Last updated on October 19th, 2021
Featured image: Older woman hiking in winter | Photo by Pavel Danilyuk on Pexels
Collected wisdom from women and experts on travel after loss
By Amanda Burgess, Editor, JourneyWoman
Women who have lost a partner to death or divorce gain entry to a club whose ever-growing membership comes with heartache, struggle, and a hint of existential crisis. Think about it: You were married to or with your partner for a chunk of your adult life. Perhaps they were your main travel partner – even if you sometimes travelled solo, with friends, family, or groups. Losing your co-pilot is a blow that leaves you reeling and wondering who you are now that “we” has become “me.” You’re now on a solo journey that wasn’t your choice or was a difficult one.
After taking some time to grieve and rebuild your life, you begin to think about travelling again, and it goes one of two ways: You take that first step, or you want to take that step, but something holds you back.
If you’ve lost a partner or loved one, and either haven’t travelled again or haven’t travelled solo as your heart is calling you to, consider these tips from women who shook off the fear, doubt, and worry. Women who pulled the plug on their family obligations and put themselves first. Women who chose not to listen to the naysayers who questioned their sanity for wanting to venture off on their own and dove headfirst into making their solo travel dreams a reality.
Tips on taking that first step into solo travel
1. Know that if you’re considering solo travel, you’ve already taken the first step
A journal can help you explore what’s keeping you from hitting go on a solo trip after loss. Putting pen to page keeps us present and helps us see clearly.
/ Photo by Los Muertos Crew on Pexels
The seed has been planted. Only you can feed or starve it. When you think about venturing off on your own, what emotions bubble up? Where do you feel them? Fear lives in the chest. Fear is a constricting feeling. Excitement lives in the gut. It’s an expansive feeling. Ask yourself why you want to do this, and what it will give you. Ask yourself what’s holding you back, and how you’ll feel if you allow it to. Write it all down. Sometimes, putting pen to page helps to us to clearly see the things we can’t in the clutter of our minds.
2. Embrace strategies to face your fears
“I had the most wonderful husband who died two years ago, and while I’m a very independent woman, it felt odd to get back out there travelling,” says traveller and life coach Debbie Phillips, founder of Women on Fire, who sat on a panel discussion called From Fear to Fun: The Return to Travel with our own Carolyn Ray this year. (You can watch the video below.)
Phillips says: “If you’ve lost a spouse or are divorced, here are some strategies I use in my own work to help women burst through fear:
1. Your F.E.A.R. could be False Evidence Appearing as Real: Your fears, the things you worry about, and your concerns are usually things about the future. Just stop and say to yourself: Could this be false evidence appearing as real?
2. Write it down and check yourself later: When I come up against something that I’m really scared about, I write it down in my journal and then I see what the outcome is. 99.9% of the time, I was falsely worrying or fearing.
We have a JourneyWoman branded journal available in our new store. Get yours here.
3. How to, want to, chance to: Say you’re thinking: What if I miss my connection? I don’t know to navigate the airport. Ask yourself: Do you know HOW to do it? You may actually know how. If you don’t know how to, could you ask someone? Then ask yourself: Do I really WANT to do this? Sometimes you don’t, and that’s okay too. Next, ask yourself: Do I have a CHANCE to? Sometimes we create a bunch of fear about something that we don’t have a chance to do.
4. Enlist a trusted friend: Find someone that has your best interests at heart and ask them to strategize with you or tell them what you’re thinking and ask if you’re on the right track.”
3. Set aside what you think a trip on your own should be, or how you should do it
Take time to research places you’d like to go and things you’d like to see and do while you’re there. / Photo by Teona Swift on Pexels
“Take time to read about places that interest you and figure out what you’d like to see when you’re there. Don’t assume that you need to take a tour. Do you want to see and do only what the tour offers? Maybe all you need to do is hop a train and head exactly where you want to go. If you like tours, take one – it’s all about what you want to see and do, and a tour can be a great way to ease into solo travel. You’re going alone, but you’re not alone.” – Mary Lou Meldazy, widow and solo traveller
Widow and solo traveller Denise Clarke echoes Meldazy on the benefits of tours for women who are hesitant to go solo after loss: “I do enjoy travelling with groups, it’s safe, and you learn so much more from a tour director,” she says. “If you are travelling on your own, you may miss key area information. But there are times you need to break away from the group to experience a non-group activity or mini-adventure, so give yourself room for that.”
