On Homesickness and Long-Term Travel

Categories Long-Term Travel, Personal Musings

A recent article in Smart Set caught my attention. Reviewing Susan J. Matt’s history of homesickness in America, Jessa Crispin uses the subject as a springboard for her own travels and nostalgia. “I was there simply to test the limits of my leash” she notes, telling us about her first prolonged trip abroad. A return several years later left her feeling disoriented  - the city had changed – and longing for an intense connection to the Ireland of her memories, a place that might not have existed other than in retrospect. Crispin’s review resonated with me, enough so that I shared it with a few of my friends who are also living abroad. In turn, sending the article sparked a series of in-depth and thoughtful conversations with these fellow travellers. We started writing to one another about our own memories of places, about what longer-term travel does to an entrenched worldview. And then the questions began. How are we different than we were when we set off? Have our values changed? Have the ways we relate to people (and things) shifted over the years? And can we really get homesick when we technically have no fixed address?

A tree at dusk, Chiang Mai, Thailand

One of my favourites from Thailand: a tree at dusk near Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai

From one short article, our email exchanges sprawled outward into existential questions about life and happiness, about what home means and about the choices we each made to end up where we did. We finally capped off the communication when we realized we could go on for days – there was work to be done after all! While I tend to speak to these friends often, it was wonderful to take a much deeper look at our respective lives, and learn more about one another in the process.

So what did they say?

One friend noted that while some places are big enough to absorb memories and return to, others aren’t; the smaller places are indelibly tied to a memory or a former version of himself, impossible to recover. When he found himself in those smaller places again, it felt jarring, as though the prior iteration – the person he remembered –  was the one that should have reappeared. But of course people change, and intellectually he knows that is the case. Another saw his life as a series of Russian dolls, starting with a splash of colour and radiating outward, new dolls over the old, each representing a place lived, a lesson learned. “You are constantly out of your comfort zone” he noted “until you’re not.” Another friend said she stopped trying to understand why she felt homesick despite having no city or place that felt like home. It was only when she returned to North America and was asked to explain her choices that she panicked, quickly picking one of a few favourite cities to say “this is the place for me.”

On my end, I certainly do think we leave a part of us in each of the places we visit. There are repercussions to doing this with frequency, too – if you keep leaving parts of yourself around the world, what’s left to leave? And is there a way to go back eventually and collect all the pieces? Crispin acknowledges that there are advantages and repercussions to the yearning for elsewhere, trade-offs that are deeply personal to each of those who move. For me, they lie in the lack of stability and traditional societal goals: having one home, having a physical community around you that remains more or less the same. (I say physical because technology enables us all to have perpetually accessible communities.)  When I think of my friends at home, I do envy the consistency of their interaction. In turn, they envy my wandering. Grass is greener, and all that. But I suspect none of us would trade in the lives we’ve built for a different one.

As homesickness goes, when I think of these last years I feel wistful for nothing and everything, all at once. The good and the bad are each knotted together into a safety net, trapping anything that falls between. What stands out above all else is the perfect storm of moments when everything aligns – people you care about, helping others, a place you love, delicious food, learning learning – so much learning. If that’s not happiness, I don’t know what is. Perhaps it’s temporary, claiming that happiness as my own, but it happens often as I wander. As a result, I don’t have a wistfulness for a specific place or a specific person – though surely we each have memories that bring back those kinds of wistful feelings – but a more existential nostalgia for the confluence of Really Great Things.

* * *

I’m coming up on 4 years of travel. April 1, 2008 was the day I set off and if you had asked me then whether I’d be at it still, I’d have answered with a resounding no. This week, I ran into an old friend I hadn’t seen since 1998 who happened to be visiting Chiang Mai. He and I met in macroeconomics class and after graduation, we lost touch. How do you sum up almost 14 years of your life to someone who knew you just after high school? How do you frame the consequences of your choices when you don’t yet know where they will lead? In 1998, I hadn’t yet learned all these lessons about myself and the world, about adaptability and connection with others. Meeting this old friend brought all this and more to the forefront, sifting out what has truly changed in the intervening years and how my movement has moulded me.

My stories – the ones that I use to relate one situation to the next – are travel-related, and often coming from a completely different place than the norm. Cocktail hour at a party in London was testament to this; I struggled to make small talk when in my own mind half my stories started with “well, I was on the roof of this minivan with a goat…..?” or something similar.

These stories have changed me. Travel has changed me – which is not a guarantee. For some it doesn’t and there’s nothing wrong with that. And what travel is for me, learning a new language or skill might be for someone else. I acknowledge, too, that a good part of this metamorphosis is simply getting older.  But in reflecting on the last decade, I think that travel has been the primary driver of my change, and continues to give me perspective, to make me stronger and excited to live each day as fully as I can.

Overlooking Hong Kong, April 2010

Overlooking Hong Kong, April 2010

People love to slot others into categories, neatly filing way their interaction into a rolodex of prior conversations and thoughts for safe-keeping. As someone who lives a life of in betweens, I struggle to define my life choices in a comprehensive way to those I meet on the road. For the people at home, the initial backlash from quitting my job to travel has been replaced by a complicated mixture of kudos and confusion, an unspoken hat tip that I’ve survived this long without A Plan For Everything. The locals I meet in Asia are similarly confounded, but much more vocal in their reasoning. Why would I leave a very good job just to come and eat street food with them? In the eyes of much more entrenched cultures with stricter gender roles, what I’m doing is startling. “Where is your husband?” remains the question of the day.

