I’ve never experienced homesickness while traveling abroad. The longest time I spent away from home is five months, during which I kept waiting for the sadness to kick in, but it never did.
What I have experienced, and continue to experience every time I come home, is away-sickness. After returning from a trip, I long for the places I’ve seen, the food I’ve eaten, and the people I met while I was somewhere new.
I think there are a few reasons for this, and I’m sure most travelers can relate to them. The first is that when you love to travel, you find a thrill in being uncomfortable. You thrive in the unknown, in the uncertain, in the idea that every day can bring something new and different. That when you wake up in the morning, you have to discover where the best coffee is; you have to learn how the bus system works and where the locals go to get that thing that you must eat while you’re there. Travelers are the most adaptable people I have ever met, because so much of exploration is going with your gut, and that leads you to weird, uncomfortable but wonderful places sometimes.
When you are home, it’s difficult to feel this rush, the promise of something new and different in your daily life. You know how things work, and generally your days can be predicted. Routines needed for succeeding in life allow you to pay rent and buy groceries, but they don’t create excitement. They don’t create that feeling of being alive.
The second reason is that when you travel somewhere new, a piece of you changes. You learn something or you feel something and your perspective broadens to incorporate new ways of living that you’ve never seen before. How do I become zen like they are in Sweden or focus on happiness like they do in Bhutan or be as vivacious as they are in Argentina? You feel changed when you are there, a part of the culture even if just for a few days.
The problem is that when you return home, everything is the same. The box of cereal is on the counter where you left it, the laundry in the dryer needs to be folded, your coworker still complains about the same things. It can feel jarring to return to how it was, how it always will be, when you feel completely different. You try to mimic what you learned or what you saw, maybe try to cook something that you ate in Czechia. You try to live the way you lived there, but the pressure to conform back to the way things are is real and at times overwhelming.
The third reason is that when we are traveling we adopt a different mindset. We are open to, and hungry for, experience. We want to have that moment that we are going to be talking about for years afterwards, boring our friends with the “this one time, when I was in Thailand….” story for the 12th time. While traveling we wake up every morning with a “yes” mindset. Do we want to take an “off the beaten path” tour of the island? Sure do. Do we want to go to a party that a friend of our Airbnb host is throwing? Yep, sounds fun. While traveling, we’re looking for connection to a culture and to the root of what makes us human.
Once on a bus in Peru, a woman got on board and plopped her baby on my lap as she reached for something in her bag. The baby looked up at me and smiled as I sat in shock for a moment. This woman and this baby trusted me. Why? Obviously I wasn’t giving off any kidnapper vibes, so there was that. But I also think it’s because every morning in Peru, I tried to create openings. I smiled at people that I passed on the street, I used my (limited) Spanish to converse with merchants in the markets. I wanted the community to know that I was there to learn and share and immerse myself in their culture. The lady on the bus may have just placed her baby on my lap out of convenience, but for me, it was a moment. It was a connection.
I believe that travel is an addiction. But unlike most addictive behaviors, it makes you better every time you do it. Every time you step into the unknown and out of the routine, a piece of your former self dies. You learn to prioritize people, conversation, and adventure over bank accounts and bottom lines. You find yourself slipping further and further away from who you used to be and more into who you want to be.
The more you travel, you find that home isn’t where you left it—home is where you make it. Home can be found in the depths of the Amazon or a bustling metropolis. Home can be found in the center of tiny towns or the living rooms of people you just met. Home isn’t a place that we long for, but rather an experience that we create. And when you find this feeling—for me, it was on a bus in Peru—the longing for it creates a void that can only be filled by a continuous stamp on a passport.
So if you’re worried about the challenges that might come from being outside your comfort zone or dealing with sticker shock at booking the flight or frustrated that your friends and family don’t understand your insatiable wanderlust, I see you. Home will always be there, but know that what lies just beyond that immigration line is more beautiful than you ever could have imagined.