No matter how excited you are about heading out on a trip, it’s likely that you’ll feel homesick at least some of the time you're away. Being away from family and friends can be tough. Luckily, there are a few things you can do before and while you’re on your trip to manage homesickness when it strikes.
Here are our tips for managing homesickness:
1. Practice Being Away
Being out of touch for a long time is intimidating, but it can be even more challenging if you aren't used to it. Practice being away from home on an overnight or a school trip, and leave your phone behind if possible. It will feel less strange going to the wilderness without your phone if you’ve already done it in a place where you feel comfortable.
2. Parents: Focus on the Positive
It’s just as important for family and friends to prepare as it is for the adventurer! Instead of focusing on how sad you’ll be while your child is gone, talk about what they're excited to do and see on the expedition.
3. Research Where You’ll Go
Look up maps and study the geography of the area ahead of time to give yourself fun things to look forward to and something familiar to find when you’re in the backcountry.
4. Bring Small Reminders of Home with You
When you feel down, having small reminders of home with you can be very comforting. You might pack in your favorite candy or a photo of friends and family to cheer you up when you're feeling down.
5. Write Letters
Writing letters can help with homesickness in a variety of ways. Even if you can’t send the letter, writing a note to your family and friends will give your feelings an outlet and make them feel less far away. Putting those feelings on paper will help you reflect on them and, if needed, move past them. You can also write a letter to yourself about how you’re feeling in that moment to capture what seemed important to you at that time.
Some NOLS courses have the option of sending letters in and out during re-supplies of food and gear; ask your admission officer if this is a possibility and what the process might be.
6. Take Photos with Messages
Even though you won’t be able to share the photos until you return home, taking photos with special messages for family and friends can give you a way to feel connected to them even while you’re far away. They also make for great mementos when you return home.
7. Focus on the People You’re With
Your groupmates will likely be going through a similar process of adjusting as you, especially at the beginning of the course. Talking with them and learning about them will give you some much-needed emotional support, and you’ll realize that you’re not the only one feeling a little homesick! Your instructors are also a great resource for you—they have lots of stories and experiences to share, and they want to help you have an amazing experience.
8. Distract Yourself
Homesickness often pops up when you’re the least occupied and you have time to ruminate on your feelings. It’s ok to distract yourself by asking your instructors to review a new skill you learned, start a group sing-along while you’re hiking or paddling, or play games in the tent before going to bed. That’ll help refocus your attention on the amazing experiences and people around you, rather than the things you miss.
9. Embrace It
Homesickness, even though it doesn’t feel good, is not in itself a bad thing. It means that you care a lot about the people and places you leave behind. Embrace the feeling for a little bit, cry or journal or talk to a friend, then take a look around you—look at the peaks, the trees, the shoreline, and remind yourself why you’re in the wilderness to begin with.
Molly is a NOLS instructor and writer. She loves the smell of her backpack and does her best writing before 7:00 am. When she's not scouting the next post for the NOLS Blog, she's running and climbing on rocks in Wyoming. Follow her on Instagram @mgherber