Sunday, October 14

Traveller’s Travails – A cure for HomeSickness?

Surely the art of good writing is to achieve that elusive link betwixt writer and reader, to evoke a shared recognition of the human condition?

"Experience has taught me that when home sickness strikes I can either allow my mind to fester on it, or busy myself with other things"

An innocuous comment in Cameron McNeish ‘Wild Connection’ piece in November’s TGO magazine (extracted from "The Wilderness World of Cameron McNeish") But something that chimed a chord with my own particular experience.

An insignificant thought on the face of it, but a subject with the ability to destroy the enjoyment of an outdoors trip. Something that is rarely covered in the annals of outdoor writing usually covering daring-do feats in wild and oft foreign places. But with the increased ease to communicate via mobile phones one that can strike without warning.

I wouldn’t regard myself as that widely travelled. Over the years I’ve visited cultures in the USA, North Africa, and much of the Mediterranean. Fleeting sorties mostly. Enough to value the differences, and celebrate the commonality cross humanity. But at time the cultural differences can make one feel very much a stranger in a strange land.

Over recent years, busily raising a family, my trips away from home have mostly been within the UK. And with it a realisation that whilst travel does indeed broaden the mind, it’s more the act of removing oneself from the security blanket of home and the familiar that is at the heart of creating a traveller. An individual moving through life, anonymous for the most part amongst fellow humans busy with their normal day to day tasks.

Stuck in an anonymous hotel on the other side of the world for weeks on end, homesickness is a recognisable and accepted symptom. One of not belonging. Of being an outsider. Even when part of a group, and to some extent seemingly more insulated from the local culture, who amongst us have not lain awake at 4 a.m. body clock still tuned in to the noise of a background life still murmuring thousands of miles away. The ears automatically straining for those recognisable familiar sounds. The gurgle of the deep freeze unit; the snuffle of dogs moving in their sleep in the kitchen below. The distinctive tick of a favourite clock.

Those oh so minor background noises that suddenly seem to take on an intensely personal value. And then the understanding of this detached loneliness kick in. The mind unprepared for the sudden onrush of an unfamiliar emotion. The sudden desire to be far away from here - to be back amongst the familiar. Even to desire that tedium whilst instinctively understanding that its attraction will swiftly pall once again and be the catalyst for escape once more.

Homesickness will strike anywhere and at the strangest times. It’s not the distance from home that is the cause, although the stranger the surroundings, the more intense a catalyst. Or perhaps the expectation in a remote land provides some form of preparatory safeguard to watch out for the signs.

Perhaps it’s more an understanding that there is to be a semi-permanent separation from one’s chosen existence. An emotional mini-death of sorts? An exclusion.

I once had such an onrush barely five hours into train trip northwards at the sight of mother talking with her young children, despite my own being very much older, and ones that were bade farewell only that morning.

And despite increasing age/maturity along with degree of security of place and emotional stability, the feeling can still sneak up on my blind side and strike deep at times. And then, on some trips – totally unaffected.

How then to deal with it for those of us who need to escape the day to day routines? Especially those of us who travel solo, and as such will always be an outsider amongst the social cliques that form whenever more than a couple of people come together?

In my experience the first step is to recognise the feeling exists, and that it is a normal reaction, no matter whatever the trigger (in my case music is usually the cause) When that feeling wells up, accept it for what it is, don’t bother to dig into it, but gently acknowledge its existence, and then lay it to one side.

And then, as Cameron succinctly advises, don’t fester, get busy.

However minor the activity chosen, within minutes that emotion termed ‘homesickness’ drifts back to wherever it came from. It’s an approach that’s never failed me.

After the first attempt to break out into my consciousness any further outbreaks are somehow minimised to less subjective circumstances becoming more a reminder of the circumstance that describes my own existence. My basis for personal existence and community. A sort of comparative benchmark to check my frame of mind and acceptance of personal circumstance.

Surprisingly I’ve never had this feeling when wildcamping alone, far from others. But find it can especially strike when part of an enforced community. Such as leaving a strange pub, those within all familiar with their fellows and belonging, and myself leaving alone to go out into the darkness as I leave.

Or perhaps staying at a YHA, once an opportunity to meet fellow solo travellers, passing through from here to there; But these days so it seems, self contained groups safely insulated in their established inter-relational dynamics and thereby effectively excluding meaningful interaction with others that they meet.

So thanks Cameron for bringing this subject out into the open, where it can be recognised, examined, catalogued, and then put safely away in the box marked ‘Traveller’s Self-Help Kit’.

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