How to Cope With Homesickness
Homesickness is a type of anxiety that you feel when everything - your surroundings and your life at that current moment feel unfamiliar and less stable for a variety of reasons. It occurs for a number of reasons; culture shock after arriving in a situation totally different to what we're used to, life without our long-term friends, family and the comforts of home, or our coping mechanisms with the stress of living in another country aren't quite up to scratch.
Despite how much you love travelling, how often you do it or how much you want to do it, huge transitions between countries and cultures are bound to be difficult for all of us as we try to adapt and settle in as quickly as possible - it's a survival instinct; the quicker you fit in and integrate with the new population, the less vulnerable you are.
The idea and planning behind travel generally incites anticipation, excitement and sometimes anxiety. Those worrying about leaving home and setting off on a new adventure often overcome their apprehension when they arrive in the new setting, quickly learning to adapt and fit in, but some find that the transition from home to away takes longer and are more preoccupied with home-focused thoughts.
Symptoms of homesickness include:
- An increase in depressed feelings
- Obsessive thoughts
- Minor physical ailments
If you're likely to or are suffering from homesickness, it's important to know that it will all be okay. If your travel experience this far hasn't been what you expected, don't worry. You may have just been unlucky and had to share a hostel with people who are crazy or use the words 'banter' and 'YOLO' non-ironically. The important thing is to give it time - it takes a while to become comfortable and familiar with things, and this will start to show to other people around you.
Your vulnerability to suffering from homesickness has been analysed by experts (hasn't everything?), and they've come up with this comprehensive list detailing factors which may make you feel anxious and depressed whilst away:
- Distance from home - the sense you can't get back soon or easily
- The sense of anti-climax after saving for so long, eventually reaching your destination
- Whether you were responsible for the decision of destination or point of travel
- Unhappiness due to expectations not being met
- Low control over life
- Whether family members at home are well and happy
- Contrast in lifestyle
Tips for long stay travel and homesickness
- Soon after you arrive and settle into your room (this way you have some things which are familiar so that you can still call it 'home', albeit temporary and not feel like home, you'll feel like you have somewhere to be based from), visit the local top tourist spots and attractions - this will mean you get a good feel for the place, begin to find 'your people' and the places where you feel most comfortable and whatever is most important for your day-to-day life.
- Be realistic about what you expect from your travels. There will be something that is bound to go wrong or you're probably going to make a mistake somewhere along the road. By having lower expectations, you won't ever be disappointed. Take things as they come and if you make a mistake or if something isn't like you thought it would be, oh well! You learn from mistakes and that's what travelling is about.
- Overexpose yourself (not in the sense you're thinking!) - If there are specific issues causing homesickness, consider over-exposing yourself to them until you've habituated to what they feel like. For example, if the crowded markets you have to walk through are overwhelming, spend a lot more time here until you feel familiar and more relaxed.
- Don't be ashamed about how you feel. Homesickness happens to all of us at some point - you are allowed to feel this way. Travel is one of the few times you can be utterly self-indulgent, so cry it out, be in a bad mood if you want to be. Homesickness isn't a sign of weakness, and it certainly isn't 'bottling it'. Do whatever you have to do to feel better - but do it because you want to have a smile on your face, and not because you think you should.
- Give yourself time to adjust. Everyone is different - if you're travelling with friends and one of them settles in really quickly, don't expect that you should feel the same. Don't make rash decisions, and give everything a chance - most things fall into place eventually.
- Try local cuisines - this is fun. Finding food that you enjoy right away will ensure that you always know what to order and where to order it. Although it is comforting to eat familiar home-tasting foods once in a while, it's better to rip the security plaster off sooner rather than later and be totally absorbed by your new culture - that way you adjust to it quicker!
- Use but don't overuse social media - it's valuable for a reason. If you have a usable (by usable we mean cheap and not infuriatingly slow) internet connection, use it! Keep in touch with friends and family and to prevent you from feeling totally isolated from any support system. Be careful about using it too often - hiding out in your hostel scouring Facebook and Twitter for news and gossip from home only exacerbates FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) and homesickness. Embrace your life in the current.
- Make yourself a 'bucket list' of where you want to go, what you want to see and what you need to do before you leave. Not only does this give your travel a purpose, but also reminds you of what you're doing and why you're not at home should the Homesickness Blues ever hit.
- Share your story - not only does this help people get to know you, but they will also have similar stories, anecdotes or people they know that will allow you to bond. If you're staying with people from all over the world, why not organise something where you all cook traditional dishes for each other? If you're the only foreigner, you could always organise English classes.
- Establish a routine. Not always meaning getting up before 12 and cooking a great breakfast, but getting used to a routine can be a great way of learning about your local landscape and gives you loads of opportunity to explore and do new things. Travelling can be a life of instability and inconsistency, which is an ideal combination for homesickness to get in. Get a routine, like getting a coffee in the morning or skyping in the evening, and you'll always have a slice of portable familiarity.