Not long ago Sienna and I waved goodbye to Brody and Cam as they headed back to Australia, Cam for work as usual, but this time with Brody in tow, excited to return to Oz for his Cousin’s birthday. Saying goodbye was hard – we all shed lots of tears (particularly Sienna), but what I discovered later was that saying goodbye was the easy part. Feeling home sick was the hard part! It hit me – I miss home!
- 1 Feeling home sick – I miss home!
- 2 What causes Homesickness
- 3 Symptoms of Homesickness
- 4 How to cope with Homesickness
Feeling home sick – I miss home!
What followed was the first real bout of homesickness I’ve faced since leaving Australia… and it was hard. Very hard! Thousands of miles away from Brody and Cam, sitting alone in a hotel with Sienna, it hit me hard. “It’s OK Mummy, we can call them, we can talk on Facebook, we can video message them”… she’d heard it from me time and time before when she was down and was now using it to help me cope!
Homesickness is completely normal. In fact, if I’m honest, I have to say it has surprised me just how long it has taken to hit. We work hard to keep homesickness at bay, but when you are away from family and friends for long periods of time, it’s only natural!
What causes Homesickness
For anyone lucky enough to have avoided feeling home sick so far, homesickness is essentially a form of anxiety or stress induced by being away from familiar surroundings. Feelings of being disconnected from your surroundings, confusion or difficulties understanding a new environment/language/culture and feelings of being out of control, all lead to significant discomfort and homesickness. Being away from home, feeling cut off from friends and family, or just being away from the familiarity of day to day life, all contribute.
When you travel often and spend long periods away from home, being home sick is to be expected – life away from home can be very different, very unfamiliar and while at first, it’s fun and exciting, eventually the novelty wears off, and feelings of being home sick can take effect.
Symptoms of Homesickness
If you spent anytime away from home as a child, you might already be familiar with the sick, empty feeling of homesickness. Feeling alone, afraid, missing home… homesickness is no fun.
For many people, being home sick can be quite a mild feeling; it may be as simple as a knot in the stomach or a feeling of sadness. It can be quite quick to pass, however, when it hits hard, being home sick is just downright miserable. And to make it worse, homesickness can have a physical impact on the body, causing symptoms such as headaches or stomach aches. Those with homesickness may have difficulty sleeping and may also suffer from dizziness or nausea.
Long-term travelling can intensify the feelings, especially given the distance and extended period. When we travel we aren’t present for birthdays, holidays and special events, and each time one occurs, we get another pang of homesickness! While feeling home sick now and then is bearable, when a person is thrown into unfamiliar circumstances, into situations that they might not feel comfortable with, the idea of home seems easier, and homesickness can bubble to the surface.
If you find yourself in a new location and feel out of sorts, grumpy, sad, uncomfortable, stressed or run down, the truth may be that you are feeling a little home sick!
Keep an eye on your kids!
Homesickness can be hard enough for adults to understand, but kids struggle even more. Children can’t recognise the symptoms or communicate in the same way as adults, and as such, symptoms may come out in other, less familiar ways. Is your child grumpier than usual, more tired, more emotional? Keep a close eye on them, and make adjustments wherever necessary.
How to cope with Homesickness
The key to dealing with homesickness is two-fold:
1) put things into place to avoid it occurring in the first place
2) recognise the symptoms as early as possible if it does catch up with you and refer to point 1!
To avoid feeling home sick, you need to ensure that you have at least some level of familiarity around you – that is, make life easy! Now I understand and love the excitement of visiting a new place, and appreciate that the differences make a trip more exciting… but eventually, the novelty wears off. So instead of getting to that point we try to incorporate some level of “normal” into our daily lives.
Do familiar things
When you are a long way from home, your day to day routines can go out the window, and this can throw anyone out of sorts, but especially kids. Being out of routine for too long can make life more challenging and ultimately lead to feelings of homesickness. Thoughts of times when life was “easier” or “better” may surface. but in reality it probably wasn’t easier or better… it was familiar. Being in a routine, no matter how small helps us feel normal, so we do a bunch of things to try and maintain our familiar lifestyles, wherever we go.
