As travellers we know that every journey has its ups and downs.
Most days are full of excitement and discovery, but every so often, we’ll have a bad day. In most cases they pass by, we pick ourselves up and we move on. Homesickness is one of those negative emotions that can strike us when things aren’t going so well. I can remember going through it during my student days in Spain. Typically something would happen – usually quite a small and insignificant incident – to make me feel completely isolated from the culture in which I was living. I would then long for the familiarity of home, and the love of family and friends. Homesickness can be very disempowering, because you feel stuck in a place that you don’t want to be in, at least at that moment, and there’s little you can do about it.
Far from home
I remember a TV ad for a phone company in the early 1980s. A young couple were sitting in an airport departure lounge, spending their last tearful moments with distraught parents before leaving the UK to start a new life in Australia. Their flight was called, tearful hugs were exchanged and the couple headed off to the departure gate, waving to their devastated parents. A comforting voice-over then reassured us that when you have a phone, miles don’t matter. I was unconvinced. That ad really affected me. I remember thinking that I could never do that – move so far away from my family. I felt homesick just watching this fictional family go through their heartache!
Some great songs have been written about travel, including its downsides. American songwriter Paul Simon was struck with homesickness when waiting for a train at Wigan railway station in England after a gig during the 1960s. He wrote about it in the song Homeward bound. Years later, British band East 17 sang “Take me home to where my soul belongs” in their song Been around the world, but there’s no place like home – a sentiment that I’m sure many travellers will identify with.
In Party in the USA, Miley Cyrus sings about how it feels to leave the security of her home town, Nashville, and move to Los Angeles to pursue her career. She lands at LAX airport “with a dream and my cardigan” and jumps into a taxi, “stomach’s churnin’ and I’m feeling kinda homesick… so hard with my girls not around me…” Miley is one in a long line of people who have travelled to LA to seek fame and fortune. For others, LA is home, and they long for it when they’re away. In California dreaming, the Mamas and Papas sing about the grey skies and chilly temperatures of a New York winter, adding that “I’d be safe and warm if I was in LA.”
Distracting your mind
So how should we deal with homesickness? Wait for it to pass? Miley’s solution was to listen to her favourite songs, and dance to them. From that moment, she knew she was going to be OK. Paul Simon penned his feelings in a song and made a lot of money! What I did, during those student days in Spain, was to get together with a few compatriots and speak my own language for a while, preferably in a bar over a drink. Or phone my mother, although that was a costly option on my student budget. Talking to someone who understood was usually enough to get me back into a more cheerful state of mind. Then I would reflect on how fortunate I was to be able to enjoy the experience of living and studying in such a fantastic and colourful country.
Years later, I was in Spain again, taking time out to think over a very big decision: whether to leave England and move to New Zealand. This was a tough one, because of the long distance involved, and the thought of leaving behind everything I loved. Luckily I was staying in the perfect place for contemplation – a guest house called Casa Tanga Tanga, in San Pedro de Alcántara. (That’s my room, in the foreground of the picture). One sunny afternoon, I talked things over with the owner, Glenn. He had left his own country, Kenya, to move to Spain some years earlier, and was a thoughtful and philosophical character. I credit him with the observation that helped me make my decision: “England will still be there for you if things don’t work out.” He was right. That comforting thought saw me through many a dark moment. Yes, I did it! I became the young woman in that 1980s TV ad. I did the very thing I thought I would never do. Once wanderlust strikes you, it’s a powerful thing.
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