4. Ignore the naysayers and tune in to your intuition
Meditation can help you tune into your intuition, block out the noise, and hear what you want most. / Photos by Los Muertos Crew on Pexels
The minute you speak aloud a tightly held desire that contradicts the perception well-meaning family and friends have of you, you will be peppered with questions, objections, and unsolicited advice. They may hit a nerve by saying some of the same things your terrified inner voice is whispering to you. That doesn’t mean that they are right – it likely means that they are afraid themselves or afraid for you.
When you tune into your intuition, the only voice you hear is your own. To do that, you need to get quiet and present: Meditate, try breathwork, spend time in nature, journal, go for a walk, play with your five senses (it can help activate your “sixth”), get creative. Each of these things calm your thinking mind and keep you present in your feeling body, the realm of intuition. When you stop thinking about solo travel and all the reasons why you can’t or shouldn’t do it, what messages pop up? What do you notice with your senses?
“Many years ago, my first solo trip was to Antarctica. I got a lot of push back. People asked: Why would you go there? How could you go alone? They were trying to kill my dream,” says Phillips. “They didn’t have to, because there was a giant oil spill, and the Smithsonian cancelled the trip. I got a message from my travel agent who said: The Chilean government is organizing a trip with all of the people who wanted to go on this trip and will take 50 people, so do you want to go? I worked through my fears and went. That trip changed my life, and I have never looked back.”
5. Do it your way
Sandra Hammink at the school she volunteered at in India
“You don’t need to start big. Try a few day trips on your own, join a hiking group, volunteer (as I did a few times). Volunteering in a foreign country is a safe way to experience the culture of the place you choose to visit and a wonderful way to make long-term friends. There’s no right or wrong way of doing this – the great thing about solo travel is that you make the choices that you feel comfortable with. Start out slow or jump into deep waters – either way, you will always have an amazing and worthwhile experience.” – Sandra Hammink, widow and solo traveller.
6. Find comfort and inspiration in women who understand
If you’re not quite ready to travel solo yet, taking a group trip with other women can be a good first step. / Photo from a JourneyWoman meetup in Alberta in August (all women were vaccinated and masks were not required). Photo credit: Lee Horbachewski)
The JourneyWoman community is full of women who have experienced loss and healed themselves through travel. We’re a resource you can willingly tap into. We’ve created a Widowed & Divorced JourneyWomen thread on the secure Community Forum on our website. Here, you can ask questions, get answers, and connect with other widowed, divorced, or grieving travellers. You might even plan some trips. As widow and solo traveller Denise Clarke says: “Come with me – I’ll be happy to show you the ropes.”
There are also tour operators who offer trips tailored to meet the needs of widowed or grieving travellers. If you’re not quite ready to go completely solo or if you’re feeling isolated and misunderstood, this could be an option for you. Sharing the grieving process can be healing.
7. Understand that you will battle loneliness and grief
You will battle loneliness and grief on the travels you take after loss, but there is unexpected peace in anonymity. Go at a pace that allows you to process.
/ Photo by Teona Swift on Pexels
Your feelings of isolation and grief won’t take a vacation simply because you’re getting back to something that feeds your soul. You’ll carry both with you in your suitcase or backpack. Sometimes they will feel heavy and cloying. But you will find space and solace in being away from the home that holds memories, and the eyes of friends and family you can see your own pain reflected in. Anonymity is an unexpected cushion. Go at a pace that allows you pockets of time to feel and process the emotions that come up. Get reacquainted with things you’ve always loved to do but couldn’t indulge in fully when you shared a trip with your partner. Reconstructing your life from the ashes of your old one is difficult, but the amazing thing about it is that you can redesign it to fit you.
Here’s how Sandra Hammink managed her grief and loneliness on a trip to Cuba after her husband passed away:
“It was difficult. There were many couples there, and that was hard as it was a reminder of what I had lost. To keep myself busy, I signed up for the small local trips offered by the hotel that involved the local community. That was very gratifying and kept my mind off my grief,” she says. “I love photography and my camera was my partner for my Cuba trip as well as the trips that followed and that lead to talking to the locals and getting to know the places I visited on an intimate level, which gave me such joy.”
From Fear to Fun: The Return to Travel
This session, hosted by Doni Belau of Girls Guide to Paris, includes Carolyn Ray from JourneyWoman, Debbie Philips from Women on Fire, Kelly Lewis, Damesly & Janice Waugh, Solo Traveler World with special guest therapist Mary Beth Metelski.