17 Things I Miss About the USA & 2 Things I Don’t

gluten free pizza

While I wouldn’t necessarily call it homesickness, there have definitely been things I have been missing while traveling. I started a list several months ago of things I was missing while on the road and kept adding to it whenever things came to mind. As I get ready to finally touch down on American soil again after thirteen months, here are some of the things I miss the most:

1. Pizza. Being gluten-free means I can’t eat pizza in most of the world. While I found gluten-free thin crust pizza at a restaurant in Tallinn, Estonia, my lips have not touched the delicious mix of gooey cheese, tomato sauce and buttery crust in over a year now. I guarantee my first meal back in Chicago will be gluten-free stuffed pizza from Chicago Pizza & Pasta.

2. Watching American sports. I am a huge sports junkie and I miss meeting up with friends to watch March Madness, getting crazed over my fantasy football team and stressing over Hawkeye football. Watching my favorite teams at odd hours via slow internet streams just didn’t cut it.

3. Public transportation. In Chicago, we like to complain about the CTA a lot. After a year of flagging down crowded marshrutkas and missing my desired stop more than a few times because I couldn’t tell where to get off, I appreciate Chicago’s public transportation system more than ever. I can’t wait to get back to a city with route maps at each bus stop, mobile bus and train trackers and large buses equipped with digital signs showing upcoming stops.

Inside marshrutka

4. Mexican food.  I have tried tacos in Irkutsk, nachos in Odessa and enchiladas in Bishkek, but none even come close to “real” Mexican food – or at least not the American version of it.

5. Familiar clothing chains. Yes, you can buy clothes while traveling but it can be extremely difficult to find things that fit right, flatter and are of a style that you actually feel comfortable wearing.  As the seasons changed and I needed to swap out my wardrobe, I wasted hours searching for new clothes – most of which I wouldn’t be caught dead in back home.  Can you blame me that I got a little giddy at the sight of a GAP store when I got to Almaty?

6. Knowing where to find things. Again, yes, you can buy just about everything you need on the road.  But finding those things can be a challenge. In most of the places I visited, daily essentials were spread out among many smaller stores and it took me a while to figure out where to go for what I needed. I searched for a mini-sewing kit (or at least a needle and thread) for weeks in St Petersburg with no success. I stopped at about five different places in Odessa before finally finding band aids and when I desperately needed an umbrella in Yerevan, it took me several tries to find one.

7. Not paying to use the toilet.  I think this one is self-explanatory.

8. Skim milk. I grew up drinking skim milk and really don’t like the taste of whole milk at all, but that was often all that was available.

9. Food variety. If I ever eat another tomato or cucumber, it will be too soon. Seriously, that seemed to be the hallmark of almost every single meal I ate over the last year. I reached points in both Azerbaijan and Tajikistan, when I was starving yet I could not bring myself to touch the tomatoes sitting right in front of me. They disgusted me. I couldn’t do it. And while I initially loved plov, shashlik and doner kebab, eating one or the other almost every single day for three months in Central Asia got pretty old.


10. Free, non-carbonated water in restaurants. Again, this should be self-explanatory. Plenty of places offered free bread, but free water? Nope.

11. Fitted sheets. These do not seem to exist in the former Soviet Union and I just don’t get why not. Every homestay, hostel, guesthouse and hotel I stayed at used a flat sheet directly on top of the mattress. All it took was a few turns in my sleep and the sheet came completely off the bed.

12. Cold drinks. Sure, it is fairly typical in Europe for beverages to be served without ice, but people in several of the countries I visited seem opposed to the idea of cold beverages altogether. Arriving in Azerbaijan on a day topping 100 degrees, my host offered me hot tea. When I finished a six hour hike in Tajikistan, my host actually argued with me over the fact that I wanted to drink cold water – she insisted hot tea was better. I personally have never been a tea or coffee drinker and the idea of accompanying every meal with one of the two is one I never want to entertain again.

13. Speaking English. Having to speak a foreign language almost every time I left the house for 13 months got exhausting – it was a lot of work for my brain. At times, I went weeks without even conversing with someone in English. I can’t wait to get home and not have to think about what language I am speaking.

