Travel After Loss: Getting Back Into the Solo Travel Saddle

by | Oct 14, 2021

Blarney Castle and round tower, home to the Blarney Stone in Ireland
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Last updated on December 13th, 2023

Featured image: The Blarney Castle and round tower, home to the Blarney Stone in Ireland / Photo by K. Mitch Hodge on Unsplash

Solo travel returns a widowed traveller to herself

by Amanda Burgess

Vancouverite Denise Clarke married her American husband Tom on Canada Day in 2006. They eloped to Vegas. He owned a company in Oregon, and she commuted to and from her job on Vancouver Island. In 2013, while working in Canada, Clarke realized that she hadn’t heard from her husband in two days – and it was discovered that he’d passed away unexpectedly at home. 

“The surreality of this, just one week before Christmas – it was rough. I didn’t sign up for this. When your spouse disappears like this, it’s like a bad break-up. You never hear from him again. It’s like he just walked out,” she says. My experience is different than most. He wasn’t ill, terminal, or in the hospital. I didn’t know how to grieve.”

“I needed to get into my solo travel groove again. It was never a fear – it was fulfilling my passion.
-Denise Clarke

Clarke was no stranger to solo travel. She’s been indulging in it since her 20s and has been to more than 50 countries. It took only seven months after her husband’s passing to think about travelling solo again as a way to ease back into single life. 

A woman and man standing at the Four Seasons Resort in Maui

Denise and Tom at the Four Seasons in Maui

“I needed to get into my solo travel groove again. It was never a fear – it was fulfilling my passion. Three months later, I took my first trip,” she says. “It felt sad not sharing the experience with my spouse, but I wanted to push myself to be comfortable on my own again. It can be lonely at times, but sometimes you need the quiet and lonely to reflect.”

One year after her husband’s passing, she took her second solo trip. This one had the most personal meaning for her – the dream trip that her husband longed to make to his ancestral homeland of Ireland. 

“I was on my way to the UK to spend Christmas with my brother. I made a quick two-night side trip to Cork, Ireland and went to Blarney Castle,” says Clarke. “I climbed the stairway to the top of the castle tower roof where the Kissing Stone is located. While people were kissing the stone, I quietly went to another part of the rooftop and spilled the rest of his ashes over the side. I looked up, and there was not a black bird in sight. Weird.” 

Clarke’s top passion in life is travel. Always has been, always will be. Diving headfirst back into solo travel helped increase her comfort level with moving from we to me. “It taught me that it’s okay to be totally selfish. The experience deepened my appreciation of the small curiosities that turn into BIG interests and wonders, and the interesting people you meet along the way who put a smile on your face,” she says. “I get questioned by women who are timid and unsure about leaving home. How can I travel to another country by myself? Am I scared? To them, I say: Hell, no. You have no idea what you’re missing.”

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Amanda Burgess is a Toronto-based writer and creative strategist whose bags are always packed for her next adventure. She is a Certified Cancer Journey Coach who creates a safe space for cancer patients and caregivers to design their dream lives – while living with cancer, and on the other side of it. Amanda freelanced for JourneyWoman until December 2021.

1 Comment

  1. Catherine Lavery

    thank you so much for this! it has inspired me to look into solo travel myself. i lost my husband 8 years ago and am in the process of planning my retirement. we had travelled a lot together when we were young, and had always said we would head off on a lengthy backpacking trip again when we retired. i love to travel but have not had the courage to consider going solo.
    as a side note, my hubby was Irish and I have spent a lot of time over there and so could picture Denise at Blarney… good for you Denise, and thanks for the inspiratin


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