Despite backpacking offering potentially the best time of your life, we all have those days where we long for the comforts of home, and we miss friends and family. Often those days can be special occasions such as birthdays or Christmas and can leave a the most enthusiastic of backpackers feeling down and slumping over their Tiger Beer.
Despite your passion and enthusiasm for adventure, there are things that you just can’t squeeze into your 65 litre backpack. And you won't find help and tips for what to do in your guide book when that feeling of homesickness threatens to overwhelm you... But don’t panic! We've all felt that way at some point on the road. Am I doing the right thing? Am I missing out on things back home? Are people back home missing me? The best thing is knowing that it's natural to feel the way you are feeling and that many others are probably feeling the same at this time of year too...
Here are 8 ways to overcome the most common backpacker blues...
1. Missing Family
For the first time traveller, and even for the more experienced roamer, it is hard not to miss your family once in a while. Whether it’s those days when you’re under the weather and just want your mum to deliver you cups of tea in bed with sympathetic eyes, or on your little brother’s birthday when you can’t be there to help him setup his latest games console; it’s hard to be away from home. Especially at Christmas time.
But remember, family is family, they’re there for life.
They’ll be the one’s subsidising your flight home when you’ve overspent your budget, the one’s picking you up at the airport on your return with beaming smiles on their faces and they’ll be the people throwing you the welcome home party when you finally decide to return.
They’ll always be there for you, so get yourself a Skype account, make a few video calls and carry some photos of them to show to the locals you end up eating with on the roadside on your epic journey across Asia.
(Remember to get your parents connected BEFORE you travel or you may end up dealing with these 5 Skype fails.)
2. Missing Friends
Not all of your friends back home are going to understand your desire to throw your worldly possessions into one bag and set off around the world with just two pairs of socks to your name. And even less will want to join you, so inevitably you’ll have to leave behind some of your closest friends. At Christmas and New Year you are likely to feel emotional as you wonder what they will be doing this year without you and miss hearing about their lives and telling them about yours.
Fear not though as you will find that as the weeks and months pass and you rack up story after story of awesome new cities, horrendous bus journeys, and drunken accidents, their lives probably won’t have changed too much.
Their replies will likely centre on their new car, what they had for dinner, the weather, or the gossip on a night out at the weekend out in your home town. They’ll still be the same people when you get back and they'll love you just the same - also they'll be dying to hear all of those stories. Plus, you may just inspire them to make the plunge and travel too!
So for now, go make new friends; talk to the guy with dreadlocks that you’d normally shun in a coffee shop at home, drink from the same bottle as the girl you’ve just escaped an awful tuk tuk journey with.
There’s no such thing as strangers after all, just friends you haven’t met yet.
3. Comfort Food
Despite South East Asia offering up some of the finest culinary delights in the world, you can’t help but pine for your cupboard staple from home once in a while. At least one bus journey will centre on conversation about the food you miss; the Vegemite vs Marmite debate, smooth or crunchy peanut butter or trying to explain to North Americans what proper English ‘gravy’ is on a Christmas dinner!
Some of the bigger cities will cater to your needs. If you search hard enough there will be a store somewhere that has paid the import tax and gone to the hassle to stock your favourite food. Yes you may have to pay $8 dollars for it, but sometimes the taste of home is priceless; so indulge yourself then eat nothing but rice and street noodles for the next week!
By the end of your trip, you’ll likely have lost some of your clothes to wayward laundry services, and happily replaced them with beer singlets and T-shirts from the various countries you’ve visited. Your travel journal will be pasted with beer labels, and your SD card full of photos of you throwing back shots from various precarious bottles of vodka with unknown animal/insect content to boot. South East Asia offers some of the best and some of the worst drinking experiences you’ll encounter, but if you just can’t stomach any more Chang or the thought of a free shot of whisky brings back tubing nightmares, then maybe it’s time take a break.