In this feedback loop from East to West, the contrasts between both worlds are more apparent. The first time I came home for a few weeks, the reverse culture shock sent me into a deep depression. In subsequent returns, the differences are less jarring and yet more sharply defined. I’ve become an observer to my own existence in a way that I never anticipated, musing about my own temporary discomfort before I settle into my skin once more. The things I love about Asia – the energetic chaos, the ability to slide in sideways and create a life for yourself at whatever level you choose, the food (oh the food…) occupy a space in my thoughts at all times. And as the pendulum swings back from one continent to the other, I am relieved to find that I can adjust more easily each time.

Home is New York, is Bangkok, is Montreal, is Beijing. I never thought of myself as a chameleon and yet here I am building myself a life premised on a talent for adaptability.

Coconut cinnamon smoothie from Pun Pun, Chiang Mai

Coconut cinnamon smoothie from Pun Pun, Chiang Mai

Crispin writes:

“My idea of home, the home I am sick for, is a mysterious, shifting place. The real reason I am worried about this, though, is that there are still so many cities where I want to live. There are cultural tics I want to pick up as my own, and I want to reshape myself in small ways through my encounters with the cities.”

I see myself in this sentence. I’ve learned over the years that even the most foreign and unrelatable place can feel like home, faster than I ever thought possible. So much to see and do, and overwhelmingly less time to do it. I continue on my path, a teller of stories and an eater of food, a person who lives a life of in betweens.

* * *

I will put up a separate post on April 1 about practical lessons learned from years of travel, but this was my attempt at shedding light on the emotional component. I get many questions about loneliness and homesickness, about whether I regret the path I’ve chosen. I will say this: even when sick or tired or lonely or when I’ve failed, I feel thankful and I feel lucky. Disparate places and people and smiles are always within reach, the macro view unfurling over the thousands of small, beautiful connections that comprise these last 4 years.

The big picture plan, as it stands, is as vague as it was when I set out. It’s as vague as it was in 2010 when I wrote a piece about the things that travel doesn’t fix. It does get daunting at times and where it will take me, I have no idea. But that’s ok. As I said to one of my close friends, those of us from nowhere and everywhere, all at once, rarely know. Those in one place also rarely really know, but it’s easier to handle the many questions when you’ve got a structured sandbox to play in. Though we might not have a sandbox, we have an adaptability; we find strength in the mysterious in-betweenness that defines us.

What is a place, after all, but a confluence of people you care about and routines you enjoy? It could be anywhere. “Where” is actually irrelevant so long as your mind is open to new experiences and your heart is open to love.


94 comments to On Homesickness and Long-Term Travel

  1. Thanks for writing this post! It was never my intent to be a long-term traveler, but I am one of those that grew up between countries (including flying off to boarding school starting in 8th grade) and we have ended up living in three countries in the last year or so. I have loved everywhere I have lived. Deeply. Which is what makes moving around so hard. But I know I will continue to deeply love most of the places I live, and so there is this other drive to soak up yet another place, see if I can plant myself again, and gain another side of myself that is only accessed within that country. So complex. I think about this even more than I ever did, since I have a five year old daughter that also loves travel, but falls hard for wherever she is at, and is racking up a long list of people and places to miss.

    • It’s true that it’s complex. You feel that giant, overwhelming pang of nostalgia when you know you are leaving, and yet it happens every time, regardless of how much you love a place. My mum use to laugh at me because I’d ring her from somewhere, breathless “I love it here! I want to stay!” and she would say “Jodi, where don’t you want to stay? And she’s right, everywhere and anywhere can be wondrous. I’d be curious to hear what your daughter says in a decade about missing, or whether it becomes more commonplace! Safe travels to you and family!

      • I literally just got off the phone (errr, phone? i mean google voice) with one of my good friends who I’ve traveled all over the world with, and told her how much I have loved living in Chiang Mai. But I’m leaving in 3ish weeks..and will really really miss this place. The cool thing is, not even I know what lies in store for me next. Maybe I will like my next destination (Philippines I think) even more :)

        You’re right grasshopper, everywhere and anywhere can be wondrous.

        • I’m sure you will enjoy the Philippines (tis great!) but I have to say you will be homesick (food-sick?) for Thai eats. That I can promise. Great to chat about this in person, too!

    • I completely agree. When you live somewhere for a while, it turns into your home. Leaving creates feelings of “homesickness” for that place.

      But the always-present urge to travel somewhere new still persists, and ultimately wins out.

      We may have more homesickness than most actually – because we have so many homes. :)

      Thanks for writing such a wonderful article Jodi!

  2. Poignant as always, Jodi, and so very full of sentences, phrases and concepts that strongly resonate with me. Simply another wonderful post.

    • Thank you Dave. Honestly, I was worried about publishing – always the case for the longer, more personal posts, but happy to see people find it something to relate to, and see themselves in the prose. Safe travels and hi to Lauren!

  3. Great post. Have you read the book “The Lotus Eaters”? Your post reminds me of it.

    Safe travels!

  4. “Those in one place also rarely really know, but it’s easier to handle the many questions when you’ve got a structured sandbox to play in.”

    That line gave me chills. There is so much truth in that statement. Wonderful post, Jodi. Thanks for sharing a bit of your heart (as always).

