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Dear Fifi: How do I cope with homesickness?

Foofers in Vietnam!
Jan 29th 2019, 6:35 PM 3,634 1

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I just arrived in Vietnam! I’m fresh off the boat, er, I mean minivan. I’m glad to be here and even more glad to be in a room with a bed after a rather eventful 14 hour journey over the border. Never a dull moment and all that.

Even as I sprint after a bus determined to leave me behind in a small town in Laos, I’m still down to hear what’s going on with you. Big or small, serious or trivial.  Get at me right here.

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Soon I’m leaving the country – I’ll be travelling around before settling in another country thousands of miles away permanently. To be honest I’m not too nervous about it (or overly worried, just regular nerves) but one thing that’s been playing on my mind over and over is soon after I settle in my new ‘home’ it’ll be my birthday.

I know it sounds a bit childish and bratty but I’m concerned that spending my birthday alone for the first time might get me a bit down. I don’t think I’m too selfish or attention seeking usually but it is a ‘big’ birthday, one people usually celebrate with friends but I’ll be alone in a country where I’ll know no one and I don’t know what to do if I get seriously homesick… Do you know what to do with homesickness or dealing with spending holidays or special occasions away from home?

Well boy did you come to the right advice columnist! For those uninitiated in my personal life, which for sanity’s sake I’m going to assume is most of you, I’m currently entering my fourth month of travelling across South East Asia, some of which naturally fell across the festive season.

It’s not childish and bratty to want to be around loved ones on special occasions! Don’t be down on yourself. Especially if it’s something that you feel holds more weight, like a big budget billboard birthday (just coined that, consider it yours to use). Also, it’s totally normal for these supposedly trifling concerns to play upon our mind in the run-up to a big change. It’s like a way for our brain to zone in on something more ‘manageable’ to worry about rather than the bigger picture – travel and emigration, in your case. 

Worry about what’s right in front of you. First the travel, then settling into the new country, then the birthday when it happens. Don’t spend time worrying about what you cannot do anything about. Right now, you don’t know where you’re going to be on your birthday and that’s part of the magic of it! Not only will it be a significant birthday, but you’ll be doing something totally memorable and different. Reframe it in your mind that way. 

That’s the way to view homesickness, I think. Change the lens – you’re not missing out, you’re gaining a lot – and how you see the situation will follow. You might be spending Christmas abroad, but it’s one you’ll never forget – even if it’s a bit miserable on the day, imagine the story you’ll have to tell about it. You have had years and years of birthdays with friends and family, and most likely will have many years and years ahead too. This one is unique, and the type you’ll have only once. It’s an opportunity, not a loss.

Look, that’s homesickness all over: a trade-off we make in life that says some special, unforeseeable, off-piste travel moments are worth the pain of not experiencing the old familiar ones at home. 

I’m not saying homesickness is a breeze, even if you start to think of it differently. It’s hard sometimes, don’t get me wrong. It’s okay to feel sad, but try not to let it consume you – especially not in advance like this!

There are some practical things you can do to help and mind yourself through it. 

  • Use social media to connect with home – but do not become reliant on it to the detriment of being present where you really are
  • Allow yourself to be sad and acknowledge why, but don’t let yourself wallow too deeply in self-pity 
  • Remember, as I mentioned, that homesickness is the price we pay for seeing the world, getting out there and doing something different
  • Reach out. If you miss someone, let them know. Express it to them to get it out of a feedback loop in your head, then try to think of something else

There’ll be moments where you cry coming off FaceTime or the phone with someone. You’ll miss a loved one’s engagement drinks, or the birth of a new cousin. Be aware of that, but also be aware of why you’re making this choice. It’s because travel and emigration are something that excite you, that are drawing you across the world to pursue. 

Let your memories of home sustain you, but don’t let them hold you back. Your birthday will be brilliant this year, no matter who’s there to celebrate it, because it’s the first birthday you’re spending on the road. Enjoy it!

-

(PS – one year in my early twenties I had an office job where I didn’t tell anyone it was my birthday and it passed by mostly unmarked. It was strangely bleak. So even if you’re eating alone or just booking into a hostel, or surrounded with new friends, don’t be afraid to tell them what day it is!)

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