Homesick with a Polish Cold

[Note: I’m traveling through Central and Eastern Europe through the month of October.]

I feel comfortable, now, writing about homesickness, because I’m no longer homesick. But for the past week or so – since leaving home – I have been, and it has hammered on my ego as a traveler.

I shouldn’t have these feelings, I think – I’m supposed to be enjoying this life on the road. But life on the road can be hard, and the uncertainties and confusions blindside you when you’re weak and tired and lost. When you’re at home, these road blocks seem romantic and adventurous, but when you’re actually there — with twenty pounds of gear on your back — confused, cold, and hungry, it’s real. And then you wonder why you left your comfortable bed, hot shower, fully-stocked fridge – why is it that I wanted to travel?

When you’re away from home – it doesn’t matter if you’re 8 miles away at work, or 8,000 away in Poland – you begin to dream of all the things you would be doing if you were at home. It’s usually productive things, like exercising, cleaning the kitchen, or mowing the lawn. Because when you’re homesick, anything is better than what you’re currently doing. But it doesn’t work this way. When you do eventually get home, you fall back into your routine and never go outside of that box. This is why the fridge rarely gets cleaned, and your running shoes still have near-perfect tread. The quicker you realize the gravity of this situation, the quicker you will stop thinking of those things you wish you could be doing but wouldn’t be doing anyway, and instead start enjoying your time away – focusing on what’s happening right now, even if you are at work, or things aren’t going your way. You are, after all, in Poland – might as well enjoy it. But this is easier said than done.

On the road, something as simple as a trip to the store for cold medicine for your girlfriend becomes an ordeal, where you speak absolutely no Polish, the clerk no English, so communication is broken down to its simplest form. Single. Word. Sentences. “Medicine? Drugs? Cold?” You pantomime your way through a conversation — like a game of grocery-store charades – clutching your throat, faking a sneeze. And even then they’re still not sure what you mean, so you’re given a box of Aspirin and sent on your way. If I was at home, you think, I’d pop into Walgreen’s, pick up some Sudafed, and be on my way. As soon as you start thinking this way, you become homesick. That is homesickness – a longing for the routines and easiness of home. And there’s absolutely no escaping it no matter how big your travel ego.

It can, however, be overcome, and overcome it you will if you travel long enough. Thirteen days is how long it took me this time – not even halfway into the trip. I’m no longer thinking of the things I would be doing if I were home but wouldn’t do anyway. I’m rolling with the punches, confused, still hungry, and acting like a fool in the corner supermarket. And I don’t miss Walgreen’s.

But then again, I’m not the one who has caught a Polish cold.