    On another note, I visited Turkey recently with a group of students from my MBA program. Based on your post about the cats of Istanbul (and the link to the post about dogs), we kept a running stray dog count throughout the duration of our trip. Over the course of 9 days (& 3 cities) we counted 108 dogs on the streets. We saw plenty of cats, too, but the size of the dogs made them a bit easier to count. I sent a link to your post to my group once we got back so they knew where I got my info on the strays. Just thought you’d get a kick out of that. ;)

    • Thank you Shannon! Interesting to hear about your time in Turkey. I didn’t see very many dogs, but then again I was limited to Istanbul. Thank you for sharing my piece with your students and I hope you enjoyed your time in Turkey.

  5. “…if you keep leaving parts of yourself around the world, what’s left to leave?” bull’s eye. it hurts just reading that.

    and another thing for me is its so incredibly difficult to explain to friends and family the experiences or how traveling is a passion and how passionate/committed you are to it.

    on one side, most of it is just too hard to translate into words and falls short of how ‘awesome’ it really was, like words just cant do it justice and then in the other, alot of people simply find it, unproductive or useless.
    i was especially offended when my aunt said i was just being a spoiled teenager flying everywhere and wasting money

    then i told her, some people like to play guitar and be in a band and some are into sports, well im into travel. its what i love doing….

    ps. still waiting for a tv show from you to come out! ;)

    • I think you’re right, it is tough to explain to others unless they too share that enthusiasm. Of course, this isn’t limited to travel – with any passion, regardless of type (woodworking, painting, canoeing, you name it) it’s easiest to discuss the enthusiasm with people who are as excited as you are about the topic. But with travel, more so than with other skills or time-consumptions that can be more easily designated as passionate hobbies, many people react like your aunt did, assuming it’s a selfish thing to do. In many ways, it is. And our parents’ generation didn’t have the kind of luxury in choice that we do to go out and travel this way. But if you can parlay that passion and enthusiasm into a career and a way to teach others about a different way to see the world, I think it’s not a waste of your “investment money” at all.

      No TV show in the works, but appreciate the cheerleading! :)

  6. Thanks for writing so much of what I feel, so eloquently.

  7. Nicely timed post after your sage advice to me to stop stressing over feeling like I have to write stuff Jodi! Some of it is old habits and former conditioning to be unlearned. What that will give way to I don’t know, which ties in nicely with some of what you’ve written here – the idea of identity, its origins and the circumstances that conduce to inform and develop our sense – objectively and subjectively – of who we are. As your discussions show, it’s easy to get tied up in knots on stuff like this!

    I’ve grown up alternating between living in England and Australia, with family in both as well as in Italy. The time lived in England is just a few years less than time in Australia. Some of that time in England I lived at home and the rest was in Manchester for uni and later work (after a gap of 18 months when I went back to Australia).

    I’ve got no concept of ‘home’ for which to be sick. In a way this made leaving my job to travel much easier, since I had little if any ties anywhere anyway.

    The feelings of homesickness I had when alternating countries were usually based on what was – nostalgia for old patterns and sense of self or relationships; they were nothing more than patterns, which by definition changed or ended even when I was engaged in them, just more subtly than when left and returned to after a time – like a rarely-seen family member who comments how strikingly different you look to when they last saw you. Or maybe I just didn’t want to grow up and saddle all the crap that goes with age!

    In my case the homesickness was often for a time period and the dynamics of the relationships I had with others and the world as I saw it, rather than the location generally, although arguably the former is inseparable from the latter.

    This has been an interesting post to read and reflect on. With just under a month on the road so far, I’ve had no bouts of homesickness, but if I do, I’ll need o really investigate it to see just what the mind is yearning for, and how absurd (in my case) that yearning really is!

    • Hi,
      Reading your post Marc, and also Jodi’s post has really sat with me in a familiar way! When you speak of never really feeling a “home”, this truly resonates with my heart. I have never had that sense of home and I have moved around so much that to me home is more then a house or a place filled with things. Home becomes your routines of wanting to learn, of wanting to move forward in your adventures, or wanting to be in a different country! To me, this is home. Travelling does change you, it does make you more adaptable, for whatever reason, I do not envy the people back home who live in their house year by year, eating with the same friends on the weekend and getting up each day at the same time! This is truly not a part of me, but what is, lies in the unknown of finding myself through culture, travel, love and realization! Thank you so much for posting this Jodi and for everyones responses, it is truly relatable!!!!

  8. Nice read J. All long-term travelin’ folk find themselves thinking similar thoughts or asking similar questions… maybe some don’t put it into words as well as you have here. Changing location doesn’t avoid those life questions, they still find you. In fact it can make answering them a bit more complicated.

    I prefer the unpredictable. Traveling makes for an interesting life story and interesting answers to life’s(and family’s) questions. I’ve been hurled into a place where I can travel long-term with no finite end date in site and I’m very grateful for that. How will I trudge my own path forward? Who knows… but that’s life 3 months at a time :)

    • You make an important point, and one I didn’t underscore in the post: traveling won’t fix the issues you have for you. It’ll reframe some of them, definitely, but it’s not going to fix them. I do find it fascinating to see how basic questions get complicated by movement but ultimately I still have the values I have and the things I want to work on as a person, regardless of location.

      Safe travels to you! Really enjoying your photos from France.

