Do You Ever Get Homesick When Traveling?

A young reader sent me the following email several days ago that I thought was both extremely well written and thought provoking:

Hope you’re having a great time wherever you are! As you may have noticed I was in BKK a few days ago with my friends. The trip left me with a strange feeling that I can’t quite get rid off, and I couldn’t help but drop you this email.

As silly as this sounds, I think I get homesick. I can’t believe I’m saying this but I actually missed home, and there’s no logical explanation for it. The feeling started the moment I settled down in the MH lounge. It was crowded, and I was surrounded by friends (close ones, in fact) including a couple of lounge staff who’ve become familiar faces, yet I still felt somewhat depressed and longing for home – just 70km away in the same country. I caught myself glancing at my watch a couple of times, not to keep track of time, but to imagine what my family would be doing at home at that time (dinner time, movie night etc), albeit without me.

It didn’t help when I checked into the hotel. All of my friends went to sleep faster than DL when it comes to destroying their program, and I was still tossing and turning, again thinking of what I’d otherwise be doing at home at that time.

I then remembered the lyrics of Michael Buble’s song Home: “maybe surrounded by a million people I still feel all alone”. I called my mom once, and actually tried dragging the conversation longer even though I’ve run out things to say. Okay, I’ll admit it. One teardrop after I hung up, that’s all.

Back at home, I’m getting the same feeling again. It’s probably because I’ve just finished packing for my month-long North American trip, and I wouldn’t be seeing my family again until maybe February. If I could barely survive 5 days 750 miles away from home, I can’t imagine how I’m going to live for the next 5 weeks or so.

My purpose of writing to you isn’t to whine about how much I miss my mommy but to ask if you’ve ever had this feeling before. I’m nowhere as experienced as you when it comes to flying around the world, so I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re falling off your chair in laughter now.

I think the email in and of itself is worth sharing, though beyond that I figured I’d have some thoughts to share. Hell, I have an opinion on just about everything in life — to a fault — so I was kind of surprised that this wasn’t an issue I felt more strongly about.

And maybe that’s just a function of me being really close to my parents and at the same time being introverted. I started off mileage running when I was 15, whereby my dad would drop me off at the airport at 5AM on a Saturday, and pick me up again at 10AM on Sunday. So in a way I was “traveling” just about every weekend without going anywhere. It was no different than a sleepover, and just about as soon as I felt like I was l “leaving” home I was already flying east again towards home.

Maybe that kind of “eased” me into things, because then when I started taking trips on my own for longer periods of time it wasn’t like it was my first time away from home. When I’d travel it wouldn’t be so much that I’d miss home, as much as worrying about my parents and whether they’re okay or not. Even living cross country I talk to my parents multiple times a day, and that has only gotten “worse” since my mother got an iPhone and now knows how to text. So whenever I land from a longhaul flight the only thing really on my “mind” (other than award chart devaluations, of course!) is whether my family is okay, and if they are okay then there’s nothing I really miss, since I know I’ll see them again soon.

I’ve certainly been in a relationship and missed being with the person I’m with, but that’s probably a bit different than just being homesick.

I dunno, this is a really interesting question, and it’s really screwing with my mind that I don’t have an opinion on this.

I think what it all comes down to is that with practice everything gets better in life. After my Royal Jordanian flight in March I just about swore off flying, as I was over it. I was dealing with issues relating to the flight after the fact, and it was driving me crazy. But less than a year later it’s as if it never happened.

If these are your first few trips away from your family that last more than a few days, I’m sure it’ll get better over time. I remember when I started mileage running I’d always live in “what if” scenarios. I’d think to myself “well what if something happens and I could have avoided it by just staying home?” And then I eventually came to the realization that as long as I’m not making stupid decisions (and flying is statistically extremely safe, and as long as you’re smart about where you go, travel is safe as well) there’s no point in living with any regrets.

Where do you guys stand? Do you get homesick when traveling? Any tips/wisdom? Why don’t I have a stronger opinion on this?

Comments

  1. Your first solo trip was so long ago that you probably don’t remember how freaked out you were about the whole thing. I also feel that some people just need to be around familiar things/people in order to feel safe. While us more introverted people feel safe wherever we are.

    I just don’t think it’s in your DNA to get homesick which would explain the lack of opinion on the topic.

  2. I often have this feeling when traveling. For me the hardest part is the lack of a steady routine. It’s always new hotels, new promoters, new clubs, etc.

    I need the structure of a routine when I’m on the road. So everywhere I go no matter where in the world or how much time pressure there is, I switch in my workout clothes, put on my favourite music and hit the gym.

    Oh and I also try to make some new friends, even when I’m in a club where I already know some of the staff or regulars. I don’t know why but this helps too.

  3. Anyone who has ever traveled knows the feeling of waking up in the middle of the night in an anonymous hotel room and feeling more miserable and alone than you ever thought possible.

    Building a routine when you travel helps avoid this or at least to make it more manageable. There is something strangely comforting in doing the same thing (working out, reading The Economist, eating Eggs Benedict for breakfast, whatever) even in a different setting.

