Being away from the everyday routines, such as work, opened up the space to cry, which seemed to happen more often while travelling. For me, it felt more comfortable to cry while travelling. Perhaps this was because I was away from others I know so there was less pressure to act in a certain way. It felt freeing to just let it out.
I think sometimes in grief we create stories to protect ourselves from the reality that the person has gone, such as “they are just on holiday and will be back next week.” This is just our brains way of protecting us from the pain and stopping us becoming overwhelmed. One story I had was that he would be meeting us on the holiday and I would see him there but then when reality hit that I wouldn’t, this felt extremely crushing.
One of the things I noted was a pressure to do things. Perhaps this was because I was looking for a distraction from the difficult emotions, or because I felt whilst being away I needed to fully emerge into the experience, as I usually do. This included the need to feel I was speaking to new people and making new connections. However, while grieving you are already exhausted so the pressure of this was sometimes a lot to manage and I needed to escape and have a nap!
The other difficulty was wondering what to share with people when they, quite naturally, ask about your personal circumstances. I think this was particularly difficult for my mam because most people will notice the wedding ring and ask, “where is your husband?” You are then left with the dilemma to lie, to avoid having to share because you don’t want them to feel awkward or you don’t want to burst out crying. Or to be honest and open to whatever that brings up, both for you and the interaction with the other. This was challenging for us when we were cruising as these were people we would continue to see over the two weeks and it was still so raw for us. I don’t think there is a right or wrong in this; I would say to anyone that they should just go with their gut.
Travelling solo or with a companion
If you travel solo you have space away from others, especially those who are also grieving, which can allow you time to process your own emotions. You may feel a renewed connection to the person who has died and have the sense that they would be proud that you had found the strength to keep going without them. This was my overall experience of travelling solo but there were also times I felt lonely and isolated.
To travel with others comes with its own challenges. If you travel with someone who is also grieving you could trigger each other and feel inclined to support them rather than yourself. However, someone who is also grieving understands your pain, shares that pain with you and therefore no “mask” is needed to hide your emotions to make others feel more comfortable. I also noticed that while travelling with someone who was grieving that you share special moments, reminisce and offer perfectly timed reassuring rubs or hand squeezes when the unavoidable “I wish he was here” moments arise. I found this incredibly healing and believe it strengthened our relationship. This showed me that despite the pain, you can also develop new, joyful memories with people you care about.
Where to travel
I took a number of trips both solo and with companions. This ranged from a solo camping trip, solo trip to the Dales, a Caribbean cruise with my mam and to Santorini with a friend, who was also grieving. My main thoughts on where to travel are that it is best to find a place that is relaxing, involves connecting with nature, has limited noise and isn’t too crowded. Overall, I recommend it is some place where there is no pressure to do anything you don’t feel up to.
When to travel
How soon is too soon? I found I was conflicted, even in the first few months, whether to sit at home or to do a solo trip. For some, it may seem important to work through the worst months with loved ones in easy reach. At times when I was away I felt isolated and alone and wondered if being near friends and family would have felt more grounding. However, it may be that space on your own is exactly what you need. When you are grieving you are exhausted so taking the pressure off yourself to engage with people and do less can feel important.
Although the thought of travelling while feeling so exhausted may feel like too much, it could also feel difficult to sit with the pain at home. For me, I decided that I needed to take my pain with me and to try to enjoy some new experiences. Overall, going travelling has given me the headspace I needed, which I was failing to get back home. There were many moments when I wished my Stad was there with me or that I could text him photos or messages about my adventures, as I use to do, but I had time for reflection and moments that made me feel he was on the trip with me.
Top 10 tips that may make travelling easier while grieving:
1. Grief can impact on your sense of identity and bring up self-critical and doubting thoughts. Practice self-compassion by noticing your strengths, taking the pressure off and being kind to yourself.
2. Practice mindfulness to ground yourself in the present moment.
3. Connect with nature, sunshine, culture and people
4. Don’t socialise if it feels too much (forget being polite)
5. Consider quieter spaces to allow for reflection
6. Talk or write to the person who has died about these new experiences. It can make you feel as if they are travelling with you
7. Take something with you that connects you to the person i.e. an item of jewellery or their favourite t-shirt
8. Reach out for support- whether that is someone you meet on your travels or someone you can call up back home
9. Engage in some form of movement. Even if this is gentle exercise it can help shake off some of the physical pain and tension of grief.
10. Let yourself cry whenever you need to; feel into the emotions and let yourself just be.
Grief is a journey with many ups and downs and therefore travel on its own could never fully heal the pain of grief. However, I believe it can offer you time and space to process emotions, to create new perspectives and to connect with both the person who has died, yourself and others. It can also help you find an inner peace as you connect with nature and the world around you. As you look out at the mountains or the beautiful sunset allow this to remind you that whilst there is always going to be a part of you missing without them, the world still has a lot to offer you.
I want to dedicate this article to my Stad, who I love and miss every day. I would like to acknowledge my dear friend Vanessa for being a supportive friend and travel companion and my mam for showing such strength and willingness to live life and travel, despite the pain of grieving.
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