Homesickness isn’t just for children away at summer camp. For me, this was my only reference point until my husband and I left for our world travels nine months ago. Before then, I didn’t really understand what true homesickness is. Not really. Until now I had only ever been away from home for a week or two at a time, so I guess you could say I ‘missed home’ but missing home, I can now say, is not the same as being homesick. Homesickness goes so much deeper and for me. It has come in the form of a deep longing that even physically aches for all the people and places that have been home to me for the last thirty-three years. It is disorienting, and has even impacted my sense of self as nothing feels familiar or comforting.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not lost on me that I am currently living what many would find to be an enviable lifestyle traveling around the world with my husband, but I guess I find myself having a Dorothy Gale “there’s no place like home” issue, where I can appreciate being over the rainbow, making friends, and having adventures I had only ever dreamed of, but all I really want is to go home. Sad perhaps, but true. I guess for me, traveling has only made my need for ‘home’ (or at least a place to call home) more acute. It has also made me reflect more on what home means to me and what makes something or somewhere feel like home.
For me it is the connections/people, the memories/history which feel safe and familiar, and a sense of belonging and purpose that makes a place feel like home and unfortunately in my current jet-setting lifestyle there aren’t many opportunities to meet those needs and create a sense of home since we are only ever at a place between a few days to a month or two. I know this won’t always be the case and that this nomadic lifestyle is just part of the adventure we are on at the moment, which helps ease some of the negative feelings that have come up for me.
It’s all a bit ironic really that before I left home I was a Personal Counselor at a college where I provided mental health support to college students, many of whom had moved to go to school, and homesickness was a common topic that was brought up, and although I could empathize with what they were experiencing, it is definitely not the same as experiencing it first hand. Below I will explore the things I have done that have helped me deal with my homesickness (as best I can, though it is an ongoing process) and the suggestions and tools I have worked on with those in my capacity as a therapist, when dealing with homesickness after a move.
Allow some time and space to grieve
After working as a Grief & Bereavement Counselor I can say that there are some definite parallels to the mourning process that I observed and guided patients and their families through and what I experienced after leaving my home and taking off on our world travels. Not to minimize or compare the permanence of the loss of a loved one to moving/traveling, but for me, the losses that came from losing my home, my possessions, my career, my fur babies, my friends and my family all at once hit me hard and left me disoriented, anxious, withdrawn, feeling insecure, and depressed.
Although these feelings come and go and vary in their severity, an important part of my process has been to own the fact that I can enjoy myself and our traveling adventures and still miss home, be sad about missing out on the day-to-day things my family and friends are experiencing, grieve the loss of my home and fur babies that I won’t see again, and feel a loss of purpose from leaving behind a rewarding and meaningful career. I have become a bit of a juggler often experiencing rapidly shifting and seemingly contradictory emotions and have learned to make space and own them all as they are all valid and acceptable. This has been a great lesson in radical self acceptance and learning to recognize all the layers of emotions coming up and being okay with them.
Stay connected to the people that matter the most
Although I have the luxury of some connection via Facebook and Skype I still struggle with feeling disconnected and like I am missing out on the lives of people I care about most. When these feelings come up, I have found that sending a text, and Facebook message, or setting up a Skype call with one of those special people can help me still feel connected. It is not always easy to do this while abroad with the time differences and busy schedules but it is definitely better than letting those relationships grow apart to the point of disrepair.
The best is when you can arrange to meet up with traveling friends/family as this gives the opportunity to spend face-to-face memory making time together and is the absolute best! So let your own travel plans be known and encourage friends and family to arrange travel plans that allow for meet ups whenever possible.
We usually try and use whichever videochat software our family or friends are most familiar with. Popular ones we’ve used are below.
- FaceTime (osx/ios)
- Duo (android)
Desktop (w/ Linux support):
Take a piece of home with you
In therapy we call this a “transitional object” and although it most often is used for children, the concept applies to adults to and I have found it helpful in adjusting to constantly moving. A transitional object’s purpose is to provide comfort and decrease anxiety during times of change and adjustment. For me, this was one of my favorite soft blankets from home and my down pillow which we unfortunately had to throw out after being exposed to bed bugs. I was lucky enough to have a girlfriend meet up with us after six months and bring me a suitcase of clothes and items from home (including a bag of my husbands most favorite craft coffee). These little reminders of home mean so much when you are homesick and even just having familiar clothing or that soft cozy blanket helped me feel more like myself again and brought feelings of safety and security.
