Coping with Homesickness & Travel Anxiety as an Adult
At the Villa Terrace Art Museum in Milwaukee Wisconsin

It’s been a problem since I was little: homesickness. Calling my mom to pick me up early from sleepovers, summer camp, and the airport is just one example. Staying overnight in an unfamiliar environment has never been a strength of mine or even a possibility for me in many cases. You could say I’ve been a lifelong homebody. My homesickness endured throughout my childhood and into high school, but when I got accepted to my dream out-of-state college, I prayed that my frustrating childhood struggles were over. I’m writing this post because that was not the case.

My Battle with Homesickness

After leaving Arizona State University three weeks into my first semester just to spend the rest of it living at home with my parents and taking online classes, I felt defeated by my anxiety and unable to trust my own ability to handle traveling, moving, or even spending prolonged time with people. Canceling vacations and other travel plans at the last-minute (or after the last-minute, like I did in Arizona) due to anxiety has cost me thousands of dollars throughout the years in nonrefundable expenses. Despite all of this, I still love to travel.

My parents always prioritized travel so that my siblings and I could experience different parts of the country and the world. When I was in the fourth grade, they even moved our family onto a houseboat in The Bahamas. I loved the memories I made traveling. My favorite trip happens to be the farthest I’ve ever been from home, when I visited Turkey with my family in 2014. My travel goals are extensive and include living in at least one other state, visiting all fifty states and US national parks, road tripping across the continent, and visiting more countries. It all begs the question: how can traveling be my goal if it is also my biggest fear?

How I've Managed My Homesickness

Portrait Taken in Milwaukee Wisconsin by Jessi Esselman

One of the best ways I’ve learned to manage my homesickness and travel anxiety is by making a mindset shift. I call it the #PursuitOfCoziness mindset. Instead of forcing myself to travel in ways that trigger my debilitating emotions, I recognize that there are some things I can handle and some things I can’t. I can easily travel with my boyfriend or family; I will feel anxious traveling with people I don’t know well or in a large group. I have the best control over my anxiety during the day when traveling; therefore, I tend to avoid planning activities late at night. When I do find myself in a triggering situation, I cope by finding a “cozy headspace” – in other words, staying calm by picturing a space where I feel safe and manifesting that feeling wherever I am.

It is important to note that what I call homesickness and travel anxiety manifest as emotional instability. I use both terms, because they both explain why my mind and body react to certain situations and stimuli they way they do. Travel situations can trigger my symptoms, but so can the simple realization that I’m not safe at home. Some of this is a natural display of introversion, while other parts (and for other people) may be the result of a legitimate mental illness. I have received treatment for anxiety and depression before, but it’s still hard to tell whether my homesickness is a part of my personality that I struggle to accept or an actual symptom of mental illness. Regardless, this emotional instability degrades my mental health, so I do what any logical person would do and take vacations that I will enjoy!

...And How You Can, Too

Fall Colors at Rib Mountain State Park in Marathon County Wisconsin

Clearly, managing anxiety and homesickness is not the same as making those problems go away. There isn’t a single cure for these symptoms and you shouldn’t put your life on hold until you find one. Travel is meant to be enjoyed, so it’s important to plan vacations you will actually like. You’re spending your own hard-earned money on them, after all. First, it is important to identify what triggers your symptoms. Does traveling with strangers, being in large crowds, adjusting to new time zones, or flying bring on your anxiety? Second, recognize why you feel obligated to travel in ways that trigger your symptoms. Is it a legitimate obligation (flying is the only practical way to get to Australia) or is it an obligation you’ve created for yourself because of the ways and places you’ve seen friends and bloggers travel?

Comparing ourselves to others is never healthy, including when it comes to travel. Remember that the blogger jet-setting from Bali to Borneo may appear confident in her pursuits because of family connections in the area, speaking the native language, an extroverted personality, or even the lack of home she experienced from moving constantly as a kid. She might avoid local travel like the plague because of traumatic memories from her childhood hometown or choose a niche in luxury travel because a medical condition keeps her from embarking on outdoor adventures. There is always more to people than what pictures and posts can convey. It’s important to be honest with yourself and with others about what you can do and where you want to travel. They say your vibe attracts your tribe, but you can’t attract your tribe if you’re not giving off a genuine vibe. Crazy how being yourself is always the answer, ey?

Balancing Travel Anxiety and Wanderlust Pinterest Pin

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. cindy ladage

    This is wonderful you sharing. We each have our own anxiety issues whether it is worry over leaving children, parents or in my case little things like getting lost or losing my car. Sounds silly, but it is a real fear, thanks again for your honesty, it was a wonderful read.

    1. chelseyknuth

      That is so true! I am so glad to hear this resonated with you. Thank you for the sweet comment!

  2. Thanks so much for this article. I teach a class about travel planning and this post just reminded me that I’ll need to add managing anxiety and homesickness to my itinerary. I appreciate your honesty!

    1. Chelsey Knuth

      I think that would be a great addition to your curriculum! Thanks for your sweet comment!

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