This article was first published in the October 2022 issue of Grief Notes. Get yours for free.
Okay, so what do you do when your loved one has died and traveling after loss has a whole new meaning? Maybe you don’t want to travel without them, maybe you already have, or perhaps you’re not sure what to expect (there’s no set answer to this, by the way).
We’re all going to travel again or desire to. And yes, when you do, grief will show up. Here are a few tips for you. I saved the best for last.
1. Plan nothing.
It’s wonderful having each second planned if that’s your thing, yet grief may have a separate agenda. Leave extra space to unwind, perhaps to be by yourself (if you’re traveling or meeting up with others), and do nothing. This will help to decrease the overstimulation you might experience and let you recharge and grieve quietly if needed.
2. Schedule some stuff.
Yes, I know, I said to leave space in your day, and you need some plans too. Have a few places in mind that you might like to visit. This can be booking a show, pre-purchasing tickets to a museum, a walk on the beach, setting dinner reservations, or scheduling a massage at the hotel. Having too much free time can be helpful, or you might find it too overwhelming (especially if you’re traveling alone).
Scheduled items on your itinerary allow you to surround yourself with others, have a healthy distraction from grief (or alongside it), and change up the scenery. Yes, you might cry all the way to the museum, but hey, it’s a new place to cry that isn’t the bed, and it gets you out of the hotel room.
3. Map out the area (for less obvious reasons).
This may seem like common sense, yet if you’re the spontaneous type or visiting a place you’ve been before, you might not think of it. Grief brain is a big thing. It helps to map out the area you’ll be staying in and what the route looks like as you get there. It offers a certain comfort to have a grasp of where you are when your brain is bouncing all over the place with grief and memories.
4. Pack earlier than you normally would or think you need to.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t like packing. And unsurprisingly, packing for a trip that your loved one isn’t going on doesn’t make it better. You might find yourself procrastinating, crying, getting angry, or going through an array of emotions. In the early years, it felt so emotionally activating I almost canceled my trip.
Pack early to give yourself time to go through the emotional whirlwind. Also, because brain fog happens, it helps to prevent you from forgetting items. You’ll thank me later.
5. Bring a piece of them with you.
My mother-in-law taught me this trick. Whenever she went on her annual cruise to celebrate her late husband’s birthday, she’d bring a few items of his. For her, this meant the American flag they laid on his coffin (he served in the military), his obituary, and a photo of him.
For me, it changes. I’ll wear a necklace with his ashes or bring his orb. I might wear a pair of earrings he gave me or an outfit he bought. Whatever it is, sometimes it’s nice having a piece of them with you to hold. (If you’re inclined to lose things, bring something simple or set a reminder on your phone the day of your departure to make sure you’ve packed it.)
6. What’s your grief saying?
Journaling is a huge benefit on vacations. It gives your mind a sacred place to share what’s circling inside your heart. Grief doesn’t have a roadmap, but you can build one for yourself. Journaling allows you to see how you’ve coped for future times. If you like personal voice notes, download an app to say your thoughts out loud. This is also useful for road trips.
7. Set the expectation that this may not be hard, it may not be easy, it could be both, and that each trip is different.
We’re great at creating stories that may never happen about how hard grief will be for us when a certain date or time comes. Sometimes, we’ve pictured them worse than they are. Or, we might be accurate. I find it’s best not to set expectations and allow the trip to flow.
8. It’s okay to be sad, and it’s perfectly normal to have a good time.
Yes, I know. Your loved one isn’t traveling with you. It’s also true that you might find yourself having a fabulous time. Grief is hard enough. You don’t need to feel guilty about enjoying yourself without them. When the good times come, let them roll. The emotions will find you eventually. And if they don’t, that’s okay too. It’s all part of the journey.
9. Go somewhere old, somewhere new, or do something in celebration of them.
Visiting a place you stood with your loved one can be comforting. Maybe it feels like you’re carrying a piece of their presence with you. However, you might find it too overly stimulating. It’s okay to skip your special spots. You likely have enough reminders at home or when you’re not on vacation. Let your getaway be a getaway.
Bonus: alert your support people.
Let your grief friends know you’re traveling. Share fears, excitements, or grief moments you’re experiencing about the trip. These people are a great sense of comfort. Not only do they understand loss, but they’ve likely undergone similar emotions and can relate to you.