This past Spring, I was a hot mess during the first few weeks of a nearly three month trip.
Should I stay? Should I go now? These were the questions that played on repeat in my mind almost as soon as my flight landed. Walking off the jet bridge toward bagging claim, my mind was racing with future uncertainties about a big work-life move. I wasn’t sure whether the timing of this trip, with all of its unknowns, was right. Then, I encountered disappointment with my long stay rental, travel plans, and the weather, and had to deal with some personal matters. To top it off, my children weren’t all that happy either–surely absorbing my own energy and lack of enthusiasm. Everything combined at once felt like a lot. It was certainly enough to fuel doubt about staying the course.
I didn’t leave that trip early. Although I surely contemplated leaving dozens of times. I am truly grateful I stayed on through the homesickness and doubt. Although it started off rough and had some lows, the nearly three month trip had some unbelievably amazing highs. I can already see the value the trip has in my life–the lessons I’ve already learned and the gifts it has given me, but perhaps most importantly, the gifts it has given my children.
*I wrote the post that follows in 2016 and posted it on another blog. After reflecting back on my recent experience, it seemed relevant and important to share here on Wanderschool, so I’m posting it with minor edits. I would love to hear your thoughts in a comment below.
So everything is going wrong.
At least it feels like it is.
You are homesick. Really homesick.
Maybe you lost your cell phone or someone lifted your laptop at an Internet cafe while you used the bathroom.
Maybe an unassuming, yet skilled pickpocket snagged your favorite sunglasses–somehow right out of your pocket while you bent down to tie a shoe. To this day, I’m still convinced this happened to me.
Maybe you were scammed or tricked. Been there.
Perhaps someone screamed at you or flipped you off–in a different language, of course, but you got the point. Been there, too.
Maybe you’ve come down with a fever, food poisoning, a migraine, or discovered you’ve been chewed on by bed bugs at the hostel. Check, almost check.
Maybe you don’t think you can take another moment with your travel companion. Not. One. More. Minute. Check.
If your children are with you, perhaps they won’t sleep or adjust to the time zone. Maybe they are uncharacteristically whiny or impatient. Maybe they’re trying to cope with their own travel struggles, like long distance relationships, online course assignments, or personal drama. Oh, how I can relate.
Perhaps you feel disconnected. Isolated in a sea of strangers. Wondering if there is anyone out there left to trust–who doesn’t want anything of you.
Whatever has happened, whatever is going on, you want out.
You are exhausted.
You want to quit.
You’ve had enough.
You have no energy.
You want to cry. You are crying.
You wonder if staying curled up in a ball, hidden under the covers in this strange, foreign hotel room is the only safe spot left–although it doesn’t even feel that safe.
You can’t imagine how you will get through to the end of your trip, through the end of this so-called vacation, through the end of your year long travel sabbatical, let alone make it through the day in an unfamiliar city, with unfamiliar people, with its unfamiliar language and its unfamiliar customs. The food isn’t even all it’s cracked up to be.
You miss your friends–maybe even your significant other or spouse. Maybe even your ex–it’s that bad.
You miss your bed–even though you know it’s no longer where you left it, since you sold everything you had before you left.
You miss the smell of familiar laundry detergent.
You miss curling up in your favorite lounge pants, sitting on your couch, and watching your favorite TV show–in your language–with a slice of your favorite pizza or a local microbrew in hand.
You actually think you miss work. Even that colleague you can’t stand who sits in the cubicle next to you would offer a sense of comfort or relief right now.
You want to go home.
But should you?
Is it really time to throw in the towel on the trip or travel lifestyle that you’ve always dreamed about? How do you know when enough is enough? How do you know when it’s time to change your return flight date or buy a one-way ticket home?
Figuring out if you should cut your trip short or abort your travel plans–and when–is not always an easy decision.
Here are some things to ask, consider, and do if you are seriously thinking about heading home before you originally planned. In the end, remember, if you do cut your trip short, you are not a failure. You tried and you succeeded in stepping out of your comfort zone and living your dream.