      • Indeed. Many people travel for fun in their early 20s. Some keep it up to escape reality. Not to put a pox on things, but sometimes deferring things or being on the party bus for too long can be a catastrophe. I have known women in their late 30s arrive back home wearing party hats but finding everyone grew out of that a decade ago and now have homes, families and careers. By contrast, they have blurred memories of getting drunk in Europe. They never really fit back in.

        • I have to say I’ve never met a woman in her late 30s partying it up in Europe as a way of ‘deferring things.’ I’ve met many women travelling to learn – some of them in their twenties, some in their thirties and some older. But this vision you’ve got of the party bus gone awry, I have to say I’ve yet to encounter it. I’m not sure there’s need for a gender skew here, either.

          I’m curious as to where you’ve been travelling and who you’ve been meeting. If you look at the rest of the site you’ll see that I focus on the cultural aspects of eating, history and food so I can only assume your comments are not about me. However, either way not every woman wants a home and family. Many seek other things out of life, happily and successfully, building careers out in an unconventional way. To each their own, you know? I have huge admiration for the many fascinating women I’ve crossed paths with who have built out rich lives of own design – and not one of them meet the description you set out in your comment.

        • Can you imagine the horror of not fitting back in to a life of conformity? Sounds dreadful. Someone pass the Pinot.

  9. On March 27, 2012 at 9:48 am Mark Olwick said:

    Love, love, love this, Jodi. Thank you so much for sharing this side of long term travel. The line about leaving a bit of yourself in each place really struck a chord with me.

    Beautifuly written.


  10. So much of this resonates with me – I consider myself so lucky to have lived and worked all over the world (and met a man for whom this is also considered normal!) and yet I always have that wonder of where’s next and where will pull me back… of course it’s now complicated by 2 kids… they have passports from a country they’ve never lived in… I worry that if they never put down roots they’ll never feel true homesickness, never form real, long term friendships/relationships and will always be itching for the next thing – and yet they LOVE this life, and at 4 and 6 are as passionate about travel as their parents are, and very clearly leave pieces of their hearts in each place they visit…

    And on that note we are off to Istanbul in a couple of days so thank you for your recent tips from there…

    • It’s great to hear from you (and other readers here) who have managed to take this curiosity for the world and continue with its trajectory, even with children involved. Are you homeschooling them as you travel? Enjoy Istanbul and please be sure to head on over to Istanbul Eats to find your go-to meals for the trip!

  11. On March 27, 2012 at 10:44 am gene in montreal said:

    Here’s a refraction. Your pose in Hong Kong is very much like the question “posed” in Christina’s World, no? ‘-)

    • Now I did have to Google Cristina’s World having never seen it at the MoMA, but I suppose it is quite similar, yes! My mum took this photo when I was looking out over Hong Kong from Victoria’s Peak – I didn’t even know she was taking it, but it’s 100% contemplative Jodi :)

  12. Jodi, I have been enjoying your Facebook posts and blogs immensely since I first was introduced a couple months back. I have shared them with friends who love to travel as much as I do.

    I love the fact that you started your journey on April 1st as in the United States that is called April Fool’s Day and reminds me of the Fool card in the Tarot deck. It is a lovely picture of a man with his belongings held over his back, a dog at his side, and clearly embarking on an adventure on a high mountain top. (You’ve likely seen this archetypical picture in any Tarot deck.) I think he represents all of us, especially travelers, who need very little (hence the little pack over his back), our instincts (the dog) and a willingness to take steps into the unknown, somehow trusting that it will all work out. I re-created this same Fool with collage place a young woman with her passport and travel pack over her back, companioned by a lion (I’m a Leo) walking a tightrope over a Peruvian landscape as a way to capture this “Fool” energy personally. Fun!

    I, too, embarked back in 1976 to Europe for an initial trip of three months by myself when there was no internet. Staying in hostels I met places in myself that seem familiar to what you have as well. Alone but never lonely! And never alone unless by choice! This was followed by yet another summer long trip back to Europe, behind the then Iron Curtain, mostly camping. Again, life changing as I was the only “US” person on the tour and the only one who had attempted to learn some Russian. Loved it! Then in 1977 I circumnavigated the globe using one of the UK Overlander bus trips as my safety net traveling from London through places that we no longer can go (Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran) ending in Nepal. It was at the end of this trip that I found myself at a crossroads – to continue to travel or to fulfill my deep desire to become a mother. I chose the latter but never lost my inner gypsy/nomad energy.

    My children, now grown, both studied in South American and then Spain for a year in high school and a year in university. Both have continued to travel the world whenever they can fit it in. That is where there truest education was realized and they both know that. As for me I could have just as easily chosen the nomad life as it truly is when I am in some foreign country that I feel somehow alive and at the same time at home.

    I’ve managed now to have seen much of South America, Europe, and loved Egypt! I continue to learn languages to prepare myself (Spanish, French, Portuguese, Arabic) and am awestruck by the way this little bit of language study opens a myriad of doors out there in the world! It also changes the way people feel about “Americans,” not always a popular country to be from and I’m happy to do a little bit to change people’s perspectives. Actually I feel less like I am from any one country and more like I am a citizen of the world.

    I’m excited to read your blogs and wish you well in your days/months/years ahead and applaud you for listening to your inner voice and realizing your dreams. Bravo! You are allowing my inner gypsy/nomad to view the world vicariously as I save up the monies I need to embark on my next adventure….and if I could, I would fulfill all the rest of my days doing just that for I never left on a journey and felt ready to return. I always longed to have one more day/week/month away. That, I have discovered, is a rare feeling that only someone like you would resonate with, but is deeply true for “some” of us.

