Traveling after the Death of a Spouse

When we think about leisure travel, most of us associate it with being on vacation – a relaxing, happy time with friends or family – a chance to reconnect with ourselves and with those we love.So how do we approach travel after the death of a spouse or loved one?

The loss of someone who was an integral part of our daily lives, snaps us (brutally) out of our comfort zone. The day seems to need 48 rather than 24 hours to get everything done. All of a sudden it’s you – and only you. While this feeling is incredibly scary, recognizing and confronting it is the first step in the healing process and overcoming the fear of being on one’s own.

Travel can be a helpful tool in moving forward either as part of the grieving process or as a milestone/acknowledgement of its completion. The planning process should start with the following questions:
• Where do you want to go
• What kinds of things do you want to do when you get there
• How do you want to travel

When considering destinations for your first trip, make sure to take practical as well as emotional considerations into account so your choice of destination will be both exciting and comfortable. Some questions to ask yourself might include: Where have I always dreamed about traveling? How do I want to travel (car, train, plane, boat, bike…)? How far away do I want to go? Will I be comfortable knowing/not knowing the language/food/culture?

Take time to research possible destinations. Many tourist destinations (both domestic and international) have websites sponsored by their local tourist boards that can give you additional information about the tourism options. Perhaps you have friends who have traveled to the destination you can query.

Once you’ve identified a few destination options, it’s time to think about what you want to be doing once you get there. It helps to make a travel experience more personal and more enjoyable when you can incorporate a personal passion or interest. It may or may not be something you did together with your spouse. It SHOULD be something that is meaningful, inspiring, challenging and fun for you. Think about what hobbies or activities make you happy. Cooking? Art? Sports? Theater? Shopping? Volunteer Work? Is there something you enjoyed doing in the past but stopped doing because your loved one was unwilling/unable to participate?

Now think about doing that activity…. somewhere else, possibly with someone else. Is there an old friend(s) you’d like to reconnect with or are you ready to meet new people? There are cooking classes, yoga retreats and volunteer needs throughout the world. By combining your travel with a passion you'll get to know yourself better, learning more about what makes you happy and what you may need to do more of, and have more of, to grow as an individual. 
Once you have a destination, and some things you’d like to do it’s time to figure out HOW you would like to travel. Some questions to ask yourself are things like: Do I want to travel individually or with a group? If I want to travel with a group am I looking for in terms of size and makeup? Do I want a tour that is fully escorted or an option that provides more flexibility?

This is a good time to address “solo” travel. I use the word “solo” purposely – rather than “single” or “alone.” Solo is defined as - a thing done by one person unaccompanied. Traveling unaccompanied for the first time, or again after many years, can be scary. But, in fact, there are many benefits to traveling solo. You can be as selfish as you want. You set your own schedule, plan your own itinerary, set your own expectations and manage your own budget. And although it may seem counterintuitive, you are more likely to meet people when traveling solo. Travel builds confidence as you navigate an unfamiliar city, converse with strangers and figure out how to get from one place to another. Your social skills will “tune up” as you meet more and more people and get used to re-introducing yourself and making conversation.

You might worry if it’s safe, if you’ll be lonely, who you will talk to. But what you’ll quickly discover is that you will never really BE alone unless you choose to. There is always someone to talk to, eat with, or explore alongside. For example, by joining a ½ day tour you may meet other people with similar interests who might be interested in joining you for another activity on a different day or perhaps a coffee afterwards. Not quite ready to take the plunge of going all in on “all alone?” Go “solo” with others! There are trips put together for like-minded/ aged/ interested people. Escorted tours, cruises and volunteer travel are all great options.

What can be the hardest part of solo travel is dealing with feelings of loneliness that may surface at some point during the trip. Each person handles it differently. Your first trip without your spouse/loved one will certainly have moments of reflection and solitude, which can eventually help bring you peace. However if you crave human contact, and that helps you move forward, try finding a location where you can meet others. Seek out a popular walk/hiking trail, café/coffee shop, book store, gym or hair salon. Another good option is to join an organized activity such as a bike ride, hike, cooking or art class where it may be easier to meet and be with others when loneliness sets in.

It can be easy to sink into the emotional void the death of a loved one leaves behind, but when you travel, the isolated, lonely state you are in is not a state in which you can easily remain. Traveling, by necessity, opens us up to the world around us. Recognizing there is a world out there, still turning on its axis, active and vibrant and needing you to be part of it can aid in the grieving process. By traveling you can begin to rediscover interests and activities that will eventually form the basis of a world of your OWN to enjoy.

Karen Listgarten