Homesickness is no fun. It can manifest itself in feelings of depression, physical illness, or mental fatigue. Most people have experienced it at one time or another. Sometimes we are only an hour or two from home; sometimes we are a world away. Missing out on important occasions or just not being able to be with your family and friends in person can be tough. The times when I feel it most acutely are when I am stuck in a rut or have a lot of stress.
The fear of missing your family and friends may be one of your strongest objections to working as a travel therapist. And yes, heading off to a city where you don’t have those familiar connections is certainly intimidating. However, I’ve found that moving around has given me the opportunity to build relationships with new friends, while at the same time, I’ve been able to maintain long distance relationships with my friends and family back home. In fact, intentionally investing in long distance relationships could potentially result in a closer bond than we might have with a nearby friend or family member that we don’t make time to visit.
Different personality types lend themselves to varying degrees of homesickness. If you find yourself chronically and severely homesick when away from home so that you can’t function, then maybe becoming a travel therapist is simply not an option for you. However, if you find yourself acutely homesick maybe once a month, or just feeling down during the holidays that is completely normal, and there are lots of ways to help get yourself out of the rut and back on track to happiness.
First of all: The most important thing that you can do is set up scheduled times for communicating with family and friends. A schedule recreates some of the rhythms of a local relationship. You won’t just “happen” to run into anyone long distance. You have to “schedule” a time to “visit.”
In general, I use 4 communication tools to maintain long distance relationships while I’m working as a travel therapist. Each communication tool has certain strengths. With practice, you can learn to optimize these tools and become an efficient long distance communicator. You may find that there are other communication tools that you like better (if so – please share them in the comments below), but these are the ones that work for me!
How to Stay in Touch While Working as Travel Therapist
1. Let’s start with my favorite: Skype/Facetime/Google Hangout.
This is as close as you can get to going out for coffee or joining in a conversation around a kitchen table. Skype feels like spending time with someone, with a few limitations: you can’t leave the room or give someone a hug. However, just seeing your friends and family will definitely improve your mood. I suggest making time every week to get a piece of home and say hi to your friends and family. Seeing a person on a photo helps, but not as much as interacting with them over the internet. Skype allows you to view your loved ones in real time with audio and pick up body language, smiles, and eye brow momentums. Personality comes out on video. You will be better able to understand what they are telling you and observe how they react to what you say.
I also think it is fun to Skype/Facetime/Google Hangout with kids. They love putting their faces in the camera and playing with the buttons.
2. Don’t forget the simple phone call.
Sometimes all you need to do to get out of your funk is call your Mom or Dad (or both). I do it all the time. (My mom sent me cookies 2 weeks ago! Best Mom ever!) I try and talk with my parents at least once a week over the phone. I am in Pacific Time and they are in Eastern so I usually call on my way home from work and they have just ate dinner. I also try and call my brothers once a week to keep in touch. They too are in Eastern Time but have pretty busy lives with kiddos. It is important to just catch up over the phone regularly so that when you do see each other you can make new memories instead of just catching up on what you have been up to over the last 2 or 3 months.
A quick text saying “Hi, thinking of you” is nice, as long as you’ve had the longer conversations at other times. Otherwise, short snippets of communication may become confusing, and may actually make you feel more homesick. However, texting is perfect for scheduling longer conversations on Skype or the phone. I think the best use of text is to set up times for Skype or phone conversations.
4. What about a plane? Yeah! Just fly to visit with your friends or family.
You can get anywhere in the country in a day. Take a long weekend and fly! I love flying, so this feels like a mini vacation to me. Pack a little bag, grab a magazine and book those flights! I have a credit card that racks up miles on all my purchases just for this reason. I would recommend you check out BankRate.com if you are interested in getting a new card that allows you to earn miles. If you are moving around the country and need to be able to fly any airline make sure your card allows that. If you are based in a specific geographic area then make sure you get a card will work with a major carrier at that hub. I personally fly Alaska frequently because I live in the Pacific North Wet… (I mean West ☺). Another quick tip on credit cards. Make sure you have one that does not charge for international purchasing. When you fly to Mexico, Spain or Australia you want to purchase without accruing charges for every transaction.
Make your travel plans before you start to feel homesick!
In conclusion, here is the most important thing for travel therapists who might become homesick: Plan ahead for it! Just knowing that you have a trip home already scheduled on the calendar makes it easier to enjoy the weeks you have in your new location. Some people do not recognize their homesickness and they mistake it for true depression or a real physical illness. Proactively setting up a communication schedule and planning for visits to and from your loved ones changes the dynamic of your travel therapist experience. Instead of feeling overwhelmed with missing the ones you love, anticipate the times you will spend together.
Remember, you are a traveling therapist, so travel! even when it means going home to see your family and friends.
Justin Johnson is currently living and working in Bellingham, WA. Justin graduated from Central Michigan University with his DPT in 2008 and earned his GCS designation in 2011. Justin has worked for large trauma 1 and teaching hospitals along with diverse settings as a travel PT for many years. During the winters Justin can be found sliding up and down mountains on his skis or at Mt. Baker where he is a volunteer ski patroller. During the months where there is no snow he can be found on two wheels. You can reach him at JMJohnsonDPT@gmail.com.