    Enjoy your life lovely lady! I know that you are as your vibrancy exudes through your words!

    • Thank you for sharing your own story Marilyn. Like you, I am a Leo :) Your path, and your continued thirst to learn and experience the world by seeing it, is inspiring. Many more safe travels to you!

  13. “..so long as your mind is open to new experiences and your heart is open to love.”: You nailed it right there for me.

    It takes a very special kind of person – which has a unique mix of strength and vulnerability to do what you do
    You are truly an inspiration.

  14. Right on, Jodi. Beautiful and resonant and wonderfully written. When I came back from the Philippines one of my uncles and I chatted at length about homesickness and “growing roots not branches” as a metaphor for staying put for a little while. At the time I thought that that was just about the best advice I could have heard, and the three years back in Ottawa that followed were definitely an exercise in growing roots. But I think you’ve captured the truth of it when you say “what is a place but a confluence of people you care about and routines you enjoy?”…geographically, physically, literally or virtually. At the risk of torturing the poor metaphor – just ’cause the roots aren’t not in the same geographical location anymore doesn’t mean they don’t exist. PS Miss you.

    • Thanks Buttontastic. I like your uncle’s metaphor and it’s something to keep in mind, definitely, as we travel. Those roots are there even if we are not. Safe trip to Portugal!

  15. “As homesickness goes, when I think of these last years I feel wistful for nothing and everything, all at once. ”

    Brilliant. Couldn’t agree more.

    You touch on quite a few things that I’ve been thinking about lately. Although I think we do leave a part in each place we visit, we also pick something up in return – its never a one-way transaction.

    This year I seem to be re-visiting places that I’ve been to before, but it hadn’t really occurred to me how long its been since I was really last there. When this has happened previously, I’ve noticed how much a place has changed – this time I’m noticing how much I’ve changed.

    • It’s true, we each gain something (many somethings) from our travels. If it was just taking, I’m not sure so many of us would be travelling the way we do. I’ve been revisiting quite a few places too and while they catapult me into a place of contemplation, they’re also a very effective way to notice how in life we have changed. Thanks for the comment!

  16. This is one of the best posts I’ve ever read on a travel blog. The thought of sitting down with someone you’d known 14 years ago after traveling for 4 years seems like it would produce a lot of reflection. I backpacked in Asia for a little over 100 days and even that has changed me. Seems it would be meaningful to talk to people you’d once known to see how you and your perspective have changed. Great post!

    • Thank you for the kind words, Jeff. Certainly my time with my friend Nick was a good part of what led me to write this. Like the return to places I’ve not seen in awhile (per my response to Holgs below) it ensured that I really thought about the then and now. Some of it is, as I said, merely growing up – and we all do that eventually! But a lot of the changes really do flow from these last years of travel and it’s been fun to try and pinpoint how.

  17. I like this.

  18. Such a great and deep post. I can’t wait to see how / if I change after I return from my 8-month RTW trip. Not sure what lies ahead. But what I do know that I need to try that coconut cinnamon when I get into Chiang Mai in 2 weeks!

    • Ha, there are 2 Pun-Puns in Chiang Mai and this coconut cinnamon one is at the Pun-Pun near the YMCA, and NOT the one near Wat Suan Dok. (Strict instructions, sir – else you will miss out on the coconut.) Best paired, in my humble opinion, with their delicious Penang curry.

  19. Jodi, thanks for your reflections and insights in your post!

    I’m about to start my 4th month in my year of travel, and I’ve begun to show signs of “fatigue” and “desire for staying put” for more than a week’s time. While I promised myself I’d visit a number of friends throughout the North American continent, I anticipated at some (early) point I’d exhibit some of the symptoms I mentioned, but they’ve snuck up on me nonetheless.

    I feel the bits and the pieces, and the waves of accompanying emotion, all a part from what you’ve mentioned above. I think the following (glib?) saying has some truth, too : home is wherever you are, and in that, I find great comfort knowing my friends are in fact very happy to see me, especially in places where some may not otherwise think about visiting.

    Thanks again, Jodi, and take care!

    • Henry, strangely I find that its when you start visiting (non-traveling) friends that the travel and normal life intersect most sharply, and the fatigue often really sets in. Sometimes there’s nothing better than fresh horizons that you don’t have any connections to to get you really going again!

    • Hi Henry, in my resources page at the top menu I say that it’s important to build in a vacation to your long term travels. There’s this idea that all you do on the road is vacation, but as you know it’s not. It’s tiring and you get sick and you get overwhelmed. As others have mentioned, people on the road often understand these things, and usually expats do too. I tend to stay put for well over a week in each place, months even. If your brain is saying ‘I want to stay put’ then stay put – there’s nothing wrong with that. The point is to enjoy it, not to feel that it’s a chore. Hole up with a bungalow on the beach somewhere and read for a week. Go to a city you love and spend your days photographing one aspect of it that moves you – flowers or trees or fountains – and make that your project. Whatever it is, give yourself the leeway to change your plans based on how you’re feeling. :)

  20. Having grown up in both Japan and Hawaii (but now living in Northern California), I really enjoyed reading your post to find out how others feel.

    A good question to ponder is, does one become homesick for the place, or long more for the comfort of the happy memories of home?