Samarkand street sign

14. Street signs and building numbers.  90% of the places I visited seriously lacked noticeable street signs and building numbers, making it even harder than it already was to find my way around. One day in Samarkand I spent about 4 hours of the day wandering around completely lost and saw only 3 street signs the entire time.  Even worse? The names on the signs didn’t match those on my map!

15. Dryers.  And for that matter, washing machines as well. You can only wash your clothes by hand so many times before you realize they are never really going to be clean again.

16. Respect for people’s time. At home, when someone says “let’s meet at 9:00,” they generally mean “let’s meet at 9:00.” If they are running late, they will call or text you to let you know. We have a basic appreciation for people’s time and not wasting it. Such was not the case while I was traveling. Nothing seemed to start on time and someone saying they would meet you at 9:00 meant hopefully they would be there by 9:30 – likely with no contact whatsoever to indicate they may be late. When we were planning my going away party in Yerevan, when I said let’s meet at 9:30, everyone laughed and said “American time or Armenian time?” Indeed, most people didn’t arrive until closer to 10:30. I think this just reflects a more laidback attitude, but as someone who hates waiting around, I’ll take the American way every day.

17. American men. I know many women fawn over foreign men, but the men in the former Soviet Union did not appeal to me at all. While they may celebrate women on International Women’s Day, every other day of the year, most came across to me as controlling, condescending and overprotective – they just walked around with this machismo attitude that was such a turn off!  Give me a good old American guy who can see a woman as his equal and appreciate her independence. And who wears baseball hats and khakis rather than skinny jeans, Adidas sweats rolled up to the knee or black leather jackets that are slightly too small.

And then there are a couple things about home that I really don’t miss at all – and am not really looking forward to when I return:

1. Cell phone contracts. I had the cheapest plan possible with T-Mobile when I was in the US at around $70 a month, which still provided me with far more minutes and text messages than I ever used. While traveling, I simply picked up a new SIM card in any country where I planned to stay for more than a week or so. They cost as little as $2.00, including some existing credit, and could easily be reloaded at any one of a plethora of “payboxes” around town. I really, really wish the US could get on board with this.

2. Prices. I am going to have major sticker shock when I return to a world where a bottle of Diet Coke is $1.89 and not just 50 cents. And where $3.00 won’t get me a salad at a fast-food joint, let alone an entire lunch. And where $5.00 won’t get me home from downtown Chicago in a taxi, much less across the whole country in a minibus.

Have you traveled long term? What did you miss the most about home?

41 thoughts on “17 Things I Miss About the USA & 2 Things I Don’t”

  1. Jeannette Campbell

    Where was the restaurant in Tallinn with the gluen free pizza? I am there now and would love to get one.

    1. Got your email and just replied. But for anyone else reading, the restaurant was Rosso – it’s a Finnish chain located in a shopping mall about a 20 minute walk outside of the center.

  2. We have only been on the road for 2.5 months and I already sympathize with all the things you miss! Had to crack up over the fitted sheets one – I am from Russia and it is indeed a mystery why they never have fitted sheets and only use a flat sheet to wrap around the bed! Plov is one of my all time favorite meals (my grandmother used to make it for me every time I visited her in Moscow) but I do imagine it would get old after eating all the time for months!

  3. When I lived in Bulgaria with the Peace Corps I would have my parents send me brown sugar so I could keep making chocolate chip cookies like I liked ’em. Who would have thought something so simple could become so emotionally pivotal??

  4. Its always interesting to hear an American perspective. This is what I miss about not living in Russia:
    1. Decent Public Transportation. I live in an American city with population of 5 million, yet public transportation is inadequate and unreliable. It is impossible to function on a daily basis without having a car.
    2. Lack of train service between the cities.
    3. Lack of world-class cultural events, such as opera, theater, ballet.
    4. Russian restaurants.
    5. Football (soccer) matches

  5. Great Post! I totally agree with you on a lot of these. I could not understand why road signs were on buildings in different spots or sometimes not at all. I warned my friend about it when she went to England, but she didn’t believe me. She believes me now. I walked around a subway (English version) path/circle of roads for a good 30 minutes before I finally found out where I was.

    And I’m planning to move to England next year. My goal is to learn how to properly make Mexican food, b/c I won’t get it there. I had a friend talk to me about getting a taco kit at the store…that’s good for us over here. Um…NO> You don’t even know what breakfast tacos are! LOL>

    And I’m going to soooo miss American Football.

