Learn how to avoid homesickness, no matter how far you travel.
What does an incurable traveler like me know about homesickness?
A lot, actually.
Just like you, I love that feeling of sliding into a familiar and comfy bed at night. I love knowing exactly where everything is in the kitchen without having to think about it. I love getting into my fuzzy slippers and PJs and sitting in front of the TV with a bowlful of popcorn.
And sometimes when we’re on the road, I miss all of that with a dull ache that seems like it will never end.
I have to work pretty hard to avoid homesickness.
I remember one night in Sweden, about halfway through our 2-year bike trip, we were walking along a dark country road, headed back towards our cold tent perched in a stranger’s yard.
Light beamed out from the windows of cottages and small homes we passed. Inside, people were doing homey things, like cooking dinner or putting the kids to bed. In that moment, I yearned to be inside a home — OUR home — doing the mundane tasks that take place inside four safe walls.
I longed for the feeling of comfort and familiarity that the people in those houses took for granted.
In that moment, I was desperately homesick and ready to book a plane home the next day.
I didn’t. Instead, we figured out how to avoid homesickness (most of the time) by making ourselves feel at home anywhere in the world.
I hope these tips will help you when homesickness hits on the road.
How to Avoid Homesickness and Feel at Home Anywhere in the World
Your Suitcase is a Trap
As soon as you arrive in a new place, unpack. Since we almost always stay two or more nights in each place, and unpacking our light carry-ons takes a matter of minutes, it’s always worth the time it takes to unpack. This helps us avoid that icky “living out of a suitcase” feeling.
The only problem is, there isn’t always room to unpack fully. In India, our hotel rooms usually had a closet, but the closet ALWAYS only contained two hangers — and there was nowhere else to put our clothes.
At the Ulpotha retreat in Sri Lanka, we didn’t want to unpack completely because, since our hut had no walls, there was a good chance that creepy crawlies would find their way inside our clothes. And on our camping trips, our tent is too cramped to have our clothes lying all around.
In these cases, we still pull our packing cubes (which are an indispensable piece of travel gear, BTW) out of our suitcases and stack them on a chair, a table, or inside the hanger-less closet.
Next time you check in at a hotel, unpack immediately and see if it helps you feel more at home.
Something Cuddly and Familiar
Remember that stuffed animal you would not leave home without as a kid? This is the grown-up nomad version of that.
Yup, as silly as it sounds, having something cuddly and comfy to crawl into bed with can make almost any bed feel instantly cozy and familiar. For Stephen and me, these comfy items come in the shape of our Therm-a-rest compressible pillows. We often use them to enhance the crappy hotel pillows we invariably encounter. If by some miracle the pillows are good, I just cuddle my pillow in my arms for an extra-comfy sleep.
Hardcore light packers will scoff at the idea of packing a pillow, but those people live in a cold, hard world where comfort doesn’t matter. We, on the other hand, like to feel at home even when we’re not, so our pillows never get left behind.
To create this effect yourself, bring a small stuffed animal, a cozy pair of slippers, or a fuzzy sweatshirt. Whatever your item is, make sure it gives you an instant feeling of “home” the second you pull it out of your bag.
When Stephen told me he was packing a small Nataraja statue, several sets of mala beads, and an assortment of pebbles for our latest six-month work-travel journey, I guffawed. Loudly. These items seemed to be a waste of space in Stephen’s already overloaded suitcase.
But I have now seen the error of my ways. I have eaten crow and humble pie because this little stash of knick-knacks is invaluable in making Airbnbs, hotels, and other people’s houses feel like home.
As part of his unpacking ritual, Stephen sets up a small puja on a windowsill or table somewhere in our room. Having a few meaningful trinkets sitting out make the whole room feel familiar, instantly.
Try bringing along a few meaningful items of your own – like a family photo, a vial of sand from your local beach, or your prized Yoda figurine.
When I’m feeling especially homesick or lonely on the road, I often turn to TV to help me through it. Yes, it’s OK to stay in and watch TV from time to time, even if you’re thousands of miles from home.
I don’t watch just any TV, though. To wrap myself in a familiar homey feeling, I re-watch one of my favourite series, like West Wing, Buffy, or Gilmore Girls. As pathetic as it sounds, the old familiar shows make me feel like I’m hanging out with old friends.