    I don’t think I’ve ever been truly homesick, but then, my parents have described me as “too independent” so that may have a lot to do with it. I do definitely have fond memories… and usually, when I’m feeling particularly nostalgic, the best thing for me is to have some food that I associate with the place/time, or read a travel guide for the location. I find that that suffices to take care of any longing I might feel.

    • Hi Lani, as I said above in the comments I think it’s less about the place per se, but the memories/comfort of the people and that place, with emphasis on the people. I do expect to get peoplesick more than homesick! But I’m not sure if that’s because I grew up in different houses or places, or that human nature tends toward those personal connections regardless. Food from that place is key, I agree! When home, I get very happy to find myself eating somtum and laarb, reminding me of my delicious meals in Thailand. Thanks for reading!

  21. Jodi,

    Such a beautiful post…and what a great response from other readers. I haven’t traveled in the same way you have, but I’ve been around the globe and back my fair share. I always felt in multiple places at the same time. As I’ve moved around the U.S. as well, my term for myself was hydroponic. Safe travels and best wishes

  22. Hi Jodi, I enjoy your posts immensely. Love the photos. And the coconut cinnamon smoothie —I bet it was yummy!

  23. I loved your post! To me homesickness implies having a home and this is a concept I have battled with all my life. I was born in Paris and left at 5 weeks. The ensuing years were spent in Canada, Spain, Algeria, Iran, Switzerland, Italy… I don’t recall finishing a school year in the same city I’d started it.

    As I backpacked the world on my own in the 90s as a roving correspondent, I often felt adrift but understood the cause: no home base. While I yearned for forward movement, I also desperately needed a place to return to. My family was scattered, and my friends all had professions that moved them around. I knew someone in every city, but in no city did I know lots of people.

    I did eventually settle down in Geneva, near the French-Swiss border, where I live now. I still travel a lot but I return home. I have my base, but I miss my freedom. Sometimes, for a magic moment, I reach that delicate balance between the two that makes me marvel. Thank you for helping me thread these thoughts!

    • A home base goes a long way, that’s true. As I’ve continued, I have also been moving toward wanting something, somewhere, that is consistent. Who knows where I’ll choose, but I see how it’s a compelling thing to introduce to a life of wandering, even if I only spend a certain amount of time per year in it.

  24. There are so many things in this post that resonated with me, having only planned six months of travel, supposedly ending this month and yet, i’m still on the road! i can’t articulate right now all the things that rushed to my head when i first read this. but i think it’s helping me get a little bit of clarity as to “what’s next”. for that, i thank you. :)

  25. I equate being homesick with having had the blessing of being able to see a part of the world vastly different from your own origins. It’s a mixed blessing when the homesickness strikes, but a blessing none the less. Great post, Jodi.

  26. Beautiful post, J! I’ve traveled and moved a lot my whole life, so have many homes to love, pondered this theme and feel most comfortable in a nomad travel lifestyle.

    I love it that in our last 6 years of non-stop traveling as a family, that we do “home in motion” and have never felt homesick. ( Yet,I remember in my 20′s when I lived in Italy I was terribly homesick..wish they had skype & internet then). I wonder how much age affects one’s perspective on travel. It is so very different at this age and doing it with a child.

    Our travel allows us to return repeatedly to places and people we love in Spain, Italy, California, Asia, France etc and always discovering new places like Bhutan, Morocco, Bora Bora or Jordan. I love them all, but am fine with moving on.

    Recently I got very, very ill thus faced my own mortality and I was sooo grateful that we had all these adventures and time together with our daughter…perhaps my life’s wisest choice.

    Thankfully, I am well again and back on the road and in Asia again for kidlet’s Mandarin.

    “your heart is open to love” …that is really what every journey is about, eh? Somehow I find it easier on the road where life is always new and one is more aware of how vulnerable and connected we all are.

    • Thanks for the comment Jeanne. Glad your health is better, and your family is doing well. I’m not as fine with you as moving on, I have to say. I feel a pang in my heart when I think of the places I love but am far from now; they all aggregate together into this amorphous glob of missingness that just doesn’t go away. But I’m thankful, too, to have had a chance to fall in love with these places and experience them, and of course it is my choice to keep moving, right? :) Be well!

  27. I feel like I’ve been moving / travelling all my life, despite long periods of static in between. I have no idea what the idea of “home” or “where I am from” is really supposed to mean. I like to be happy.. that’s what keeps me to a place, or sets me to move on. I am happy experiencing new things. Be that a different lifestyle, or place, or way of living, or flavour of food. Life’s one giant sandbox.. it’s fun to play :D

  28. I’m struggling with the “in-betweeness” of a transient life with kids. Living this life with a family of my own adds a whole other dimension to the emotional components of constant change, but it always comes down to remaining true to that happiness when “everything aligns” that you mentioned and living every day to it’s fullest. Thank you for such a thoughtful and personal post. I have a difficult time writing personal or emotion posts, too, but it’s this kind of connection that allows us to have a global community where the world is our sandbox.

    • I can only imagine how these feelings are compounded by having kids with you as you travel. Thank you to you and to the other readers who have shared their perspective of travelling with children. Do you maintain a home base, or are you wandering more perpetually?

