Getting Back Into Travel: Widows Who Travel On Their Own Terms

by | Apr 4, 2024

A woman looks out to the sunset, learning how to be alone during widows travel.
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Last updated on April 25th, 2024

Featured image: Ready to take the first step in to widow travel? These women share their stories on getting started. | Photo by leungchopan on Envato

Widows share their advice about travel

by Carolyn Ray

Far too often, travel is presented as a cure-all for transformation, emotional distress, midlife, loss and even grief. What happens when the person you’ve shared a life and traveled with for 20, 30, 40, or even 50 years is suddenly not by your side anymore? How do you get started again? More importantly, how do you find or reinvent yourself or define a ‘new normal’?

I sat down with three women who have recently started travelling again after losing their husbands. All three are experienced travellers, having been to places like Nepal, India, Africa, Machu Pichu, and Taiwan with their husbands. However, after the loss of a partner, simply picking up where you left off isn’t possible because the miracle of transformation needs to take place first.

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Travel while married

Nancy Smith and her husband Wayne were together for 35 years. They took family trips to Machu Picchu and the Galapagos and trips on their own to Kilimanjaro, Italy, Turkey, Vietnam, Australia, Chile, Vienna, Budapest, Croatia, Nepal, and Bhutan.

“Wayne had a heart attack in 2020, at the beginning of COVID,” says Nancy, who’s now 66. “I was kind of glad no one was going anywhere because I was mourning, and I didn’t want to hear my friends saying, “Oh, we’re going to Europe.” I didn’t want to go anywhere.”

Nancy and her husband in Taipei, 2019

Nancy and her husband Wayne in Taipei, 2019 / Photo provided by Nancy Smith

Cheryl Singer met her husband Roy, 72, in high school. They then broke up and reconnected and married later in life. In the 14 years they were married, they traveled extensively to the US, Caribbean and to Europe. Roy passed away in 2021.

“I had the treat of being widowed twice, but I was 49 the first time,” Chery says. “When you’re older, it’s much different. I’ve traveled all my life, but when I married Roy, he’d never been out of Alberta.”

Heather McGuinty, 71, lost her husband, Maurice after 42 years of marriage in 2018.

“Travel was a big part of our life and I feel privileged that we were able to do it, not knowing that when he was 55 he would be diagnosed with MS. We loved the culinary culture and so he would research the chefs in the area and would book the restaurants ahead of time wherever we went. Booked our rooms, our hotels, wherever we were going to stay. He did all of that, so I was totally dependent in that.”

Widowhood is a solo journey

It’s important to know that as a widow, you’re not alone. More than half of the 50 million widowed persons worldwide are women, and in the United States alone, approximately 700,000 women become widows each year.

“Each woman prepares differently, but for sure, one must allow the experience of grief to settle in the heart,” says Heather McGuinty. “Sitting with grief is a gestational period where life is preparing, equipping you with a rebirthing of a different you. From the time of Morris’ diagnosis of MS, till he passed, our life and love story together was written in the spaces in between.”

Heather thinks women have to give themselves time not to rush into anything.

“It depends on the circumstances,” she says. “But no matter what loss, there is some period where you’ve got to allow the grief to kind of make the steps ahead for you. It’s a solo journey, grieving. And especially in the first couple of years, specifically the first year, it is tough. You have to really grieve the loss. It’s important to take that time and then slowly, I guess, start a new life. I mean, that’s what it’s all about, starting a new life.”

JourneyWoman 30th Anniversary Trip with Swan Hellenic

How do you know when you’re ready to travel again?

Contrary to what society might expect, these women gave themselves time and space to return to travel in their way, on their schedule. Learning your new normal can take time.

Or a click in the universe.

“After Roy died, I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to travel anymore,” Nancy says. “That lasted for a while. Then, I didn’t know what I would do or how to do it. And then I met a woman who started talking about a trip to Bali, and it just clicked with me. I signed up for that trip, but it took me a whole year to go on the trip.”

“I went back to work three months after Maurice had died, and I just couldn’t function,” Heather says. “As a nurse, I thought there’s no way I’m going to make any mistakes here. So, I retired but stayed on all of the committees and continued to do project work. Then somebody sent me an article on JourneyWoman, and I found the Advivum Journeys retreat in Quebec City. I went and met a roomful of strangers. It was liberating. Finally, I’m not the caregiver anymore. Somebody’s recognizing me for me, saying, ‘Who is this woman? Wow, there’s something about her!'”

For Cheryl, there was a ‘tipping point’ when she decided she was ready.  

“If you’re at that tipping point, just go,” Cheryl says. “There’s no use going just because you think people want you to or your kids tell you to get away – you have to be ready. It’s only two weeks. It’s only seven days, how bad can it be, you know? Just try it. But you have to decide, and then you have to realize it’s not going to be the same.

Finding the new ‘sweetest thing’  

Often, the best part of travel is sharing the experience with another human being. 

“If you sat on the balcony every night after supper for two hours and talked about the day, and that was your sweetest part, be aware that you’re going to have to find something else to do,” Cheryl says. You know, when we went on a holiday, it was just the two of us, and it would be romantic and nice dinners and all that. It’s not going to happen. You’re not going to have that. It’s a lot to adjust to.”

Cheryl found a new reason to enjoy travel by embracing the social aspects of her trip with an all-women trip with Babes in Bali in 2023. 

“The sweetest part was just everybody together, going for drinks and dinner,” says Cheryl. “Everywhere we went was lovely; it was the sweetest part; I didn’t have to make any decisions.”

Nancy Smith holding a traditional offering in Bali

Nancy on her trip to Bali / Photo provided by Nancy Smith

Cheryl in a water purification ceremony, Bali

Cheryl in a water purification ceremony, Bali / Photo provided by Cheryl Singer

For Nancy, she enjoys learning about the financial aspects of travel. 

