“We are torn between nostalgia for familiar and an urge for the foreign and strange. We are homesick most for the places we have never known.”
– Carson McCullers
I’ve lived abroad for eight years. Travelling sends goosebumps up my body. Every time the plane lifts off my heart skips – not from fear but in excitement for the possibilities that await. And yet, despite how much I absolutely LOVE travelling this beautiful world, if I’m leaving Ohio, I end up in my window seat, using my thick hair to hide my face and I silently sob as the plane removes itself from the soil I grew up on. No matter how much of a grown ass woman – hashtag girlboss – I am, I’m still going to cry when I say goodbye to my mama because she’s awesome. I want to carry all my loved ones in my pocket to share my travels. And I don’t want to miss out on family and close friends’ big achievements and daily lives while I’m away exploring. Yet this is what happens.
When you live away from family and friends, you notice the passage of time more so among those you love. It’s a sadness that sinks in your bones as you feel guilty for those lost precious moments. And you question whether those unrealized memories are worth the wanderlust. Sometimes they aren’t and sometimes they are. But that’s life – the yin and the yang and only you will know if your expat lifestyle is right for you.
And that is homesickness when it meets a wanderlust heart. It’s certainly a lucky experience to be faced with and I’m certainly grateful for the life and the loved ones I have. But we all know emotions aren’t logical and that’s when the homesickness pangs set in.
I’m grateful to have such an amazing family and close who when I said, “I’m moving to Scotland and I don’t know for how long” – they encouraged me. And they haven’t stopped. It probably makes the following all the more noticeable, humorous and on some days, frustrating, to me when strangers and acquaintances always ask, “Do you think you’ll stay here?” “When are you coming back home?” or my personal xenophobic favourite, “When are you leaving?”
In my uncertain and most vulnerable and homesick moments, I’m not going to lie – I do question why I’m still living in a country where I lose feeling in my fingers in June and am never able to wear sandals because it’s either too wet or cold. Sure the stress, doubt and fears whisper back to me in moments of uncertainty. But then something or someone inevitably comes into my path who reminds me to trust myself and that I know myself best. It tells me to stop playing the victim, because I can head back to family and sun whenever I’m ready – oh, what a tragic decision to be faced with! And I will know when I’m ready. But for now, I’m lucky to have these experiences. I’m enjoying free health care (including medicine), 32 paid days off a year to travel and visit family, Europe at my doorstep (day-time Seine walks are only an 1.5 hr flight away) and the most kind, generous Scots and adopted Scots who have welcomed me into their lives and who have embraced me as one of their own.
And so here are my tips for coping with homesickness, whether you are living in/traveling in a different country or if you’re an American/Aussie – living in a different state or territory – I hope these ideas bring you comfort during an uneasy period. We can often be the most unkind to ourselves especially when we’re the most vulnerable but it’s then that we need to give ourselves the most love and acceptance. Sending you hugs if you’re reading this and suffering from a bout of homesickness. You got this girl/bro!
- Book/plan a trip home. If you’re living in Europe, chances are you have at least 4 weeks off a year so book a cheap flight home in January if your budget is tight or check out the May, October or November deals as you can often score cheap options then too.
- Book a short trip somewhere close to you. If you can’t afford a trip home but want to remind yourself why you’re living abroad, the easiest way to do that is to see what deals are being offered on easyJet, Holiday Pirates or Ryanair. So book a long-weekend away. A break from your city can often inspire you and reinvigorate that wanderlust heart.
- Spend time with your significant other/friends and their family. If you’re in a relationship and get on with/live close to your partner’s family – plan coffee catch ups, visits and dinners. If you’re single, your friends and their families can become part of your extended family. They can be a great source of love and support especially if you’re feeling down. You haven’t lost your family – you’ve added to your tribe! You now have more love spread around the world – what a blessing!
- Schedule weekly Facetime/Skype calls with family. Sundays can often be the most depressing days if you’re feeling homesick so reprogramme these as your family FaceTime days. Whether you phone a different family member/close friend every Sunday or time block your family in 1-2 hour chunks on the Sunday – you’ll end up smiling and filling full of happiness after you finish your chat(s). My brother has even played FaceTime tag/hide and seek with me and my niece, where my floating auntie head held in my brother’s hand is chasing her and she’s giggling away.
- Try something new! You’re in a new place with new possibilities! Checkout Eventbrite, Meetup and InterNations, a meet up for expats in your local area, to find out what activities are available in your area. You might end up meeting some interesting people while learning something new and you’ll forget your blues for a bit.
- Have a memorised sentence to give to those inquisitive strangers. During those days when your homesickness is quite raw and a stranger asks you about your life plan and how long you’re staying in their country – trust me this will happen – then give them a simple response. Mine is: “That’s a hard question to answer as there are a lot of factors to consider.” Drop the mic. Peace out nosey Nancy/Nathan.
- Listen to yourself. There may come a time when that homesickness is no longer fixed by the above things and will only be alleviated by moving home. Listen to that. You haven’t failed. You’ve only added to your life by exploring the world, learning about yourself and learning patience, tolerance, cultural awareness and self-reliance. These traits will only add to your future experiences. Sometimes those of us who drip wanderlust from our pores must start a new adventure closer to home – as a more experienced individual.
So wherever you are in your life – I hope these tips bring you comfort on your adventures. We are truly lucky to have these opportunities but you are not selfish for having these feelings – they’re normal and you can get through them. Are you a traveller/expat and suffer from bouts of homesickness? Share your thoughts below – would love to hear from you! xx
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do rather than the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
– Mark Twain