    Anyways. I just found your site and will be reading through your posts.

  6. I’ve been living in Italy for a little more than 3 years now. At first I missed a lot about the US but as time has worn on, I miss less and less. I do have an appreciation for actual high speed Internet, American Mexican food, and washing machines that aren’t Fisher Price sized. And what I wouldn’t do for a dryer that works!

  7. We’ve been out of the US for 13 months and I miss screens! People wouldn’t need all the bug spray, coils, mosquito nets, fly swatters, etc. if they just installed simple screens on their windows. Is the US the only country that has them pretty much everywhere?

    What I have enjoyed for the last year was not having a cell phone. I think I may go without one when we return.



    1. oooh so true about the window screens! I got eaten alive by mosquitoes in Central Asia despite wearing bug spray regularly – I just couldn’t get away!

      I was actually never really without a cell phone – I got SIM cards in most countries so I could call or text locally if necessary. And getting a new phone was the first thing I did when I returned. 🙂

  8. I totally agree with the Mexican food, free water and bathrooms… why doesn’t good Mexican food exist in Europe! But as someone who lived in Chicago for 4 years I don’t really know how you miss the L, it’s slow, creaky, breaks down all the time and smells like urine. It’s the second worst subway I’ve ever been on (topped only by Buenos Aires).

    1. How long ago did you live in Chicago? They’ve improved public transport quite a bit in the last few years – granted, I usually take the Brown Line which is probably the best L line. And really the bus system here is excellent, very easy to figure out and the online bus tracker is awesome.

  9. Yes! Agree with most of these Katie. Seconding the Mexican food. I’ve always liked it but since my RTW trip…I crave it much more now and appreciate it SO much! Let’s go get some when we meet up next month.

    Also have to admit, I have said the same thing about American men and how the majority here in the US treat women really well. I agree with this one wholeheartedly. We don’t know how good we have it.

    Two that have changed for me. I rarely actually use the dryer anymore! I see it as a luxury now and a waste of energy and money. I often air dry my clothes now.

    And…get a prepaid phone card like me! Since my return I have used a TMobile prepaid plan and ONLY spend about $100 a YEAR! That’s right. I love it.

    Welcome back!

    1. I’m too sucked in to having a smartphone to just go with the prepaid card. 🙂

      I got an iPhone and signed up for a new contract within 24 hours of landing…although I did ask about pre-paid month-to-month plans but they ended up being just as expensive or more so than annual contracts.

      1. Wow…that was fast! I have an unlocked iphone and use it with t-mobile pre-paid minutes (not a plan). It only costs me about $10/month for texts and calls. For data…i just use free wifi which I can find most places.

        1. My Blackberry was pretty much dead by the time I returned so I needed something ASAP to communicate with people once I was back. When I asked at T-mobile about prepaid options, they only told me about monthly plans (which started at $50/month), I didn’t know there was anything else I could do.

  10. I don’t know if I could ever travel long term in places that don’t speak English. Having to do all that thinking, ALL THE TIME, would tire me out so fast. Even after 2+ weeks in Peru, I was so ready to come home. I was just so tired of being on alert all the time.

    For me coming home after 2+ years in NZ/Australia, the biggest thing I missed was my family. I was so ready to see them! Everything else, for the most part, I had gotten used to at that point. The 4 month hump was the worst part, but once that passed, I was fine.

  11. Hi Katie! I really identify with your article. While traveling in Australia and Thailand, the thing I missed the most was also pizza! I became notorious for whining about how New York had the best pizza in the world. Italians often begged to differ. It was the first thing I ate when I got home. The funny thing was that when I tasted it, I realized how much I missed Thai food! When you return home you might realize that you miss the foods from your travels that you can’t find at home. I guess we can’t ever have it all in one place.

    1. Good point! Although I think it will be a long time before I’m craving borscht and tomato/cucumber salad. 🙂

  12. This was great. As someone who has spent extensive time in the ‘stans, I think you are spot on! Saw your post on Twitter and glad I did. Good luck to you in all your travels! Hopefully you’ll get that pizza!

  13. I definitely agree on the free water and toilets! Or how about having to buy a drink so you can use a place’s “customer’s only toilets” (as there are no public ones — paid or not) and then having to go again soon thereafter because you didn’t want to waste the drink 🙂

    There’s no public transport where I live in the US, so I miss being able to get around easily in Oz!

