Homesickness while on long-term travel is nearly unavoidable.
Just three months after my 18th birthday I moved to Voronezh, Russia for half-a-year to teach English. This was, without a doubt, one of the very best things I ever did for myself. But, on the flip side, it was also one of the most difficult things I have ever done.
In retrospect I was young, but at the time I didn’t realize how young I really was – I became more homesick than I’d ever expected. Thankfully, I learned a few tricks to bring the familiar to the foreign.
Ask for the comforts from home
Receiving packages isn’t just about pieces of home coming to you; packages are also a way for you to share pieces of your home with others. As I found myself wishing I had this or that, I would add them to my ongoing list of what I’d like to receive in a package. The list usually included items like Oreos, Peanut Butter Cups, lemonade mix, Butterfingers, microwave popcorn and card games like Uno, Skip-Bo and Phase 10. I had more fun getting to share and talk with others about what I got rather than sitting in a corner stuffing processed chocolates in my mouth.
The family I lived with was totally amazed that we could have popcorn at home rather than having to go to the movies, although it took some convincing and a promise that if I broke their microwave I would replace it with a new one. I’m pretty sure they were hoping for a new microwave to be the outcome rather than microwaveable popcorn, but the experience turned out to be one of my favorite stories to share.
Find your nearest McD’s or other fast food outlet
I know it seems a little sacrilegious to eat at McDonalds while surrounded by a foreign culture but sometimes you just need that fix of home. McDonalds can be more than mainstream greasy food. They almost always have better bathrooms than other restaurants. Culture and the country isn’t lost — many McDonalds adds cultural twists like spices, sauces, meats, style and booze. Yes, booze.
Going to McDonalds has become a favorite tradition of mine. I’ve been to several international McDonalds outlets including enjoying little pieces of home in Lithuania, United States, Mexico, Israel, Russia, London and France. It’s fun to compare similarities and differences in cultures and countries.
Stay in touch via the (gasp) postal system
I love to send postcards when I travel, probably because I love getting postcards when my friends travel. Who doesn’t love getting something in the mail? The further into the twenty-first century we get, the more of a novelty it is! Sending postcards worked well for me because it’s something I could do whenever I wanted … like when the craving for home hit, or trying to fall asleep after a long day, riding on a bus or even in between teaching classes. It was my way of letting my mind wander and allow myself to think about the people and things I missed from home while being productive, rather than missing home and letting myself get depressed.
Get out and meet people
Traveling to Russia with seven fellow English teachers helped make the transition smoother for my stay in a foreign country. We became a great support system for each other, even though we all lived with separate local families. Having a host family was amazing – I wouldn’t do it any other way. They were a sweet, understanding family who included me in as many family outings as I wanted to attend.
The longer you’re abroad the easier it is to approach locals and other travelers. Take advantage of sites like Couchsurfing. Although I didn’t know about it when I was in Russia, I have since used it to find people in the area I was visiting for a cup of coffee, tips and ideas and even had a few people offer to show me around. I’ve never had a negative experience with Couchsurfing, but always remember to be safe and smart about meeting places.
There are other ways to meet people, too. Do a search on Facebook to see if there are any groups in the town you are living in. Enroll in a language course. Take a cooking class. Get out there and meet people with similar interests.
Find music and movies to remind you of home
I moved to Russia before iPods or digital music and movies were common, so I was stuck with the dozens of CD’s I brought with me. Luckily, buying American movies made illegally were easy to find and fairly cheap. However, finding movies in English that hadn’t been dubbed over was a little bit trickier and more expensive. Needless to say, when I found them, I bought them. I came home with “Hitch,” “The Phantom of the Opera,” “Peter Pan” and “13 Going On 30.” Sure, none of them are my favorites, but it was nice to have 90 minutes of English and not have to make conversation.
What do you do when you get homesick? Do you have any surefire ways to kick it to the curb?
About the Author: Heather is passionate about three thing: 1) traveling; 2)humanity; and 3) education. In 2012, upon earning her Integrated Studies degree in History & Political Science, she is leaving her life in Salt Lake City, Utah to live the life of an expat. With only the intention to travel, she is leaving the planning and itinerary to where the trade winds of the universe send her. Follow Heather’s journey on her blog, HeathersHarmony, on Twitter and Facebook.