I was two weeks into a six-month trip around Southeast Asia when I awoke one day feeling rather miserable. I couldn’t shake off the feeling and I couldn’t understand it either. I was on a massive trip that I’d been planning and dreaming about for the better part of a year, why wasn’t I happy?
I moped around for a while, feeling sorry for myself and spending a lot of time on my own. Despite being in Malaysia and was surrounded by authentic and delicious food, all I wanted to eat was at fast food joints like McDonald’s and KFC. Even though I was in a social hostel surrounded by 30 or so other travellers, many of whom were also on solo joints, I stayed away, preferring to watch movies on the hostel’s outdated CRT television.
It took time and a little self-care but I found my groove again. I found it doesn’t matter how old you are, you can still find yourself overcome with homesickness. I’ve also discovered that it doesn’t matter how well travelled you are, you can still feel culture shock. When those two factors combine, you can find yourself unable to enjoy your travels, especially if you are already prone to depression and you’re travelling to try and change that.
So, here are eleven ways to cure homesickness and culture shock that have helped me when I’ve been feeling low while on holiday. They may seem obvious, and too simple to bother trying, but they all help in little ways to have you feeling right again.
Especially important if you’ve been sticking to a strict travel budget – sometimes those $3 a night dorm beds leave you feeling unrested and sore. So check into a private room for a couple nights, take a hot shower, get a spa treatment and rejuvenate yourself. You’ll feel better after taking a break from your budget.
Or more specifically, familiar food. Go grab a big Hawaiian pizza if that’s what you’re craving. Pop into Starbucks and order an Ultra Caramel Frappuccino. It’s totally okay. Don’t beat yourself up for not wanting to eat local food all the time.
Sort through your backpack
I find that when I feel like life is a bit out of control, organising my things and throwing out the stuff that I don’t need any more is kind of therapeutic. Also has the added benefit of lightening your load so you’re not carrying around a big weight from stop to stop.
If you’re travelling solo, I can guarantee you’ll feel lonely at some point. Even if you’re travelling with friends, calling your family will make you feel a whole lot better. Skype your family, or talk to someone who cares about you – do it every day, if it makes you feel better.
Listen to music
This is an easy one, create a playlist of your favourite songs – music is great therapy for the mind and soul. Listen during those long bus and train rides.
Take a walk
It’s easy to feel quite lethargic when you’re feeling low. You won’t feel like doing anything, you’ll sleep in every day, but not because you feel tired. Plan a hike, rent a bicycle, take a slow walk in a park or on a beach.
If you’re a spontaneous traveller, plan an activity, create a routine – you may not realise that your spontaneity is making you anxious. If you’re a planner, do something spontaneous, leave a day or two of travel casual, get a little lost and see what happens.
Watch cat videos on YouTube, take a nap, eat chips, pet the hostel’s cat (if they have one), basically do nothing for the entire day.
Watch a movie
Choose one that’s a tear jerker or a comedy. I always feel better after a good crying session or a fit of laughter. It may feel counterproductive to watch a sad movie, but if you’re trying to be stoic about feeling depressed on holiday, having a cry about something unrelated will make you feel better.
Cut out the evening beers for a few days, seek out meals high in fruits and vegies. When you travel, your diet will change – you might not even realise that your sluggishness is the result of eating less greens. I’m not vegan, nor vegetarian, but I find that restaurants that cater to these lifestyles can help boost my nutrition levels while backpacking.
Find a new creative outlet or project
Anyone who’s travelling for longer than three months needs to have a project on the go, it can’t all be palm trees and mojitos everyday (although a good week of this is bliss).
Take up photography, or start a blog. Collect postcards, or maps, or ticket stubs. One traveller I met carried a journal and asked he everyone he met to draw a picture, or write a message. Have an ongoing project while you travel that grows with you.
It’s important to not expect immediate success after doing any of these things. Your mind is much too complex to be so easily manipulated into feeling happiness straight away. For me, it takes three to seven days of self-care and love to start feeling right again.
There is a saying that many have said about the key to finding happiness and that it is to find something to do, something to love and something to hope for.
I hope you find yours.
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