Today I am meeting my mother at the airport in San Jose, Costa Rica. It is her first time leaving North America in my lifetime, and her first time ever traveling South of Mexico.
I am nervous.
Will she be comfortable?
Will she be overwhelmed?
Will she enjoy herself?
Will she manage poor plumbing, house geckos, long bicycle excursions, my simple kitchen, inevitable cucarachas, leering rastas, and tropical monsoons?
Will she feel at home, in my home?
And in brainstorming how I can make her transition as smooth as a potholed jungle road possibly can be, I began to think about how I have handled my many transitions this year.
Moving from one hostel, one town, one country to the next on buses, on pangas, on planes. Switching from one butchered tongue to another. Getting lost on jungle paths and in congested city souks. Returning to basic survival mode wondering where will I sleep, how will I eat?
As much as I have learned to find comfort in discomfort and shelter within my body’s indefinite walls, at times I long for the comfort of familiarity, the comfort of home.
But do I ever run back?
I find ways to create “home” on the road.
If you find yourself feeling homesick when traveling, whether for a weekend or a lifetime, all alone or with the people you love most, for the purpose of work or for solace and retreat, here is how you can make the place you land feel a little more like home.
Stay Somewhere Comfortable
I cannot stress enough how important it is to stay in an accommodation you find comfortable. This does not have to mean sleeping on 800 thread count sheets (is that a lot of threads?) and lazing in a pool with a swim up bar. Though it could.
Comfort is what makes you feel natural and what makes you feel safe. Whether in your own tent on a secluded beach, in a hammock strung in the jungle, on the side of a mountain in your outfitted VW van, or in the presidential suite of a five star hotel. Before you arrive do some research and find a place that suits you. I typically search guide books, hotel reviews, and hotel aggregates where I can book unique hotels all over the world.
I feel most comfortable in clean, laid back, well-maintained, non-party hostels. Where I can meet other travelers, relax in communal spaces, cook in equipped kitchens, enjoy a hot shower, get a decent night’s sleep, and pay a rate that allows me to continue my nomadic lifestyle.
Find what brings comfort for you. You may be surprised to discover how few luxuries you actually need to feel natural and safe.
Find a Community
Something that fascinates me about social geography is how a singular space can be incredibly layered in its meaning and function. Take Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome for example. In any given moment this one monument is a place of worship, a place of employment, a historical interest, a photo opportunity, and a shelter from the rain.
Experiencing spaces as a tourist, as an outsider, will likely make you feel like an outsider. The farthest you can feel from home.
Why not experience each place you visit like a local instead? Hang in the cafes where expats juice up, attend community events, make your way to a gallery opening or a local concert, shop at the farmer’s market, take a yoga class.
You will likely build connections with people who actually live in this community, making it a more personal and dynamic experience.
Establish a Routine
One of the biggest changes I encounter when traveling is the disruption of my routine. In fact, it’s one of my favorite aspects of travel. I am completely open, unlimited, I am able to do whatever I choose, whenever I choose.
But it does get tiresome. Routine can trap us into patterns but it can also be incredibly grounding. It can be incredibly calming.
To keep myself balanced I incorporate routine no matter my lifestyle nor location. One way I have done this is through my daily yoga practice. When I am in Puerto Viejo I have a studio I attend, but on the road it’s not so easy.
With no mat and no music but the sand and my breath, I flowed to the sun in the morning and the moon at night on the deserted islands of San Blas. With no teachers for miles I showed some curious participants my routine on the roof of a party hostel in Colombia. In Panama City a friend and I couldn’t find a class. We practiced headstands in a park facing the water and some precocious kids joined in.
When everything in my life is in a state of change and a state of flux, it is something I can come back to again and again. No matter where I am. That is a comforting feeling.
You may experience this same sense of grounding by sitting with your morning cup of coffee. Taking a run. Slathering your body in coconut oil after a post beach shower. Writing in your journal before bed.
Doing something every single day, no matter what it is, reminds us that when everything around us changes we can still bring ourselves to a state of stability.
Reconnect with Something Familiar
This is usually my last resort. Why? I find it acts as a distraction to actually pull us out of the present moment and into the illusion of a place we once called home. In my journey towards mindful traveling, towards mindful living, I work towards existing in a state of presence.
That said, maybe you still need familiarity. I know I do.
My first time traveling alone, in Rome five years ago a few days before beginning a study abroad program, I was terrified. In fact I wanted nothing more to turn right back to where I had began. But with an ocean and two turbulent flights between us I decided to stay put.
I comforted myself by watching Bridget Jones’ Diary. An odd choice considering I’m from the US and not the UK, nonetheless it reminded me of friends from back home. It was something familiar when I was surrounded by everything foreign.
If you feel the urge to get on Facebook, skype with family, read your favorite blog, or watch a dorky movie, don’t judge it. Allow yourself the escape you need to find strength to enjoy and explore the incredible world that awaits you.