Loneliness. Are you feeling lonely? If you are traveling abroad solo–or with a traveling companion–loneliness happens. Actually, I think it’s inevitable and totally normal, even if you have set off on a trip of a lifetime or one that you’ve been planning for a long time. I’ve actually wondered if loneliness is sometimes worse when you are on a trip that you put in a lot of effort, time, and energy into making, particularly when things don’t align with your expectations or go awry, even if ever so slightly.
Loneliness will likely pass.
What can you do? Evaluate how much contact you’ve had with others back at home. A phone call, Facetime, Skype, or other contact with someone at home might help you get regrounded and reignite your trip enthusiasm. However, consider also that too much contact can actually encourage loneliness and homesickness. How supportive family or friends are about your adventure may make a big difference in how helpful contact (or continued contact) can be.
Immerse yourself in comfort. If you are feeling lonely or homesick consider immersing yourself in places, foods, and activities from home. Sometimes traveling to a new place and the constant bombardment of newness is taxing and exhausting. A break and some rest can make all the difference. Consider heading to a place that reminds you of home, such as Starbucks or another chain (e.g., Ben & Jerry’s, McDonalds, Barnes and Nobles). Grab your favorite beverage or snack, hang out, and enjoy downtime. You can also seek out a bookstore and find a new book or magazine to read in your native language.
Take time to rebound without feeling obligated to see sights in your destination. Don’t feel guilty about taking time to ‘do nothing’ or taking care of yourself. Pop in headphones and listen to your favorite songs on your iPhone or spend the afternoon streaming a movie or watching funny YouTube clips. Take time off from being a tourist or living as a traveler in a new destination, but not too much time. Your objective is to get unstuck, not stuck in not wanting to experience the place where you are.
Get some sleep. Consider getting a night of good sleep. It’s amazing how much better you can feel when you sleep well.
When things go wrong, try to stay positive. Ask yourself, could these things have happened back at home? If the answer is yes, then you may want to stay the course. Often we want to believe that a travel adventure will go smoothly and perfectly as planned, however, just because it’s a trip, vacation, or travel lifestyle doesn’t mean it’s immune from the realities of life. Real life continues to happen even when you’re traveling. Life doesn’t get paused just because you are away from home. Sickness can happen anywhere. Unfortunate events can happen anywhere, too. Look to your support network at home, to your travel companion, to any new friends you’ve met abroad, or online groups, such as Facebook’s Solo Women Travelers or Expat groups to help you weather the storm.
Consider keeping a travel journal and document your feelings and stresses, along with your experiences. Reading your stories and entries may help remind you of the good moments you’ve acquired, and allow you to see past the bad ones. Writing may also provide a stress outlet to help you along until the dust settles.
Try to remind yourself to take things day by day, hour by hour, or minute by minute, as needed–and, importantly, to breathe. You’ve come so far in planning this journey. You’ve come so far in making it happen. You can get through this experience.
Remind yourself that everything that happens to you on this trip–every experience, every event, every moment–is a thread in the life adventure story you are weaving. Your story. A year from now you’ll look back and be amazed at how far you’ve come. You’ll be amazed to see that you are the person who made a dream happen. You are the person who lived that dream.
Life is but moments. The good, the bad– together the moments create our life.
Of course, if things have gone wrong to such a magnitude that you are in danger, need medical assistance, support, legal or consular services, or something has happened back a home such as an emergency, the decision whether to stay or return home may be easier to make.
There are times that I’ve wanted to quit an adventure early, that I’ve felt so homesick or lovesick that It was hard to fathom how I could get through the next days or the next hour. There are times when it was hard to stay put in a destination. During those times I pushed myself to take care of myself, pull myself together, look for support–and even if it couldn’t be found through others–I found it for myself, within myself, by getting out and exploring, making new friends, trying new foods, and reminding myself that this is My Life. My Story.
Ask yourself what is the story you want to tell yourself? Tell others? Tell your children or future children.
Remind yourself that sometimes when you’re far away from home, when things are going wrong, and when you feel lonely, lost, hopeless, or like a failure, you are exactly where you need to be.
Sometimes, exactly where you are, even though you may not feel like it’s where you want to be, is the only place to really find yourself–or the direction you are meant to go.
Sometimes, you are exactly where you are meant to be.