1) Go to a supermarket
When we arrive at a new destination, our first stop is a supermarket. For the most part, while labels may look different, they will have things that are familiar… we buy our basics, bread, butter and milk and possibly breakfast cereal and go from there. At least that way we are able to get up the next morning and have a fuss free breakfast! Maintaining a familiar routine is crucial if you want to avoid feeling home sick!
2) Find a mall
Every country we’ve been to so far has had plenty of malls, shopping centres, that in one way or another are similar to those at home. Signage might be in a different language, but layouts are usually quite similar – they have food courts, cafes, and shops. And they feel familiar, yet still have enough uniqueness to make them exciting.
3) Find some western food
Don’t get me wrong; I LOVE trying new food and flavours, but now and then I crave something familiar, and this is true even more with the kids. We encourage both kids to try something new each day, and they do. Sometimes they don’t like what they try, and sometimes they do. But “food from home,” that is, food they recognise and have eaten at home, will always be the easiest option for them. Whether that is burgers and fries or “normal” veggies with their dinner – familiar is usually more comfortable.
The other reason for ordering western food is that it’s easy to do so – we know what it is, we know we like it and it feels normal!
Sleep well and rest often
Travelling is so much fun! There is always lots to see and do – but all of this excitement is highly stimulating to your senses, and you will get tired easily! And being tired amplifies emotions and feelings of being home sick.
So make the effort to sleep well – get to bed at a decent time and enjoy sleeping in (because you can). Schedule “lazy days” as we call them (down days, relaxing days – whatever you want). The point is, take some time off from the excitement. Read a book, watch a movie, sit around and do nothing. Give your mind and body a chance to rest and recover from all the overstimulation!
Keep in touch with home
I think one of the main reasons for the delayed onset of homesickness for me during this trip so far has been technology. In 1994 I travelled for 12 months and the homesickness, combined with culture shock, was horrible. Calling home was ridiculously expensive, and mail took 3-5 weeks to get from home to me and vice versa. The lack of contact only amplified the problem.
So, with different technologies available today, contact with friends and family is incredibly easy, and it is easy to feel close to those at home. Some will advise limiting the time you spend chatting with those at home, but from experience, this has the opposite effect. When Brody headed home, I realised it had been months since I’d had a good chat with my family at home. Keeping in touch, as you ordinarily would, feels normal, so keep it up!
1) Set up a Facebook Messenger Group
Connect with immediate family, and groups of friends on Facebook Messenger. We have a family chat group that we use daily to say hi and chat about anything that might be happening – how the kids are, issues at work, just everyday things. When at home we might not see each other every day, but we would chat, so keep it up. The distance between you will seem far greater if you no longer talk regularly. Keeping in touch and hearing about day to day life will reduce the distance.
2) Call them!
As long as you have internet access, calling home is FREE with Facebook Messenger. Simply open a message and in the top right corner you can click the phone button and make a call! Calling daily would probably make feelings of homesickness worse, but calling once a week or once a month will help!
3) Video conference
Since Brody and Cam went home we chat most nights by video conference. You can do this on Windows Messenger, but if you want to do a group chat by video, we highly recommend Zoom. Seeing your loved ones on a regular basis can virtually stop you feeling homesick at all!
Be a Tourist first, then an Expat
Tourist destinations are set up to help you quickly learn about the culture, history, and food straight away but are set up for travellers which means interacting and visiting these sites will be easier.
Once you start to feel comfortable, step away from the tourist side of things and start to get a feel for the local way of life.
Get amongst it
Just get out there – get amongst it and start experiencing things. Throw yourself in the deep end; you will quickly find that life becomes more comfortable.
Make a bucket list
Having a list of things you would love to do while you’re visiting is sure to help keep you busy. Do some research and decide what you think are MUST DO activities – the best coffee shops, the best activities, the best place to eat. You’ll be so busy you won’t have a chance to feel homesick!
Talk to others about how you feel!
If, despite everything else, homesickness does hit, don’t keep it to yourself. There are loads of travel groups online, and you certainly won’t be the only one feeling home sick. Just talking about it can help immensely!
Homesickness is a very real emotional experience. You must remember that it is a very healthy emotion, and everyone deals with homesickness at their own pace. But, left untreated it can dominate your time and ultimately ruin your travel experience so it is essential to plan in advance, which should help you avoid the worst of it.
The only problem you may then face is feeling homesick for your holiday destination when you arrive home!