    Finally, there is no shame in simply drawing a line and saying “enough” when you reach that point. I’ve known too many people who burned out (including myself) because we kept going when every physical and mental sign said that we should have stopped. If a certain type or amount of travel is not fun for you, don’t do it. Travel is not an endurance sport, despite what the way some people on the internet treat it! 🙂

  4. I’ve traveled a lot the last two years for a project and twice I’ve been really homesick. The last time was in November. I was in Delhi when Auburn played Georgia (we live in Auburn, went to Auburn, etc) and I was pretty sick that I missed what looked like the greatest ending in Jordan-Hare Stadium history. However my wife and I were there two weeks later for the Alabama game, and if I had to pick one of those games to miss, I missed the right one. Sorry for the football tangent, we’re all still a little excited.

  5. I think going away and living in the dorms for college/university helps with not being homesick when travelling as an adult.
    I still remember thinking how in the world would I survive without seeing my family after an entire semester — but I survived. Nowadays with travel, the most I am away is 2-3 weeks and thus I rarely get homesick. When I do, thanks to technology I can always skype or facetime chat with loved ones from wherever I am in the world that has wifi.

  6. Definitely…this was me! I was in the Peace Corps back in the early 2000’s and even then in Honduras we didn’t have internet, so weeks would go by without talking with my family for .79/minute on the crackling portable-phone/landline. I definitely got upset. Infact, the Peace Corps warned us if we saw any of our compatriots being “too reminiscent” then it was a warning sign and they had to talk to the PC nurse lol.

    Just last summer, I was a student leader for a group to Ecuador, and I had to go to the village 2 weeks before the group, although beautiful, during the rainy days in the Andes Mountains, I just felt so homesick (and bored a bit haha).

    Lastly, in January 2014 I’m departing for the South Pacific for 3 months for dissertation research? I know / learned some strategies to deal with being homesick / longing-for home and maybe these can help?

    1. Where possible, I try to almost never stay in a hotel. Whether it is hostel (even if you get a private room), or a home-stay, or paying $28/night for a university dorm, whatever. Yes, your own room and amazing sheets and free cookies/coffee are good, but so is a good story from a new friend that should be wearing more than “Pink” shorts lol.

    2. Use couchsurfing to meet up with other travelers. Yes, sometimes they are super weird, bizarre, and eat triple cheeseburgers but it makes for good stories and takes your mind off of loneliness.

    3. Now that internet is almost everywhere, get your parents to sign up for Skype or Facetime them on Iphone, etc.

    4. Don’t overcommit to traveling….it seems like if you book a 14 day trip, by day 12 you’re ready to go home….so know your limits and bring books, computer games, or something else to distract you.

    Hopefully that helps…and I realize maybe this post is more accurate on a frugal traveler page or the “poor Grad student” page, but I thought it may be of help 🙂 I’m sure there’ll be days in Jan-Apr 2014 when I’m like “get me the F back home” but at the end of the day, just remember…when will you have this opportunity in your life again?

    -Mike

  7. My first solo trip (as an UM, of course) was when I was 3. I’m now 30.

    While I’m no expert in traveling, not doing 100ks of miles every year, I’ve certainly done it for a few years.

    But I don’t think I was ever *homesick.* If anything, I feel like I miss being in planes and lounges more than anything else. Perhaps it’s because I’m conditioned to living a pretty solitary lifestyle, even when I am in a relationship…

    For a while, I slept best on planes, and not in my own bed. That was when I realized I was flying just a tad too much…

    It’s strange how I just make friends in every city *except* my home city when I developed that kind of lifestyle. So in a sense, my home is *everywhere* and *nowhere* at the same time. I’m not grounded anywhere, even though I’ve called HKG my home base for almost three years now.

    I miss my friends in other places, but… I just go see them. Getting on a flight is pretty easy nowadays. But I guess it helps to believe that “home” is where I just end up.

    I should also disclose that I sometimes stay with friends and not in hotels, so that does make me feel a bit more “at home.”

    Ben, perhaps you don’t relate to homesickness because you’ve been in the game for so long? 🙂

  8. I still get a little anxious when I’m far from home, especially if I’m in a place that’s very unfamiliar. I guess anxiety isn’t the same as homesickness, but I think the reasons for it are the same. Also for some reason LAX makes me really anxious — I think they need to pipe Enya music into the terminals there or something!

  9. I’m similarly not the type to get homesick so I understand your sentiments. I spent almost every summer in high school away from my family in different summer programs and moved away for college. I also feel totally comfortable in a hotel alone or visiting far away cities and travel weekly for work. The one thing I do miss is my boyfriend but we never go more than a couple weeks without seeing each other.

    Lucky – the one thing I’m always curious about is whether you miss your friends though and how you maintain friendships back home given how many days a year you travel? Given I travel with friends for vacation or see them at least weekends this has not been a problem for me but I probably travel a third as much as you.

  10. I went to boarding school at 15, a 3 hour two connection flight into a small airport. sure you get home sick! Usually it’s when you are over tired. When in doubt, rest up and focus on the moment and the opportunities in front of you. I would not change my experiences for anything

  11. Thanks for posting this Ben…it’s a very interesting topic that many of us can relate to.

    For some reason my anxiety starts *prior* to my trips, like 1-2 days before. Once I step into the airport it typically goes away. If not, I’ll go to the lounge/bar and have a drink. This may not be the best way of handling it, but it works for me. That usually calms the nerves and I remember why I like traveling in the first place.

