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Posted by Jessica on May 12, 2009
Top 9 Tips to Tackle Homesickness

When Tim and I landed in Bangkok for the first time, it was just a few days before Christmas. Little did we know something was waiting for us and it wasn't a shiny wrapped present under a tree.

We had been traveling around-the-world for about 10 months when we arrived in Thailand and, up to that point, we had never had a day that we wanted to go home. Not that we didn't miss our friends and families. We did miss them, of course, but we just really loved traveling. And our love for traveling and our ability to hit the road and go wherever we dreamed overcame any early twinges of homesickness we may have experienced.

Homesick for the first time

Something changed during those first few weeks in Bangkok. We don't know if it was the culture shock, or the noise, or our exhaustion after traveling for 10 months, or the upcoming Christmas holiday. But whatever the cause, we were homesick after our first day in Bangkok. Nothing about Thailand was appealing, everything about traveling seemed like a chore, and most of all, we just wanted to go home. We missed our parents, out friends, and I can't tell you how much I missed my cat.

For the next few weeks, Tim and I spent a good deal of time in our hotel room. We had splashed out a bit and were staying at the Royal Hotel for 1,600 Thai Baht a night, or (at that time) about US$40. (I should mention that's blasphemy, certainly, for those familiar with the 200-800 Baht rooms spread throughout Bangkok!) We ordered room service for dinner more times than I can count, we had our clothes laundered at the hotel, we ate the (awesome) buffet breakfast included in our room price, we lounged by the pool, we decorated our room from head to toe in Christmas lights and garlands, and we watched movie after movie on cable TV. Walking into our hotel room, you'd have no idea we were in another country. And we liked it like that.

Of course, we ventured out to get some Pad Thai from street cart vendors for lunch every day. But we also grabbed a fair share of Western food from Italian restaurants and, dare I admit it, McDonald's too. We took the water taxi up to one of the major shopping centers, Siam Square, to buy our Christmas decorations. We went to the movies, emailed with friends, and bought a dozen or so new books. And we headed out to the payphones near Khao San Road to call our families. But other than those small excursions, we did very little else. For those first two weeks in Thailand we were located only a stone's throw away from some of Bangkok's top tourist sites. We never ventured over to them (though we did on later visits). And we liked it like that too.

Treating those homesickness blues

Little did we know, we were "treating" our homesickness exactly how we needed to treat it. Of course, curling up comfortably in our hotel room in Bangkok could only work for so long. No matter how indulgent we can be, we eventually realized we had to make a change in scenery to really snap out of our homesickness. And so on our fifteenth day in Thailand, we boarded a government bus for Trat and from there made our way to the island of Ko Chang. It would be there – one week later after some sunshine did us a world of good – that we'd meet up with our dear friend Klaus. Homesickness officially cured, we never mentioned going home early again.

So what did we do to cure our homesickness? (Other than spending a bit of cash, indulging ourselves silly, and then heading to a beautiful island, of course.) How did we snap out of it and get on with enjoying the rest of our travels?

What follows are some of our tips for tackling homesickness when it strikes. Because treating homesickness is not a simple cure, you might discover some of these approaches won't work for you. And a few of these tips (like #1 and #6) might even make you more homesick if taken to extreme indulgences. Read onward with these things in mind, but remember your mileage may vary.

#1 – Give yourself time to feel homesick
It can be difficult to understand why you're feeling homesick when you're in a faraway land. With so many new things around to experience – some of which might be once in a lifetime experiences – it's easy to think you should just be able to snap out of any funk. But just because you're on the road doesn't mean your emotions aren't with you too. And it's perfectly understandable to feel homesick when you're traveling, especially when you're out on your own or gone for a long time. Feeling homesick isn't bad or a sign of failure, but ignoring it could be a mistake. So give yourself time to feel in a funk or to mope. And then, when you're ready to go out and see the sights again, you'll able to be really enjoy them rather than just going through the motions.

#2 – Forget your budget,  just for a few days
All backpackers have a budget, some are much smaller and others are much larger, but most of us are usually watching what we spend each day when we travel. We know if we spend more on a hotel room than we'll have a bit less for food. Or that if we go to a market and buy some souvenirs, we might want to opt for a room with a shared bathroom at our next destination. But when you're homesick, one thing that can help a bit is to indulge yourself a little. So go ahead, get the room that costs $5 more than you usually pay. Eat at a Western-style restaurant instead of from a street cart. Buy a new book instead of trading your old one away. Get two ice cream cones in one day. Really, you'll thank me for it.

#3 – Stay in one place for awhile
I know there's so much to see in the world and not enough time. And for travelers who prefer a speedier route, this tip may be a bit more difficult. But when you realize you're homesick and it's just not going away no matter how much you try to travel it into the ground, stop traveling. That's right, just stop. Settle down in a village or a city for a few more days (maybe even a whole week or two!) longer than you normally would. Getting that backpack off your back and not having to deal with taxis, buses, and border crossings will help restore a bit of balance again. There'll be plenty of time to get on that next bus. And you can adjust the rest of your schedule if you need to. But for now, stay put, let yourself feel homesick (see Tip #1), and set about trying some of these next tips.

#4 – Make a home away from home
Once you've settled into a comfy hostel or hotel for several days (see Tips #2 and #3), it's time to make it feel like home. See your backpack? Unpack it completely. If you have a private bathroom, put your toiletries around the sink. If you have a dresser, put your clothes inside it. If you have any sort of table, put your guidebooks and your travel alarm clock on top of it. Buy some flowers from the local market, light a few candles if you enjoy them, get a cheap portable speaker for your iPod. If you have photos of your friends and family at home, tack them up somewhere in your room. Nest like crazy.

