Travelling with Grief

Anyone who’s lived through the loss of a loved one knows how truly challenging it can be to live with grief. While everyone experiences loss differently, it can often be a roller coaster of confusing and complicated emotions. Especially if your loved one had a big impact on your day to day life. From sadness to anger to a desperation, keeping up with the emotional fallout can be completely exhausting. Especially while trying to keep up with the ever-changing world that continues to buzz on around you.

Unfortunately, life has a way of moving on from loss faster than you do. For a while, friends and family do their best to help you through your tough transition. But, naturally, there comes a time when friends return to their lives, jobs expect you back at the office, and even your dog requires your return to daily rituals. While the world keeps on chugging forward, you feel frozen in your grief – stuck mourning your loss and trying to figure out how to start living again. Losing a loved one can change your life forever, and at times, it can feel like the rest of the world just doesn’t give a crap.

A few months after my mother’s passing, the world had already moved on. My friends assumed I was getting back on track, my extended family returned to their own lives, and the pressures of the post-grad job search started closing in on me. While life continued to happen around me, inside, I was nowhere near ready to start living again. So, overwhelmed, scared, and eager to escape the pressure to move on, I decided to pack up and run away to Europe for my first backpacking adventure.

Spain, 2012

Travelling is great for the soul no matter what state that soul is in. The experience of getting out of your comfort zone, trying something new, and challenging your status quo can be incredibly liberating and enlightening for just about anyone. But travel can be especially fulfilling – and even therapeutic – for people going through serious life changes. Whether it’s a breakup, a loss of direction, or the loss of a loved one, travel allows you to grow and find yourself in a compact, approachable way. And when you bring your grief along for the ride, truly great things can happen.

The first thing I learned while travelling with grief – and it didn’t take long to learn it – was that no matter how far you go, you can’t run from your pain. It will always be there waiting for you whenever you have a moment of downtime. At your hostel, on a train, even at the top of a mountain. There is no escaping your grief. Luckily, I also learned why I shouldn’t try. When you travel with grief…

1. You give yourself time to transition

One of the more challenging aspects of recovering from loss is living with the ghost of your loved one. When someone close to you passes, they can leave a massive hole in your life, reminding you of their absence over and over again. Attempting to live on like nothing has changed is near impossible with this constant reminder. Travelling can act as a sort of pallet cleanser after a loss, helping you transition from your old life with your loved one, to your new one without them. Think of it as an emotional buffer, allowing you to step out of your day-to-day just long enough to get some distance and clarity, then return to your new situation as a new person.

2.  You escape external pressures

After a loss, it can feel like your life has stopped, but the world continues whipping around you at high speed. The expectations, responsibilities, and pressures to move on can add anxiety and confusion to an already challenging time in your life. When you travel, you strip all of that away, allowing yourself some time and space to focus on your pain – free of all the other emotional noise. Travelling allows you a chance to feel a more purified, distilled version of grief that can be hugely beneficial to your overall healing process. Sometimes, you just need the space to truly feel.

3.  You find yourself

If you were close to your loved on, their disappearance from your life can have you questioning who you are without them. Redefining yourself and rediscovering your certainty after loss is no small task. While it may take a long time to settle into the new you, travel can help you kick-start the process. You can learn a lot about yourself when you hit the road for distant lands. Experiencing new things and encountering new challenges can help you discover your likes and dislikes while diving deeper into what drives you and helps you feel alive.

4. You rediscover your self-confidence

Overcoming the challenges of navigating a foreign country can help you find the confidence you need to believe you can live on without your loved one. You will find the proof you need in your capabilities and self-reliance while you explore incredible new worlds.

5. Finally, you learn to embrace your grief

When my mother died, I literally fled to another continent in an attempt to escape my pain. I never expected that the resulting adventure would change the direction of my entire life. From that trip on, I learned that instead of fighting my grief, I could use it to fuel my adventurous spirit, letting it take me to places I never thought I’d go. I would never have gotten on that plane had it not been for my grief. Now, I have a long and exciting bucket list that I’m slowly chipping away at, taking the memory of my mother with me everywhere I go. A lot of good can come from loss when you learn to embrace it and let it lead you to new adventures.

You may never truly move on from your loss. But it doesn’t need to be a burden on your back. On my most recent hike of the Tour Du Mont Blanc, four and a half years after my first grief vacation to Europe, I found myself at the Grand Col Ferret, 2,537 feet above sea level, struggling to get to the peak. I had sprained my ankle and was exhausted from carrying my 40-pound backpack up the steep incline to the border between Italy and Switzerland. It was an incredible view, and the crisp mountain air helped push me forward. But that day, I was not on top of my game. The night before, I’d had a dream about my late mother, and while I always enjoy a surprise appearance from my mom in my dreams, the emotional distraction made my climb that day much more challenging. Nearing the end of my emotional rope, my resolve broken, I started to cry. So I stopped and took a few deep breaths. For just a moment, I stared out at the mountain, and I shared a moment with my mom. I showed her the view, shared a few anecdotes from my adventure so far, and asked her if she was proud of me. Though I knew I wouldn’t receive any kind of real response, I knew that she was. And with her support in my heart, I was able to pick myself up again and finish the trek to the top of the Col – an accomplishment I will always cherish.

Grand Col Ferret

There will never be a time when I don’t miss my mom, but I know that she will always be with me, cheering me on from the sidelines.

Loss is something that is personal to everyone, and there are many ways to cope with it in your life. But if you have a few weeks and some cash to spare, my advice is to pack up your emotional baggage and hit the road. You will not regret it. I promise.

Throwback to Europe, 2012 – the trip that changed my life

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