The feeling had been creeping over me for days, prickling over my skin and niggling in my brain every so often like a memory half remembered. The moment at which I became aware of it, however, happened a couple of weeks ago. I had woken in Jodhpur in an empty hostel dorm, in a hostel on an empty road on the edge of town. I took a rickshaw into the centre of the city to meet a guy from my previous guesthouse, under the clock tower in the middle of the market square, and he didn’t turn up. I stood alone in the centre of absolute chaos, people and motorbikes and tuk-tuks swerving all around me, dirty faced men leering, mud and animal shit all around my feet. And I stopped and thought ‘what am I doing here?’.
Yes, Jodhpur didn’t make a good first impression, and yes, I was having a bad day. It improved as soon as I moved to a different guesthouse in the old town and got some street food, but the feeling remained with me for the next few days. Homesickness, disenchantment, travel fatigue – whatever you call it, it will hit at some point during a long term trip. I’m calling it the four month itch.
Suddenly longing for home, I found myself dreaming of the drifting snowflakes that blanket my little village at this time of year, wishing for the silence of a winter night outside my window in place of the honking, shouting bustle of an Indian street. I wanted to feel the cold pinch my cheeks pink; to sit in front of a fire in my pyjamas and thick socks eating creamy pasta from a big bowl in front of the telly.
I found myself forgetting where I was, when the irritation and the frustration and the loneliness got too much; forgetting how lucky I am and how long I worked for this. I had to remind myself to breathe, to look up and open my eyes.
I felt guilty for not being more grateful; for finding myself, at that time and in that place, unable to appreciate where I was. I felt guilty for missing material comforts in a country where people don’t even have food, and I felt guilty for wanting to stay in bed and watch films that day rather than going out and exploring like a proper traveller.
Then I got over myself.
Long term travel is not an extended beach holiday; it’s unrealistic to think that you will have nothing but happy thoughts and amazing adventures every single day for a year. Travelling through India is bloody hard, and sometimes I get tired of being strong and capable and all I want is a bath and a bacon sandwich and a cuddle from someone who loves me. This doesn’t make me any less of a traveller, it just makes me a human.
Travel is about learning; about foreign cultures, languages and people, about yourself and how you fit in the world; and learning the joy of coming home is an unexpected lesson borne of leaving. The times when I miss home are the times when I realise how lucky I am to have a home I love enough to miss and want to return to.
And the next time I itch for home, I’ll know what to do – call my family, acknowledge everything I’m lucky enough to miss, and take a big breath – then go and explore the world safe in the knowledge that however far I wander, one day I will always get to come home.
How about you? Have you ever experienced homesickness on the road? how did you deal with it?