Will you be spending your birthday on your own while travelling? Far from home and friends, where you are unlikely to know many people yet, birthdays can become emotionally so much more important and they tend to emphasize how much we miss family and trusted friends. As a result we might be much more likely to get homesick on the day.
I remember an emotionally tough birthday being out of reach of friends and family. It was my 22nd birthday in Ireland and I had travelled all day for a potential new job – an epic 8 hour bus trip from the Cliffs of Moher to Dingle. I had only just met the people I was going to stay with and didn’t have a mobile phone back then. There was no Internet and we were a few kilometres away from town… In those days I used prepaid telephone cards with endlessly long dial codes… remember those? I was dead tired, exhausted and felt a bit lost. Although Padraig, who I was staying with, was really nice trying to welcome me, I couldn’t help feeling a little homesick that day.
Over the years, I have spent many more birthdays while travelling the world and would like to share
10 helpful thoughts on how to banish homesick blues on your special day while travelling:
- Make sure your family and loved ones know where you are and when & how they can reach you. Communicate the best time to call in advance if you are time zones apart.
- Plan ahead and meet people a few days or weeks before your actual birthday so you will be around people who are less of a stranger to you.
- Live the moment and be consciously aware and thankful of the nice things you experience that day.
- Don’t wait on specific phone calls nor dwell on who you would have loved to celebrate your day with.
- Appreciate if friends do send a little message! In today’s communication overload this means a lot!
- Plan something nice like sharing a drink with new friends, bring a cake into work or treat yourself to something special. Eat well.
- Some of your loved ones (often of an older generation or those who don’t travel much) might have a mental barrier calling you on the other side of the planet. They might think it’s too far or too expensive to call. Remember they haven’t forgotten, you are just kind of out of their range.
- Be aware of the saying “out of sight, out of mind” and don’t take it personally if friends don’t remember. Being miles away from home, life goes on and it’s natural to deal with immediate issues right in front of you first. You meet people every day, so do your friends back home.
- Go with the flow and be gentle with yourself. There is no such thing as the perfect birthday; no expectations of having to be with friends or doing outrageous things.
- Don’t worry; you are not the first person who spends a birthday abroad. Take it easy and watch this awesome video by the Flight of the Conchords. I love the bit when Jemaine sings: “the day after is not my birthday, MUM!”
Using some of these tricks, birthdays of course can be great fun and memorable. Here are some of my stories, for example an awesome 30th birthday under the stars of the Southern Cross in Western Australia: around a cosy fireplace and BBQ with an amazing HelpX host family.
I spent about a month at a horse-riding centre along with 3 other helpers taking out tourists on horseback every day. Thanks to Kaylene and Roselyn, Angeline, Adeline and Ron for a memorable day – a treat when you are travelling!
I also remember my first birthday far away from home – it was my 21st in France – I mostly spent it talking to friends and family from home. At times before Skype it was a real treat to talk after months; I was almost high it made me so happy. I had missed them so much! And I was very grateful they had thought of me although it wasn’t exactly polite to my new expat friends who I had invited to my house that day. Things we do when we are young, aye … 🙂 Since then I definitely try to live more in the moment!
Last year’s birthday I spent in Colorado at another HelpX farm with Gillian from New Zealand and another helper Hunter. I really enjoyed being away from busy life in Germany experiencing a total different life out there. I had arrived a few days earlier and on the day, we just had a chocolate cake together 🙂
Spending birthdays travelling made me aware of the difference in celebrating them between countries.
In a lot of English speaking countries the birthday boy or girl is treated, and friends take you out for drinks or even dinner. I really like that custom as it is so uncomplicated.
However, in most other countries you are expected to invite friends for drinks or dinner or you take a cake to work to share with colleagues on your birthday. The person celebrating invites, and is not invited. Sometimes quite a few expectations can be tied to it and can make you want to escape those expectations.
In some catholic regions, the name Saints Day may still be more important than a birthday.
So when moving to a new country I never quite know how to deal with birthdays in the first year. It might be easier to go away travelling to avoid difficulties, especially if you don’t quite know local customs just yet. What do you think?