As the travel bug bites more and more of us, glamorous expat lives and travel Instagrams are full of incredibly beautiful pictures and on-point advice to travel for less. What we don’t see as much is the flip side that sometimes creeps on us when we live abroad or on the road: homesickness. I haven’t been home – and by that I mean my home country – for two years. I lived in three different countries in the meantime. I had to leave a country that I called home too. I’m not sure that the one where I live right now can be called that. And I am homesick.
In many instances, especially when things can tough, I’ve felt terribly alone. I’ve wanted to go home. Except I’m not really sure where that is. I wanted to see my parents, to see my friends, to see the people I grew up with or my siblings. I wanted, really, to have some sort of comfort in being with people I know well and who’ve known me for a long time.
It’s kind of whiny of me to feel this way, since I have such a great community here in Costa Rica. However, it seems like there is some part of my brain that thinks that nothing can prevail on the connection that I have with the people who are closest to me, despite the fact that all of them are far away. I don’t like the concept; it’s like establishing an hierarchy of loved ones, but I’d be dishonest if I didn’t acknowledge that I often feel that way.
I first wrote this article’s title as ‘How to deal with homesickness as an adult,’ before realizing I didn’t really have a point-by-point list of tricks and tips to offer on the subject. The advice I hear the most often is that ‘home is where the heart is.’ For some reasons, it always makes me terribly angry, especially if I have to hear it from people who have a stable life and place to live (grumpy me…). What is that supposed to mean exactly? That am I supposed to stop caring about certain places & friends? Of course, I have left a part of my heart everywhere I have lived, and with everyone I loved, so how do I fix this?
I think a nice point to start is to remember that having this problem makes you one of the luckiest persons on Earth: you’ve traveled. You have many people you care about and who care about you, so you miss many of them. These are good things, though they might not always feel good.
Also, hallelujah for Skype, Whatsapp and all the rest of the family. Staying in touch has never been so easy, so use and abuse it. I just called my dad to ask him advice on how to pay for my (ugly) dentist bill. I think that’s perfectly fine. Just because you don’t live with or close to someone anymore doesn’t mean you can’t tell them about the little things of life, good or bad.
It’s easy to forget that you also have people around you that you can rely on when it gets hard. I often convince myself that I don’t really have close friends here until it hits me and I realize how much love and support I get on a daily basis. If you are staying enough time in the same place, chances are there are people who’d lend a helping hand if you need. Again, that hierarchy of relationships is kind of dumb anyway.
While I have no magical conclusion on how to deal with homesickness, it seems like it involves that strange thing called taking care of yourself, and potentially purchasing a ticket to see your family/friends/lovers more than every couple of years (you’re not THAT busy). Sometimes money will get in the way. Other times time constraints or work. These are things of life, maybe inevitable.
But I know that along the way, the most powerful thing I have done while traveling is realizing I was homesick, and that I needed to go back, even for a short time. Admitting you are homesick can feel a bit silly or shameful (it does for me, shouldn’t I just focus on how privileged I am?), but it is essential to living your life healthily and having the mindset necessary to make the most out of your travels.
Because, after all, there is strength in every place you feel like calling home.