If you can find imported food, you’ll likely find imported drink too. If Dr Pepper is your hangover cure of choice, I’m sure you’ll be able to unearth a can next to the Hershey’s. If you fancy something more upmarket to break from cheap alcohol and the aftermath it brings with it, throw on that one shirt or dress that you packed, ditch the flip flops and head to a decent hotel in town. The nicer hotels usually stock better alcohol, or even good wine, and a lot will offer mid-week deals making that fancy tipple a little friendlier to your backpacker budget. Or you could go all out and avoid alcohol altogether; there’s no shortage of cheap and delicious fruit smoothies available and the tea and coffee in Asia can cure that four-day hangover in no time.
5. Your own bed
There’s a reason that room is $2 a night, or your ‘sleeper’ bus works out at less than a dollar per hour travelled. That’s because the bed is going to be back-breakingly bad. Whether it is a cheap guest house or a notorious bus journey across borders, you will not be able to avoid a horrible night’s sleep whilst traveling Asia. You’ll long for your own bed at home, with its thick mattress and bed bug free comfort. You can’t pack the memory foam on your travels but you can recover from that bad night’s sleep.
Check yourself into a mid-range or high end hotel or guest house once in a while. Even just for one night a few extra dollars can go a long way, and you’ll feel the benefit. You can get your money’s worth with a mammoth 16 hour sleep, run a hot bath and use every towel they provide, whether you need it or not.
Or why not treat yourself to a massage, it'll cost you a few dollars and you can iron out all the aches and pains in under an hour!
6. Christmas, Easter and other Holidays
Although travelling is basically one long holiday, you will no doubt miss those seasonal holidays that you’d usually celebrate at home. Your Easter egg hunt will likely end fruitless and you may have to substitute your Thanksgiving or Christmas turkey for some other flightless delight. Seasonal holidays are usually centred on consuming too much food eaten with good friends and family.
So if you find yourself away for the holidays, gather a group of travelling companions, get together and feast on whatever you can get your chopsticks around. Throw a BBQ, sing songs and get merry together around a beach bonfire.
Don’t forget to celebrate the new seasonal holidays that are unique to Asia too; get fully involved with the locals and their culture, whether it is Tet in Vietnam, Songkran (Buddhist New Year) in Thailand or the various Independence days.
7. Music & TV
The distinct tones of local music will eventually wear thin, especially if they are being pumped out on your sleeper bus journey or slow boat, and no doubt you will tire of the songs on your iPod after a few months of repetition. You’ll find some relief in the songs blasted out in the Asian traveller hotspots like Vang Vieng, but eventually you will crave new music. Coming across a good English speaking TV channel or keeping up with your favourite show from home is going to be no easy task either and there’s only so much hungover Family Guy anyone can take.
Lookout for shops dotted around the major cities that offer services to add content onto your laptop or iPod. The expense will be well worth it for a playlist refresh. There will also be English films shown in cinemas, and at half the cost of showings at home. Failing that, load your laptop or external hard drive full before you leave, or befriend someone who doesn’t mind sharing an earphone with you whilst you both settle in to watch the newest episode of How I Met Your Mother.
And - make sure you get some Christmas songs on YouTube and party with people at your hostel!
8. Christmas shopping
For girls it might be seasonal January sales in the shops and missing out on 50% off killer heels, or for guys it could be the release of Fifa 12 or Call of Duty; admit it or not, we all miss a high street splurge now and then. Filling your backpack full of wooden elephants, incense sticks and hats made from Coke cans, will keep you intermittently happy but for a real fix you’ll need more.
Luckily South East Asia is a market which provides pretty much everything you could want or need, and usually at a discount to what you’d pay at home. Thousands of Baht is spent in Bangkok in transit buying up jackets, handbags and T-shirts, and the tailors in Hoi An in Vietnam are famous for their cheap but quality suits and dresses. Sure your backpack is small but there’s always the option to post parcels or boxes home. And these items will make unique Christmas gifts for your family too!