I move a lot. I mean this in two ways: firstly, that I move residences pretty often. I’ve moved house more times than I care to count in my 23 years. I’ve moved across town, across the state, across the country, and across the ocean. Moving like that brings about a lot of changes, but the process itself pretty much stays the same.
The second way I move is that I like to physically move as often as possible. Whether it’s walking, running, hiking, or playing soccer, I feel most in step with the rhythms of my life when I’m up and moving around. It keeps me fit, keeps me focused, and keeps me free.
Some days, my body feels great. It takes every twist, turn, and tumble with grace, and without much extra effort. Other days, it feels like I’m using all my energy just to get out of bed — stairs are a real problem on days like that. When that happens, it’s so easy to forget that I ever liked moving in the first place. The thought of the next run or the next day spent on my feet is daunting, but then I make it happen, and then it’s done. And it’s alright.
How are these two types of moving connected? For starters, they both require change. Suddenly, our stationary, passive life becomes unstable. The routine we’ve settled into is uprooted and we have to find a new one. Though it happens on different scales, that’s the same phenomenon that occurs when we move to a new place or are just moving at a quicker speed than we had previously that day. Whether it’s our minds or our bodies, we’re adjusting.
As someone who’s relocated a lot, I have a hard time pinning down exactly where my home is (if anything, it’s in several places), and I think that actually makes me more vulnerable to homesickness. It constantly leaves me scrambling to fit in somehow, to find some space in life where I don’t feel different or apart. Now that I’ve figured out how to overcome these feelings, or at least to embrace them without judgment, it seems really simple. But I didn’t use to like going outside, let alone thinking about hiking in the context of travel.
I only started running long distances, walking trails, and hiking when I was in college. At that point, these were mechanisms for dealing with stress or, at least, trying to avoid it. I discovered their true usefulness almost by accident when I spent the summer after my junior year in Russia and passed most of my time outdoors because of habit. Whenever I was climbing the steep paths of Moscow’s Sparrow Hills or riding my bike through any one of the city’s immaculate parks, I didn’t want to be anywhere else.
It was my first time living alone, and I did so for months at 20 years old in a country where I only half spoke the language — but in those moments outdoors, any fear about all that would evaporate. I was just a person moving through a boundless space in the same way as the people I passed by hiking — they suddenly seemed less strange and foreign than before. Out here, in the thick of it, we were all the same. I was exploring these places for the first time, but they felt familiar.
Getting back to nature to reset oneself is a tale as old as time, but to see it as an escape often misses the mark. Seeking refuge in the outdoors is much more like a homecoming. As a writer, traveler, and keen people-watcher, going from city to city is a constant source of inspiration. The differences between people are most pronounced in a new place, where we’re much likelier to see things we never have before. The chance to disorient yourself on purpose, just to see what happens, is what makes travel so enthralling.
Therein lies homesickness, because it’s only natural that we should want to reorient ourselves. But after seeing so much and being tested to adjust, does watching our favorite TV show or calling our parents at these times really help, or just make things worse? I’d be a hypocrite if I said not to do this stuff, but there is an element of resisting change about them. When you choose to get outside and move, you’re doing more than just training your body — you’re training your mind to embrace change, not resist it.
After all, there’s no better place to learn about change than in nature. The landscape changes its complexion and the air its temperature based on the season, only to restart the cycle anew the next year. Whether you’re stepping out of your own back door or hiking in some far-off mountains, having the ground beneath your feet puts you in a position of change, as well. The planet is the home we all share and it has plenty to teach us if we’re willing to listen. Being where you are is not just the easiest option, it’s the only one you’ve got.
Do you have a favorite method of handling homesickness? Let us know!