#5 – Do what you
Now I know you're in another country and you want to do what the locals do. But that's not always helpful when you're homesick. Usually a cure for homesickness involves introducing something that's familiar back into your life for a few days. When I'm feeling mopey, I love nothing more than reading a good book or curling up and watching reality TV (gasp!). For others it might be people watching at a cafe or going to the movies. Maybe you love browsing in bookstores or walking around the mall. If you're normally a hermit at home and talking to so many other people is getting to be too much, hole up in your nested-in room (see Tip #4) for a few days. If you're usually a social butterfly but haven't met any new people in your current location, hang out in your hostel's common room or go to a local cafe and strike up a conversation with someone. Whatever it is that you enjoy doing at home, try doing it abroad too. It'll help stop your emotions from spinning and get you grounded again.

#6 – Remember family is only a phone call away
Sure you're halfway around the world, but that doesn't mean you have to feel like it. In most countries, it can be much cheaper to call internationally than it may be to call from the US or the UK. So buy a phone card and give your folks a call (just make sure to check the time zones beforehand least you wake your Dad up at 3am). Or spend a few hours at an internet cafe just sending emails and instant messaging with your friends. Since you'll be in one place for a little while (see Tip #3), ask your Mom to send you a care package with some favorite goodies in it. Or better yet, send a care package to your family or friends with souvenirs from the country you're in. Even easier? Send a few postcards to them instead. Those little connections can make a world of difference when you miss home.

#7 – Seek out traveler friends
(Caveat: If you're more of a hermit, this tip might be something you'll need to wait a few days before trying. If you're a social butterfly, this tip might be something you want to do straight away.)

Seeking out familiar faces (or, at the very least, folks who share a common interest with you) is a great way to help your homesickness. If you've collected some email addresses from fellow travelers while on the road, drop them a line and see if anyone is nearby. Hop over to the message boards at Lonely Planet and see if you can arrange to meet up with someone new. Find out what the popular traveler hang out in town is and then go there for a few days in a row. Soon enough, you'll make some traveler friends and you'll be so busy telling stories and trading tips that you'll start to forget you were homesick in the first place.

#8 – Keep yourself busy
Keeping the same caveat from Tip #7 in mind, staying busy when you're homesick is a great way to distract your mind. Sure it's important to give yourself space to feel homesick (see Tip #1) and you might not be up for sightseeing (in fact, that may backfire if you do too much of the unfamiliar), but that doesn't mean you should sit in your room for weeks on end feeling bad about the state you're in. If you absolutely need to, give yourself 10 minutes a day to wallow. There's no shame in that. But then, after those 10 minutes are up, do something. Do anything (see Tips #5, #6, and #7) to keep yourself feeling comfortable but distracted. Homesickness is kind of like the flu. You need to rest when you have the flu, but it doesn't go away when you just spend time thinking about it. Neither does homesickness.

#9 – Don
After you've given yourself a bit of distraction (see Tip #8) and space to feel homesick (see Tip #1), consider changing things up. For us that meant a change of scenery: we traded the chaos of Bangkok for the tranquility of Ko Chang. It also meant traveling with our friend Klaus for several weeks too. For you it might mean heading north instead of south, skipping your next planned destination entirely, riding a bike instead of taking the bus to the next town, or finding a new little gem to visit on the other side of the world. Whatever it may be, once you've gotten to the point where you want to travel again, it might be useful to find something new to inspire you. And doing so may help ensure those traveling blues don't come back again too.

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May 28, 2009 at 11:35pm
wow, excellent advice, and so well-put. i'm impressed. :)
Jessica the hedgehog
May 29, 2009 at 7:08pm
Awww, thanks Shana! :)

We've already had quite a few folks who have found this article via Google searches (for things like "what to do when you feel homesick" and the like). I'm really hopeful it'll be useful for people! :)

Alyssa Gross
June 12, 2009 at 10:39pm
Thanks so much!
I am going out of town with one of my parents (They arent separated, my dad just has a lot of work) and my older brother, we go to this place every summer, and i still get homesick! Plus, by myself (13 years old) I am flying to new york to visit my friend who lives in new jersey. Staying there for 5 days, and then riding the 9 hour drive back to Erie. ANYWAY, Thanks!
Jessica the hedgehog
June 15, 2009 at 2:58pm
Hi Alyssa! I'm so glad that you found these helpful! :)

Best of luck this summer keeping the homesickness blues away. My fingers are crossed these tips help a bit. And good luck with your bus ride too! I've found that I actually really enjoy long bus rides, whether it's in the US or in another country. It helps when I see it as part of an adventure. Maybe that will work for you too! :)

Something else that might be helpful is this article about long bus rides -– http://www.hedgehogswithoutborders.com/blog/entry/ttt_3_top_13_tips_for_a_long_bus_ride

Happy travels! :)

Mackenzie Madsen
December 29, 2011 at 5:03pm
thank you for this article and your site in general! I just wrote down all your directions from mexico city airport to the zocalo.. thanks for putting me at ease :)
January 28, 2012 at 11:32am
It's our pleasure, Mackenzie! I'm so happy to hear the website has been helpful to you. I'm sure you'll love Mexico! :)

(And apologies for the crazy delay in our responding to your comment too: We were in New Zealand when you wrote!)

Lauren White
June 22, 2013 at 1:12am
thank you :) I'm volunteering in Kenya this summer without my parents (I'm 14) and won't be able to call or email them for three weeks… needless to say I'm very anxious! Thank you for your help :)

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