dorm/tent/apartment. Try to talk to new people often. Uncover what you have in common, and seek out people who have cool skills or talents. Encourage them to do new things – and soon you’ll feel encouraged in turn.

You can also build a routine that reinforces the act of “embracing newness”. Make time to walk around your locale. Aim to discover cool little secrets in the surrounding area – a nice cafe to hang out, a niche bar on the beach, a lookout to, uh, look out from?

The truth is that the act of deliberately meeting new people, trying new food and seeing new sights will activate your brain’s capacity for neuroplasticity. It will start to assimilate new experiences and information faster. Which in turn will make your new environment feel more familiar in less time.

Soon you will feel like you “own” the area around you. You know the people and the places, and so the sense of discomfort will diminish.

3. Learn how to keep in touch

Thai Poetry in Stone Tablets, Golden Palace, Bangkok
However, I don’t recommend exchanging engraved stone tablets – think of the postage costs!

One of the biggest steps in overcoming homesickness is also one of the hardest. Why? Because it involves cutting back on communications with those back home.

While some people are perfectly comfortable in taking off on their own for months on end, most of us feel the need to reach out to family and friends we’ve left behind. This is normal, but it’s important to manage the communication flow as time goes by.

Unfortunately, talking with loved ones can trigger fresh bouts of homesickness. The only way to town these bouts down is to sever the emotional ties these conversations pull on.

You can do this in several ways –cut back on the frequency of contact, or change the communication channel.

You can think of cutting back on communications in the same way as some people think about quitting cigarettes. They recognise the need for change, Then they slow down on the volume and frequency. And then they come to recognise that they no longer depend on them for a sense of normalcy and comfort.

On the other hand, changing the communication channel lets you stay in touch, while also challenging you to think in different ways. Instead of Skypeing every day, you can send them post cards. Or you could write short journal entries, take pictures and post them online. Touching base in this way will reinforce the fact that you are not alone, while also helping you to get to grips with your new situation – without relying on frequent contact.

Above all, trust in yourself

Homesickness is a bittersweet sensation, but it can have a negative impact on your travel experience if it goes on too long. Perhaps the most important element in untangling homesickness is to have faith in yourself. Because this helps you to stay the course.

To really get through the sensation, you need to believe in your choices.

Slow travel helps in this area. You stay in the same place for longer. So you don’t have to undergo a fresh bout of homesickness anywhere near as frequently.

You also get to know the people and places around you much better. This builds on your sense of what is “normal,” and you can see the positive influence that travel has on you in a much clearer light.

Plus, with slow travel, you have more time to reflect on how you feel, and come to terms with the positive choice you have made.

Do you have any tips on overcoming homesickness? Leave them below in the comments!

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