Stuck Between Homesickness and Privilege

Stuck Between Homesickness and Privilege

The saddest I’ve ever felt on the road was in France, alone at night on a lovely French family’s couch in La Rochelle. They had taken me out to a tiny restaurant on the quay to eat some utterly life-changing mussels, then shown me their favourite nudist beach. We sat and watched the willies walk by, feet buried in the sand, drinking some local merlot straight out of the bottle. It was a dreamy day. Later that evening though, I got a Skype call from my entire extended family (all 35 of them) who were on our annual ski trip back home in New Zealand. They lined up one by one for their turn on the phone and told me how much they loved me, that they missed me, how much they wished I was there. I told each of them that I loved them back, that I missed them like hell, and how much I wished I was there too. By the time the phone was handed to the last person, my big brother, just the sound of his voice made me fall apart. I sniffled down the line while he told me to harden the fuck up, and I tried, but I still went to sleep so, so sad that night.

If someone who has travelled tells you that they never once felt homesick, then they are a big fat dirty liar. It’s unavoidable, although we all feel it in different ways; a sudden craving for Milo when all Carrefour has is fucking Nesquik, or a little pang on your heart strings when you see a photo on Facebook of all your friends having fun without you. It can be a list lingering in your head of all the things you miss: for me, it was my mum’s hugs, my cat’s purrs, sitting on the couch all day with my friends, and eggs benedict. The worst is knowing that someone at home needs you when you literally, physically cannot be there for them. A lot of times it’s just a momentary wish to be back somewhere dear and safe, needing just a few seconds of that ‘at home’ feeling; a holiday from the Earth’s vastness and unfamiliarity. A holiday from your holiday.

Therein lies the hardest part about feeling homesick, little hobos: the knowledge that you of all people do not deserve to feel upset at life. You, the lucky few who get to ride along for weeks and weeks on in that, for want of a better word, wanderlusty state of mind. Travelling is a luxury reserved for only the very most privileged people in the world; you have the time, money and freedom to leave any responsibilities where they lie in favour of adventures and wonder. You spend each day ticking off things that will forever stay just a bullet point on other people’s bucket lists. That kind of privilege should come with a huge amount of humility and gratitude, and it almost always does – but it’s hard to feel grateful when you’re aching for home. So what happens is that we can’t help partnering our homesickness with a healthy dose of guilt about being such a mopey little shit when we know we’re so lucky to be where we are.

But feelings aren’t very rational things. They aren’t sensible or logical. So even though we don’t deserve to be sad, we feel sad anyway and that’s okay. You just have to know how to deal with it.

Luckily, homesickness usually only stays in your head until the next exciting thing happens in real life. But sometimes the feeling can get a stronger grip on your insides and becomes a little bit more difficult to shake. It’s at those times that homesickness has the potential to become one of the loneliest, most hollow feelings in the world – even if you’re sitting in a hostel common room absolutely bursting with other solo travellers desperate for a friend and a chat. In those moments you’d much rather sit in silence and try to get the shoddy wi-fi working so that you can send a message home.

It’s natural to want to seek comfort in your friends and family back in “the real world”, but really, confiding in those you love doesn’t make them feel closer. It just makes those huge oceans between you feel even bigger. What can they do for you anyway? Nothing except send a few I miss you toos and xoxo’s, or a good pep talk full of sensible things that you needed to hear. It won’t make a difference to the way that you’re feeling.

The hard truth that we all have to learn is that relief from homesickness doesn’t lie in other people. It’s up to you. If you can’t rely on yourself to be the one who pulls your head out of that little black hole, then the road has really failed to teach you all of the things that it’s meant to. Or rather, the road has been trying to teach you but you haven’t been listening. You’re alive! You can navigate complex Athenian metro systems without knowing a single word of Greek, or you can fuck it up completely and still just laugh about it. You can survive on plain pasta for two weeks and still feel strong and optimistic. You’ve done a lot already and you’ve got way further to go. You can do this.

By all means, give yourself a moment, a minute, an hour. You need it, you can’t stop the sadness, so just roll with it. Then go somewhere alone and feel how alright you are. Breathe in the new kind of air and sigh it out again. Find a good view. Go back to your hostel’s bar and buy a cheap beer. Drink it. Drink five more. Laugh at something that’s probably not that funny. Wink at someone who’s probably not that cute. Know that you’re going to be okay.

Cover by Jake Melara