  14. We’re just about to head back to the US ourselves after 13 months. The countries we visited are different, but many of the things we miss are the same.

    We also found the lack of food variety true in other parts of the world. After 2 months in southeast Asia we were “noodled-out”. Several weeks in the middle east had us needing a break from hummous. Meat, meat and more meat in Argentina makes me want to go vegetarian, at least for a few days. I’m looking forward to getting back to a place where I can have Thai one day and Pizza the next and sushi whenever.

    I will, however, miss the joys of sitting down for a coffee or snack, and having real china and silverware at even the simplest of places. The go, go, go pace in the US could use a little slowing down.

    Good luck with “reentry”!

  15. Great post Katie!

    Mexican food
    Free water and toilets

    Miss all of those dearly, although I’ve been able to watch a fair bit of sports nonetheless.

    What I miss most though is just being at my home, inviting friends over, cooking, drinking beer and watching the game with all my friends.

    And Sunday Fundays.

    Good luck on the long journey home!

    1. Yeah, I managed to watch a bit of sports online, but it’s nothing like getting together with your friends to watch a big game!

      And I’ve concluded that if a Mexican chef wanted to move to Europe and open a chain of Mexican restaurants, he could become a billionaire….everyone seems t0 miss Mexican food the most!

  16. You realize you can buy pay-as-you-go phones in the US as well right? They’re just really not popular as they want to lock you into a plan instead.

    And regarding Mexican, yep, that’s usually what I miss the most when abroad as well! (that and an obsession for cheese when in Asia) I am however super lucky in that it turns out Amsterdam has the best Mexican restaurant in Europe according to many- so between that and homemade stuff I get along fine. 🙂

    1. I have started looking at pay-as-you-go plans in the US but most companies seem to still make it like a plan, pre-paying a certain amount each month rather than signing a contract. And they are nowhere near as cheap as the pay-as-you-go SIM cards I got overseas!

  17. Your list looks startlingly familiar to the one I have in my head after being in Europe for over a year! Mexican food, bed sheets, street signs… all of it! I’m up in northern France, so there are also things that I miss from here when I’m home (like their public transportation compared to Dallas’ or warm buttery croissants). Great post!

  18. I’m totally with you on the fitted sheets!! That bugged the crap out of me in Eastern Europe, too.

    And I will NEVER be happy about paying to go pee. Especially in some of the places I had to pay for it… uck.

    1. I just don’t understand the lack of fitted sheets. Is there an elastic shortage over there? Why wouldn’t you have fitted sheets??

      And yes, having to pay to pee in some of the places I peed was soooo ridiculous!

  19. I left Germany 3 years ago and I still miss German broadsheet (quality) newspapers and quality TV news.

    Also, I now realize how varied the German restaurant scene actually was, even in my little town in Bavaria.

    I miss universities that are taxpayer funded.

    But on balance, I am still happy about travelling. (I am currently in Lithuania.)

  20. I get so desperate for Mexican food. I still try to eat it abroad, and I am always disappointed. Especially considering it can be expensive. I just spent over $13 for two enchiladas in Slovenia that had cabbage and carrots in them, and came with a side of corn covered in melted cheese and oregano. Why am I such a glutton for punishment?

    I am also trying to break my TV addiction, and not having English TV helps, but there are days when I want to sit in front of a TV with 100+ stations, all in English. I would love to have the choice of Keeping up with the Kardashians, or How I Met Your Mother, or Jeopardy.

    But, then, I have days like yesterday, where I spent my afternoon on a balcony with an amazing view drinking great, cheap white Croatian wine, eating fresh bread with no preservatives, local sheep mik cheese and freshly sliced local prosciutto. Then, I am okay without Mexican and the Kardashians. . .

    Great Post Katie!

    1. TV surprisingly is one thing I don’t miss at all…I thought I would miss it more.

      As for Mexican, I tried tacos in Irkutsk, Russia that were made out of shells that seemed more like fried wontons and came with a side of tartar sauce. Ewww.

  21. the transportation thing – i agree. Its so nice when you dont have to have a panic attack about knowing what your stop is and what it looks like. Definitely got sick of that feeling after a year of travel as well!

    welcome back!

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