When you’re living abroad it’s natural to feel homesick. What happens when you’re traveling for some length of time and you haven’t slept in the same place for more than a couple days in a row? At least for this writer, it starts to feel like I’m losing my grounding. So I’ve developed some tricks for whenever I feel this way, one that makes a home where I go.
My “tricks” are really just items I can take with me that will help me minimize the craving to be home. They’re based on the senses, which is what will trigger your happiest memories and make you feel like you are with the people you love or miss even when you aren’t.
These things certainly aren’t a replacement for being with loved ones in the house you grew up in, but it’s at least a band-aid.
What photos, pieces of art, or handmade items from your nieces or nephews can you take with you that are compact enough to fit into a bag or even a folder pocket? Take these with you and make a space where you honor them.
When I’m traveling, even on quick weekend trips, I tend to take photos of my family with me. Or I’ll use bookmarks from my local library or my favorite hometown bookstore to visually remind me of home.
What meals do you know how to cook that your mom cooks for you when you’re at home? For me, as a Filipino-American, I miss Filipino food the most when I’m gone (specifically my mom’s). So lately I’ve been trying to recreate her recipes. Tasting familiar foods after having eaten foreign ones day in and day out is one of the biggest comforts. It’s like getting a long-distance hug from my mama.
Cooking a familiar meal usually satisfies this sense, too. But what other smells take you home when you smell them? Pumpkin spice lattes, perhaps? Maybe it’s a perfume your grandma wears?
For me, it’s the essential oils my sister uses in her yoga studio and that my mom now uses to clean sometimes. It smells like cinnamon, sometimes lavender. Luckily, essential oils like peppermint oil are good for motion sickness, which I get a lot on moving vehicles. So, I take a sniff and not only am I reminded of my mom and my sister, but I feel less dizzy.
What music do you only listen to with people from home? Or, perhaps, what languages do you hear at home that you normally can’t while living abroad? A weekly Skype call could cure this sense, but so could, too, music that you listen to while you’re with family (for me it’s early 90s hip-hop and R&B to remind me of my cousins). Or you could listen to radio programs from your home country.
While I normally like to take in the sounds of new places while I travel, if I’m on a long flight or overnight bus ride, my favorite indie bands usually lull me to sleep.
I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty big on bedding. When I travel I always take a sarong or sometimes even my compact bedsheet I use for camping. I like the feeling of having my own sheets and my own pillowcase. Especially when I’m switching hotels/hostels/AirBnBs for weeks at a time, having a bed covered in my makeshift linens makes it easier for me to, well, feel at home in a foreign place.
What textures – clothes, stones, sand, pillowcases – make you feel at home? If they’re portable enough, take them with you. Don’t underestimate the power of homesickness. Small things can make a huge difference.