  29. On March 28, 2012 at 10:20 pm naomi duguid said:

    A truly wonderful post Jodi. It’s so rare to see such clear thinking and writing, anywhere, not just in the blogosphere, and also such a refreshing lack of sentimentality.
    We truly can never “know” what tomorrow will bring, but the assumption that tomorrow is predictable, which people get from a structured non-travel environment, is one that reassures many. They can avoid thinking about the potential abysses (think tsunami, or whatever) and be comforted by pattern and routine. And that’s great.
    You are not crowing about your ability to reinvent each day, and plunge whole-heartedly into new situations, but you are affirming that it’s possible, pleasurable, enriching, and a privilege.
    perhaps the biggest privilege of all is that you are confident and grounded enough to do all this. And we are lucky that you are thinking and writing about it with such clarity.
    xoxx to you, traveller!

    • Thank you Naomi! It’s true that one really never knows what tomorrow will bring, but hopefully this post + the next one on practical tips will make longer term exploration less daunting for those who want to give it ago. (To those who don’t, perhaps just a different perspective to read about). Best of luck with those galleys!

  30. This is such a beautiful piece, Jodi. It really resonated with me. I’ve been back home for 6 months now and can’t wait to take off again. But, for now, I have this overwhelming urge to stay put for a while – to ground myself and be near my new nephew, family and friends. In a few months I will call another place home, better prepared for the next travel than the last. I love your blog – it is eloquent and beautiful.

    • Thank you Kirsten! There are different philosophies about ‘how’ to travel – should one go home in between longer trips? Should we eschew technology in favour of just sinking into a place? But really it’s what works for each of us. I like to keep up with the news and I like to go home every so often because I really miss my family. But as long as you make it work for you, that’s what matters! Enjoy your time at home and looking forward to hearing where you end up next.

  31. If I quoted all my favorite portions of this, my comment would be longer than the post. Your words really resonate with me Jodi. I have not been on the road as full time as you for as long but, as you know, I war within myself concerning these same matters.

    It has comforted me having a network of people, like you, around the world who live a similar life to the one I do. And as much as I love currently being based in NYC between travels, if I had to define “home” on pain of death — I would likely say as well that it is people and experiences which really ground me. It is not one place over others, not even NYC.

    Will that ever change? I too do not know but the longer I travel, the less I worry about needing to know.

    Thank you for sharing such a personal piece of yourself with us. I love your photo essays more than most others on the internets but it is this that makes me thankful I know you online and off.

    • Thank you Kirsten! It’s been wonderful to talk to people like you and so many others who see life differently, and to hear about how we process what we do. It’s not a war, though – it’s a process! There’s nothing wrong with not having a set home if your preference is to wander; there’s no shame in deciding you want one after all. Looking forward to chatting more about this in person in just a few weeks!

  32. Thanks for this post. I just recently posted about being homesick. I live in Amsterdam but lived all over and just got back from a trip home to Texas after having not visited in over a year. Everything, everyone, felt exactly the same but then different at the same time. When I go home, I feel a part of me should stay and then again I don’t want to because I’m afraid of boredom or sameness and want to keep discovering something else. Grass is always greener I guess :)

    • Grass is always greener, definitely. But also, you want to feel the sameness and familiarity because it’s grounding, while at the same time you don’t want to become dependent ON it. There is a middle ground and it’s great to see so many people parsing through their choices to find it. I’ve no doubt you will too. Safe travels :)

  33. This is a wonderfully written and thought-provoking post, Jodi. My wife and I started traveling almost one year ago…and…we began in April like you.

  34. This is a fantastic post and clearly one that a lot of us can relate to.

    I have struggled with the idea of ‘homesickness’ since moving country, mostly because the general meaning of the word just doesn’t suit my own understanding of it. Your own definition of it through this post is still abstract, but the closest I have come to a clear explanation of it!

    • Thank you for noting the abstractness because I think I didn’t fully realize how little a concrete notion I attached to homesickness until you (and my friend Jim) pointed it out. There are the physical symptoms – the lump in your throat, the butterflies in your stomach – when you think of these places you miss but it’s strange to process for me because I genuinely do feel more at home in Bangkok than Montreal and people find that quite strange. Home is maleable when you are too, I guess! I’m glad the characterization here resonated with you.

  35. LOVE THIS. LOVE THIS. LOVE THIS. Thanks for sharing a part of yourself with us, Jodi. This post strikes a chord with me and you capture complex feelings beautifully. I’ve also been posting more personal posts lately and can appreciate how those feel different and daunting. But being “authentic” as a writer means digging into some of that now and then, right?! Thanks so much for another great entry and your ongoing inspiration.

  36. I wonder if you (or me, or anyone) ever gets to “a hump” in long term travel, where it becomes the norm – and people with fixed addresses become the outliers. I almost get the sense that Gary Arndt is there….

    • It’s interesting because many long-term travel bloggers have been writing similar posts about in-betweenness. I’m not sure that it’s how you’ve characterized it, however; it’s not about this becoming the norm so much as you feel disconnected mentally to those who are at home, despite a shared history. I always knew I wanted to travel, I just had no clue I’d be doing it for as long as I have. Though as I said, it’s less travel now and more ‘work from a bunch of fun, delicious places’. But it does make sense that the people who understand why I’m doing this are the ones doing similar things, whereas at home I get questions from acquaintances that all skew toward the ‘but when are you going to do what you’re supposed to do and stay here?’ I can’t speak to Gary, but while living abroad is the norm, it has enabled me to meet all sorts of people who love that norm too. This happened right at the beginning, the difference is that I stuck with it longer than expected.