Reflect and look back when you need to
There are days when I am so homesick I am just spilling over with sadness. On those days I tend to cry at the drop of a hat and have come to find that being open with my husband/travel companion about my sadness and the homesickness means I have an ally and someone to commiserate with. On those days I have found it helpful to spend time talking about the things/people I miss most and scroll through the photos on my phone (which has approximately eight years of memories stored on it) and just basque in the nostalgia. Sometimes this makes the tears come more but often times it also makes me smile and in the end I feel better for having reflected on the people and experiences that mean the most to me.
Redefine ‘home’ for yourself
Whether you’re a long-term traveler, a frequent or recent mover, off to college, or some other category of homesick person, this can be an important part of the healing process. For me, I had to examine how I defined ‘home’. What did it feel like? What did it mean to me to feel like I was ‘home’? What made it feel this way? The answers I came up with weren’t necessarily huge revelations but they did help me understand why I was struggling to find that feeling while we have been on the road.
If familiarity, friends and family close by, having my favorite go-to coffee shops, cafes, restaurants, grocery stores, food items, clothing stores, my cozy home with all the things that make my life run smoothly, make cooking enjoyable, make sleeping comfortable, make getting dressed a fun creative process that leaves me feeling good about myself, and a city that contains all my go-to self-care and creative outlets like my vocal ensemble, my scrapbooking, sewing, jewelry making, adult coloring, and all that jazz; then my new job while traveling/moving frequently is to do my best to redefine ‘home’. ‘Home’ for now means ‘comfort’, so how can I create comfort wherever we are?
Some things I have done to help me feel more comfortable and ‘at home’ have been taking time to ‘settle into’ a place once we arrive at a new location. This means organizing our personal items in a way that feels good for us and helps us feel less like we are living out of our suitcase. I also have found that little touches can make a big difference in making a place feel like our own (even if only for a week or two) like: getting some fresh flowers; getting a scented candle that reminds me of home; getting some kitchen tools that help make cooking more enjoyable and allow us to prepare dishes we enjoy; getting a soft blanket that I can travel with; watching a favorite tv show or movie; and whenever possible, sitting by a cozy fire and enjoying a good book or comfort food/drink. I have found more and more, that home is what you make it, not where you are.
Build new connections and memories
A big part of what makes a place feel ‘homey’ is the connections you have to a place and the history you’ve built there over time, so a big part of reducing homesickness is building new connections and making new memories. Part of how Nick and I have been doing this is getting familiar with the town/village we are staying in and finding a supermarket/restaurant/cafe we enjoy frequenting as this helps us feel connected to the new community.
Another way is reaching out to any friends, family, co-workers, acquaintances or friends of friends that are in or near your new area. These folks usually have more connections to the community and can give you an insider’s perspective on things to do, places to check out, fun activities to try, and are also usually more than happy to play host or tour guide.
If this isn’t an option where you are, MeetUp is another great option for finding people in your area and you can tailor your experience to whatever your interests are. They have MeetUps for pretty much anything you can think of: hiking groups, movie nights, game nights, book clubs, pub crawls, sports stuff (obviously not my interest), craft get togethers, mommy groups, singles groups, couples nights, you name it, they’ve got it! The point here is to start building new relationships and connections to your new community as this will help it start to feel more like home (or at least more homey).
None of these suggestions are a magic bullet that will cure your homesickness and I honestly can’t say whether the ache for your old home will ever truly go away ( I know mine hasn’t yet and it has been almost one year since we left). What I can say is that by doing these things it has helped the ache hurt a little less, so that’s something. They say, time heals all things and maybe it does but I think I have gotten to a point where I am okay with that pain. I have learned to embrace the feelings that come up, even the painful ones because they all communicate something to me. The pain I am feeling now for my home just tells me how much I loved my home and everyone and everything that made it feel so good and I think that is pretty awesome. Or as Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote, “Where we love is home- home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts”.