“I miss him very much,” says Nancy. One thing I like is that he always handled the money. I organized the airport transfers and whatever, but he had the money in his pocket. And it’s kind of nice being a tipper because it gives you a little bit of a rush, like a little dopamine rush, and you feel good to be the one with the money.

For Heather, she once defined herself first as a partner and then as a caregiver. Now, she’s starting a new life.   

“I depended a lot on him taking care of everything,” she says. “I knew nothing about our finances. This sounds really weird in this modern day and age, but I just knew that he was a good businessman and I could trust him; that was it. And the year before he was going to die, he said, “Okay, we’ve got to sit down, and I’ve got to show you all of this.” And I wasn’t interested. But I soon learned, and I listened a little closer. From total dependence to being independent in many ways, it’s a big chunk. It’s redefining me and part of me that I never even really knew.” 

Recently, Heather made a solo trip from northern Ontario to Ottawa to see her daughters. She wanted to take her own baby step of staying in a hotel alone. Afterwards, she wrote me, saying, “Once settled in I was not nervous at all, just reminding myself of this opportunity, and to experience all of the experience knowing that I can do it.”

Heather posing on a street in France

Heather during a trip to France / Photo provided by Heather McGuinty

Heather stands in front of a hotel in Ottawa, Canada, during her first trip as a widow.

Heather in Ottawa / Photo provided by Heather McGuinty

What kind of travel they like now 

Small group travel can often be the best entry point for widows who want to get back into travel because it provides a way for like-minded people to connect and share common experiences with kindred spirits. For other women considering a return to travel, they recommend considering the following:  

Organized: ”I think everybody’s got their comfort level, but I think the more organized you are in advance, the less there is to worry about when you arrive.” — Nancy

Small group: “I don’t like a group that’s too big, that’s for sure. Because I like the intimacy of conversation, I like the intimacy of maybe sitting down at a table with three or four other people and having a nice meal, having a glass of wine where it’s relaxing and you really get to know – I think authenticity for me is very important. And friendships can be made through that process.” — Heather

All women: ”I didn’t want to be somewhere where I was the 19th person in a bunch of couples. So when I heard it was only women, and as it was, a lot of the women, they were the same age, and a couple were widowed, others were on their own, so you didn’t ever feel left out.” — Cheryl  

The Destination: It can be hard to go back to the places you might have experienced as a couple — why not try somewhere new?  ”Bali was never on my list of possible destinations. Ever. It just was – as soon as I heard it that night, I said, “I’m going on that.” — Cheryl 

My own room: “I was worried about having my own room, and now, I never want to share a room again, that was gorgeous.” — Cheryl 

An element of self-care or wellness: All three women chose trips that included wellness activities, including purification baths, with spiritual or self-care rituals. (Find more retreats here)

Read More on Widow Travel

As the CEO and Editor of JourneyWoman, Carolyn is a passionate advocate for women's travel and living the life of your dreams. She leads JourneyWoman's team of writers and chairs the JourneyWoman Women's Advisory Council and Women's Speaker's Bureau. She has been featured in the New York Times, Toronto Star and Zoomer as a solo travel expert, and speaks at women's travel conferences around the world. In March 2023, she was named one of the most influential women in travel by TravelPulse and was the recipient of a SATW travel writing award in September 2023. She is the chair of the Canadian chapter of the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW), a member Women's Travel Leaders and a Herald for the Transformational Travel Council (TTC). Sometimes she sleeps. A bit.


  1. Debbie Posey

    Wonderful article! Thank you. I was in Bali with a few of the women in the article and they were so much fun. Women with some life experience are excellent company on trips!

  2. Tammy Rose

    I love reading articles from JourneyWomen. In the future, is there a plan to discuss single women who have entered the “Empty Nest” phase of life and plan to travel solo?

    • Carolyn Ray

      we do have a midlife reinvention section with some stories but this is a great idea! Thank you! Do you have a story to share? Please email me at [email protected] – thanks, Carolyn

  3. judy serie nagy

    Such a timely article, I thank you, Carolyn. I just got back from a 2-week river cruise from Provence to Normandy with Avalon Waterways. It was a trip booked five years ago. My husband died in November, not unexpectedly, but a huge shock after 54 years together. I was up in the air about the cruise, but I am super delighted that I did it. At 78, I’ve developed some balance issues but am otherwise very healthy. I was terrified of falling. I bought a collapsible cane and coincidentally got some driving glasses. This worked like a charm and kept me very steady on the rough surfaces of rural France. I boarded the ship determined to be even more friendly and outgoing than usual. Developed a posse of 8 or 10 other women travelling solo and had a ball. I highly recommend a European river cruise to any widow wondering if travelling solo will be enjoyable. Put a smile on your face and greet everyone you meet. I can’t say enough about Avalon, I already have two more cruises booked.

    • Kay Ach

      Hi Judy,

      Loved your comment posting – first one read after discovering this wonderful resource for solo traveling. I share some of your issues – I, too, became a widow after 55 years of marriage filled with travel, especially loving the river cruises but travel for many different reasons as well.
      I, too, have fear of falling (again) having done a face plant last Fall which could have been worse than a black and blue face for a couple of weeks! Traveling with a cane is a terrific idea. But the lingering fear is still with me.
      I am an introvert so traveling in a large group is not as appealing – and always need to coach myself to be friendlier and more outgoing than usual. The other concern is to travel with a purpose and connected (even remotely) with someone who “cares”, meaning if I turn up missing someone will be alerted. That is why river cruising is so appealing as a first choice for my solo traveling experience. Your comment that 2 more cruises are booked for you says it all! Thanks for your sharing.


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