    When I do travel I try to stick to a similar routine as I would if I were home (eat, sleep, workout, relax etc).

    Best of luck to the OP…do know there are others of us who have similar issues.

  12. It usually hits me after I’ve had a few drinks on long international trip. The sudden realization that I am once again gone and won’t see my kids for awhile. Its hard to feel like a good father after three weeks on the road…….

  13. I find the third night away the most difficult. That’s probably a function of so many two night-three day trips for business so I feel I should be home already. After the third and sometimes fourth night, I settle in on longer trips. But as Mikey S. said, you have to know your outer limit too. My father used to say he knew he had been away too long when he craved an ice cream soda in a place where they could not quite get what he was trying to order.

  14. I never get home sick while on vacation. But last summer, we went on RTW trip for a month and one of my kids said she missed her trumpet!

  15. I get terribly homesick/anxiety when travelling and it took me ages to work out if it was that I simply didn’t enjoy travelling or what. My sheltered life meant I didn’t travel overseas without my parents until I was 26. Then cue a massive anxiety/panic attack with my fiance on our first overseas holiday alone which lead me to seek medical advice and talk to my family about it. Turns out my brother is exactly the same! I think it’s really good to talk about it! I can travel now with no problem – I just recognise I get anxious and miss home.

  16. I don’t get home sick. I have the opposite thing: I get “travel-sick” when I’m at home. I really feel almost depressed when I’m at home and not traveling. Especially the first week, I feel like I didn’t travel good enough and I should have done more.
    Also the same thing about the watch: I look at the time and I think: “now I could be swimming, and in stead I’m just sitting here”.

    It’s a strange feeling, I get people that are home sick, but something like I feel is just so strange…

  17. @ William — Hah, if I got a dog I’d probably quit traveling. Love dogs far too much which is the only reason I don’t have one.

  18. This is my first post, I just discovered this site yesterday and I didn’t expect thar my first post woul be related to this subject. I am fairly youngish (late 30s) and have traveled extensively over the years (20+ countries 5 continents) but have always lived on a small farm in a rural area in North Carolina. I love to travel, very sociable and extroverted, and enjoying meeting new people, but always look forward to being “home” with the animals hearing the rooster crow in the morning and walking the property early in the morning with coffee. So yes while I enjoy traveling, “home” always travels with me wherever I go. I always get a laugh when heading home I tell someone I meet that I am looking forward to the chickens laying eggs…

  19. I’m in the same situation with the reader who emailed you. As I post this comment I am sitting in Tel Aviv. I’m with just my mom and her aunt. I have 4 family members I left. I cried on all my 3 flights because I was homesick already. I bawled my eyes out the second we got into to my aunts house. I feel that if I could communicate normally with my aunt, I’d feel much better. See, our family is half Russian, half Ukrainian. My aunt has no idea what I’m talking about when I speak english, and it’s the same when she speaks Russian. My mom can speak Russian, so they talk all the time, and I feel like the new kid on the block. Completely ignored out of my world. Do you have any advice? Don’t worry if you reply late. I’m here for 5 weeks.

  20. hey

    Hope you feel better soon

    I have been held back by homesickness my whole life and it’s stunted my growth in alot of ways. I would get homesick going 30 minutes to the next city!I remember getting homesick with all my mates in a club in Glasgow once!They kept asking me ‘what’s up’? Was so strange, but i just wanted to be by the fire , my mum and sisters cooking in the warm kitchen and talking to my family,having the cat jump on my lap etc lol I’m UK btw. I come from a big close bonded family, so i think this plays a big part.

    I’ve now forced myself to travel and i have to do it alone as most of my friends are married with kids now. I feel really miserable when away on these trips .They’re only a few days, i couldn’t do longer alone. I get achy feelings in my heart, nostalgic, weepy, constant dreams of family and these then change into anxieties of things happening to them etc. It can be really crippling to your growth as a person. I still force myself to do things away from home though.

    You are lucky you have friends as this will ease alot of the pain. I do feel for you though as it can be a real struggle. Good luck and hope it goes well

    Shane

  21. This is a bit different. I feel homesick for an area that has not been my home. Not a house or person but an area. I used to visit this area regularly to feel the vibrations and to feel at home. I’ve been abroad for five years and am crying just thinking about it. I wonder if it is a memory in my DNA.

    Any insights or similar experiences would be appreciated.

  22. I’m in the exact same scenario right now. I’m 11 and I’m with my cousins and older brother in Austin. My parents and two younger siblings are back home in Hong Kong where we live. The first night they left, I couldn’t stop crying. The next two nights, I was fine, but then last night (the fourth night), I started crying all over again, and I probably only got 6 hours of sleep. I called my mom in the middle of the night, but then we got cut off and I couldn’t reach her. I just lay there and cried myself to sleep, How do you get rid of the awful feelings that I’m experiencing right now?

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