Written by Jenny McWhirter on 27 / 01 / 2016
Gap Year Advice
Being far away from the ones you love can cause anxiety in even the most seasoned of solo adventurers...
You’re headed off travelling on your gap year. It’s an exciting, thrilling and certainly an eye-opening experience.
You’ll conquer things you never thought possible and immerse yourself in a way of life that is loved by all those that have had a taste of it.
But there’s no hiding from the fact that it's a challenging - and at times stressful - learning curve. You are required to learn to cope with culture differences. From eating dinner as late as 11pm to realising as you’re sat on a plane to Australia that you are a good 24 hours away from anyone you feel close and comfortable with.
With these challenges ahead it is extremely common to feel homesick and I can assure you every traveler at some point on their travels has felt the pang of homesickness at least once! These pangs do not have to stop you enjoying your time away or make you cut a long trip short, it’s more about learning to deal with them.
With these five simple strategies you should be well on your way to settling those nerves and ensuring you have the best time away.
Let’s start with the basics. Homesickness is a form of anxiety or emotional distress that results from feeling disconnected from familiar places and people.
There is no one particular cause of homesickness and consequently it can manifest in a number of different ways. From feeling alone to scared to physically unwell. Sadly, due to there being no definitive cause it is not something that will just go away overnight.
So what should you do? First off, don’t panic. Having suffered from homesickness myself, today I’ve compiled five strategies to get you through those low moments...
Throw yourself in at the deep end. Yes, an extremely scary concept but something that with a little planning can help you in the first few days of touching down in another continent.
The theory behind this strategy is that if you have a situation that scares you, the more you do it the more you’ll get used to it. It then won’t scare you and you’ll start to feel relaxed and that disconnection will be minimised.
So find something that scares you, you don’t feel comfortable with – when I was in Ecuador the capital city markets just made me feel so far from home as it was nothing like anything I’d ever come across.
Then make a conscious effort to go to this place at least once a day and try and look for the quirks that are interesting, things that you can associate with or something that you’re not familiar with but now can’t understand how you have lived without them.
Take Me to Ecuador!
To help you along the way to becoming more confident in your new location you need to step away from your mobile phone. While it is great to be able to tell your family and friends back home that you are doing ok, there is such a thing as being “too connected”.
Through use of your mobile, you stop yourself exploring your new surroundings. You limit your ability to throw yourself into this new place whilst you hold on to everything that is happening at home.
In the thick of homesickness, I know how tempting it is to call home and talk to someone you know, care and love. But trust me here it will only make it worse. Your connection to home will be a constant reminder that you are somewhere foreign and uncomfortable.
Instead of making that call home, aim to go and talk to someone in your hostel. I promise you, that you will not be the only one suffering and as I said before everyone has had those pangs so strike up conversation and they are bound to be friendly and welcoming.
What could be better than someone telling you to go and enjoy all the local cuisine has to offer? Head out and find a couple of local dishes that you love.
This has two benefits; it will give you something familiar that you like. You’ll then be able to head out and order something you’re used to and know what you’re getting. You will also find that food is a brilliant way to make friends and the more contact you have in your new location the more at ease you will feel and the less disconnection will affect you.
Once you’ve got a local dish you’ll start to feel like an expert when meeting the newbies in the hostel and you can recommend what they should try on their next outing.
Why not explore Australia during our popular program that gets you sorted on the job front, with a travelling itinerary to get you zipping up the East Coast and seeing all the great sights on your way?
Take Me There!
Similarly to the first strategy, finding a routine will ensure that you don’t just hide away in your room all day. This will keep you busy and the busier you are the less the feelings of disconnect are able to penetrate your thoughts.
Now when I say routine, don’t worry you won’t be heading back to school. A routine doesn’t have to mean getting up at 6am, breakfast at 7am, showered and out of the hostel by 8am. You can still be relaxed but fit into a flow.
A great way to provide yourself with a routine is to join a program. Volunteering abroad is one such program that allows you to do something worthwhile, whilst helping to provide a routine that will give your day’s purpose and get you out of that hostel room.
All the strategies I’ve given you so far have involved getting out into the city or local area. Whilst for the majority of your time getting out and about will help clear those unnerving feelings, putting a small amount of time aside each day for “me-time” can be very calming.
Keeping a travel journal can act to give you your own time to relax and also keep you occupied. You can then focus on what you have done that day that you really enjoyed, air the thoughts that have been difficult and think about what you’re looking forward to.
As well as helping to combat homesickness a journal will also give you a memento of your trip that you will look back on and remember the adventures you had. I will guarantee you won’t remember it all otherwise.
So there we have it. Five simple strategies to help you overcome that homesickness feeling. Most importantly, remember that it can hit you at any time. I’d already been travelling for four months on my gap year before it hit me.
Hang in there and remember that there will be places you visit where you don’t connect and these can create low moments, but they will be moments and they will pass. Especially if you take note of a few of these strategies.
Do you have any top tips that fellow travellers could benefit from? I'd love to know and other travellers find it really useful to hear other experiences so share them in the comments below.
on 27 / 01 / 2016