If you’re not a TV person, books and music may have the same effect. Instead of digging up a new release, I’ll put on a record I’ve listened to (and loved) a thousand times. Dancing around a strange room to my favourite music is a perfect way to make me feel at home. Wrapping myself in the comfort of a familiar book, whether it’s Bridget Jones Diary or A Room with a View, also works wonders for grounding my soul.
Stay In and Cook
Searching for something to eat and navigating the strange world of foreign foods is part of the beauty and excitement of travel. But it can also be disorienting and depressing – especially if you just can’t find anything in the local cuisine that you really like to eat.
We started cooking on the road for budget and health reasons, but now we find that staying places with a kitchen helps ground us. There’s nothing quite like shopping and cooking familiar foods to give you a homey feeling. Sitting down to dinner in your own home, however temporary, instead of wandering the streets looking for food, can make you feel more comfortable in a strange place.
You know that feeling you get when you go to dinner at someone’s house, but you don’t know them very well? It’s disorienting, right? Should I take my shoes off at the door? Should I offer to help in the kitchen? Can I put my elbows on the table? Oops, I better remember to sit up straight!
When you travel, that feeling comes along a LOT, since you’re never sure if there’s some cultural taboo you may be breaking at any given moment. So, when you arrive at your guest house or Airbnb, it’s vital to shed that feeling immediately.
Take your shoes off, put on your comfiest clothes, curl up on the couch or put your feet up on the coffee table. Make a nice cup of tea and rifle through the cupboards for a snack. Relax. Act like you own the place. You’ll soon feel right at home.
Don’t Be Judgy
It’s easy to be super-judgemental when you’re travelling, comparing every meal to one you had the previous week, or worse, comparing everything to the way things are back home. The problem with these comparisons is that you end up judging everything you do. This experience was a nightmare, that meal was terrible compared to a restaurant in your hometown, the traffic is awful, the noise is unbearable and on and on and on…
Instead of thinking “this food is awful” try to think of it as “interesting”. Think about the flavour and texture, figure out why it is so different from what you know and love back home. Notice the details and formulate an entertaining anecdote about the experience. That way, you take the focus off of how rotten everything is and start learning to appreciate the differences.
Once you stop thinking everything is better somewhere else, you’ll feel a lot more comfortable in strange situations and be a lot less homesick.
Get Over Yourself
Contrary to what you might think, Stephen and I do not live the squalid life of ultra-budget backpackers. We like it when the corners of the bathroom are clean and the toilet flushes without leaking “water” onto the floor. We like the bed to be soft and comfy and we appreciate it when the bedsheets are free from stains. We like a quiet, warm, safe room to sleep in at night.
But the truth is, you’re not always going to get what you want when you travel. No matter how much time you spend reading reviews and planning ahead, sometimes you will have to put up with less than your ideal standard of comfort.
When this happens, you’ve gotta get over yourself. Try to leave behind your concept of what SHOULD be. As long as your accommodation is safe, then stop worrying about how much better it could be — or how much better the place you stayed last night was or how much better you bed at home is — and just relax.
Unpack, set out your trinkets, put on your comfy slippers and make yourself at home. After all, it’s only temporary.
FaceTime or Facebook
The advent of free-flowing WiFi and video calling capabilities is a double-edged sword.
On the one hand, it helps you keep up with old friends from around the world and helps keep you in touch with all the goings-on back home. FaceTime can be a lifesaver when you’re yearning to see a familiar face and Facebook can be great if you need to check in with the daily doings of your circle of friends.
But sometimes, all this connectivity can make you even more homesick — with a good dose of FOMO as well. Especially if you call during the holidays when everyone you know is hanging out together and you’re halfway around the world. So use FaceTime and Facebook at your own risk. It might help you ward off homesickness, or it might bring on a wave so strong it’ll drown you.
Sometimes, there’s nothing better to cure your homesickness than a trip home. Last year, after our bike trip ended, I felt like I needed to be back in Canada (even though we hadn’t lived there for 20 years). It was amazing to be there, hanging out with old friends and getting to spend time with my family.
After six months at home, I was more than ready to get out and take on the world again, knowing that I’d make an effort to come back home more often in the future.
There’s no way to avoid homesickness completely. Sometimes it will spring up when you least expect it. But if you spend a little time working on it, you can avoid homesickness by making yourself feel as at home as possible, anywhere in the world.
Do you have techniques or tips for avoiding homesickness? Do you think you could live without a home for extended periods? Let us know in the comments below.