  37. WOW, wonderful Jodi. I thought you might like this quote:
    “Travel has a way of stretching the mind. The stretch comes not from travel’s immediate rewards, the inevitable myriad of new sights, smell and sounds, but with experiencing firsthand how others do differently what we believed to be the right and only way”

  38. I haven’t visited your site in a while and wanted to get updated on your adventures, then I found myself swept away in this post. You’ve touched on some feelings that I share, but you’ve done so in a way that has me wanting to improve my writing – seriously well written Jodi! I can genuinely feel the passion that you have towards your personal journey.

  39. Three decades of travel, living abroad, and finally becoming an ex-pat in the USA and I’m still “homesick” for some mythical home. I left Ottawa for Stockholm, lived years in Stockholm and returned to Ottawa only to find it “not home” any more. Traveled a lot for work and play and finally discovered Boulder, CO and was attracted enough by the weather, scenery, culture and mountains to declare it “home”. Left for a few years to northern California and when I returned Boulder was still home (albeit changed) so now I have my home base. I still travel a lot (just returned from Turkey) but it’s nice to return “home” to regroup and plan the next trip. Something I was (literally) doing the day after my return from Turkey. Of course I also work from home so “home” is work as well..

  40. This is a really interesting post. I’ve been living away from my homeland for five and a half months now and have suffered pangs of homesickness for where my family’s from and where I grew up (South Wales) *and* California – the place I visited and fell in love with. Strange but true.

  41. Thank you for talking about the big picture emotional aspect of long term travel.

    Here’s a word-of-the-day for you (one of my personal favorite words): “interstitial”


    This is the word I think of for airports, hotels, doorways, border crossings, and other places one finds oneself when traveling. There’s a weird, hard-to-describe quality to these places that sort of attracts and repels me at the same time.

    • Thank you Jasper. It’s true that these transient places leave an indelible impression that’s hard to explain. We sometimes dread them but in retrospect we’re glad we sat there and watched the world pass us by. Safe travels to you!

  42. Best damn post I’ve read in awhile, girl. I was hanging onto every word, and felt each sentence do something to my heart.

    I loved it. Thank you. You’re right- absolutely right, so what is the ‘where’ after all but the people and potential to create memories, really.

  43. On May 18, 2012 at 2:40 am Kathy Wilkins said:

    Thanks for sharing your story. I’ve made a lot of traveling but not in a long term, I just wanted to travel, get away from work and home to relax but I can’t leave home that long. I admire you guys for your adaptability and independence.

  44. On June 8, 2012 at 2:34 pm Nora Douglas said:

    Hi Jodi,

    I just read this post and it gave me an adrenaline rush. For the past two years I have had an increasing feeling of wanderlust that has recently gotten hard to bear. Luckily my current job has allowed me to increase my traveling time and I am working towards doing longer trips.

    I just got back from a 12-day trip to Paris and it was my first time to travel completely solo. I was disappointed to find myself feeling very lonely on the trip. It was fascinating for me to experience being both thrilled with what I was doing (I had a great time) and melancholy from being away from the meaningful attachments in my life. E-mail and IM just didn’t cut it. I missed being hugged and hearing their voices. I was sad to think that maybe I’m not cut out for long-term travel.

    Your article encouraged me to push my limits so that I can appease my wanderlust and start living the bigger life I feel I’m supposed to lead.

    Thank you,

  45. This is something I have battled with for years. Somehow gap year turned into a decade. I felt homeless despite always having a roof over my head.

    Now that I am back in Canada, settled into a somewhat “normal” life, I can’t help but yearn to sell my plasma screen TV and pile my life into bike panniers once again.

    Thanks for writing such a deep piece.

  46. Jodi,

    Great piece of writing. I think any long-term traveler can relate to this. You explained the feelings and thought processes which many of us go through.


  47. I realize there are a lot of comments here, and even though I’ve only read a few, some people might say the same thing, but truly, I believe, yourself is home. Home is what you make of it, who you are, where you are comfortable and the ache to find “something” is more telling about a person’s mindset then it is about a physical destination. Home is where the heart is. It’s not particularly a place where you rest your head, but perhaps a place where you’re able to rest your mind. I’ve only lived in another country once, and that was Canada, for a brief summer, but it was home to me. And not because I physically lived there, but because my mind lived there. It was one of the best experiences of my life. I enjoy reading your posts, and like this one very much. Eloquently said, I thank you for your perspectives on travel and the world.

    • Thanks Jennifer. I agree with this comment, though I think part of what makes my mind live somewhere is the people – the attachments to places are intertwined with the experiences I’ve had interacting with others. When I stop and think of where I truly felt at peace and at ease, it has a lot to do with the interactions of people and places together. Appreciate the comment and thank you for reading.

  48. Jodi- I’ve been a big fan of your blog for quite a while now! I’ve nominated you for a few awards!
    On a personal note, it is very refreshing to find other folks who live “a life of in betweens” (well-said). It is difficult, at times, to maintain the freedom to carve your own path in a dynamic life, that fits you, while simultaneously living up to others’ expectations and desires of what they want your role to be in their lives…. I guess, when you’re married, specifically, it gets tricky, but I am working on that balance and need your blog for guidance and inspiration!

  49. Great post! It is so very true when you say that “People love to slot others into categories”. But then there is truly only one person we need to satisfy.


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  6. 2012 in Travel Writing - the Best Canadian Writers

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