A man sitting on the edge of a dock facing a mountain in Germany

How to Take a Vacation While Grieving

Travel has always been an amazing way for you to escape the everyday – you don’t need to worry about meetings, bills, or personal drama when you’re out in the world, exploring a new place. That’s one of the main reasons people so look forward to their carefully-planned vacations! Unfortunately, however, sometimes life has a plan of its own, and something in your personal life can go very wrong before you set out on your next adventure. Rarely do people plan vacations around major losses – part of what makes a loss so difficult is the inability to know when, exactly, they’ll occur. If the worst does happen before you set off, however, there are a few ways to make sure you still get something special out of your next vacation – you may not have the same experience you were expecting, but this is how to take a vacation while grieving.

a woman paddle boarding
Try to stay true to the heart of your trip | © Ishan/Unsplash

Take it slow

Before you set off, carefully consider whether you still want to go on this trip. If you can, sleep on it for a night or two – your initial reaction may be absolutely not, but think about what you’ll be doing if you don’t embark on this vacation. Will you be occupying your time, or sitting at home? If you purchased travel insurance, you may be able to be refunded some or all of your travel costs if you decide not to go on the trip. If you do decide you want to go, don’t put too much pressure on your vacation to make you feel 100% better. The purpose of travel is always to learn something new about yourself and the world, and that purpose is still very much available to you when you’re grieving!

Instead of packing your days full of sightseeing, think about the heart of your trip – are you in this new place to try new foods? Do you want to see a famous painting or landmark? Or do you just want to immerse yourself in this new culture? Whatever the reason for your trip, think about every activity you take part in and decide if it serves that purpose. It’s just as valid to spend a day being sad in a park or hotel room as it is to climb the Eiffel Tower!

Focus on you

Whether you’re travelling solo, with a group of friends, or on a group tour, make sure everyone travelling with you understands what you’re going through. You don’t need to tell them every little detail of the situation if it’s too hard, but everyone should be aware that you may need a day or two to adjust, or that you may not be thrilled with every new sight. Grief has a way of making the world go gray around the edges, and it doesn’t usually care what beautiful sights it’s shading over. It’s okay if you don’t feel as thrilled and excited as you usually do when you’re travelling – think about those things you’ve always dreamed of seeing or doing, and seek them out. If your travel companions don’t want to participate, that’s okay too: sometimes, taking a walk by yourself to experience something important to you can be incredibly healing.

A man sitting beside a motorcycle at sunset
Take time to do things you love | © Harley-Davidson/Unsplash

Find moments of peace

No matter how hard you try and how good your intentions, travel is sometimes hectic and out of our control, which can be especially difficult to deal with when you already feel a little out of control and lost. If you start to feel overwhelmed, give yourself a chance to breathe and remember why you’re travelling – would the person you’re missing want you to spend your time in an exciting new place being sad? You’d be surprised at how much a little walk, a fresh snack, and some water can do for your mood – it sounds ridiculous when you’re faced with such massive emotions, but stopping to take a breath and appreciate the incredible sights around you can help a lot.

Don’t avoid your feelings

It can sometimes seem easier to push aside the things you’re feeling in favour of diving headfirst into your travels. While that may help at first, you may find that later on those feelings return in a big, bad way. To avoid bursting into tears as you’re boarding a plane or riding on public transit (been there), give yourself permission to feel your feelings. No matter what the person you’re missing was to you, their loss will more than likely affect your life in some way – that’s a big deal, and it deserves recognition. If you need to cancel plans for a night out to hang back at the hotel, that’s fine! Avoiding the temptation to pretend nothing is wrong is difficult, but possible; and you’ll thank yourself for it later.

The first step is accepting that your trip is going to be different than what you expected – when you look back on it, you’ll remember all the happy times you had, but you’ll also remember that you were grieving. That’s okay! It can be hard to accept that this trip you were looking forward to and carefully planning may not turn out the way you anticipated, but really, what trip goes exactly to plan? If the sight of a painting the person you’re missing would love makes you a little misty-eyed (also been there), consider it a nice moment, allow yourself to miss them, and move on.

a woman sitting on a mountain
It’s fine if you need to take a moment to yourself! | © Andrii Podilnyk/Unsplash

Stay in the moment

This is universal travel advice: staying in the moment and appreciating what’s in front of you will always make your trip more memorable and enjoyable! It takes on a new layer, however, when you’re taking a vacation while grieving. One way to make sure you enjoy your vacation is to do your best to stay in the moment and avoid letting your mind wander to sadder goings-on back home. Committing to enjoying this vacation doesn’t mean you aren’t grieving; it just means you’re giving yourself the breathing room you deserve. Try to reconnect with your senses: try and name one thing you can see, hear, smell, touch, and taste from where you are, and don’t move until you’ve thought a little bit about each of them.

Travelling while grieving the loss of someone important to you is never the way people anticipate travelling, but enjoying a vacation may not be as far off as you think it is. While the sense of loss will be present, and you’ll certainly have sad moments, it’s important to remember that grief looks different to everyone, and, for some people, taking a vacation while grieving is the best thing they could do. Travelling while grieving may just be the perfect reminder that, even when it feels impossible, you can find moments of beauty in any situation.

Have you ever travelled while experiencing a loss? How did you cope?

Maggie is a life-long traveller who, after three years abroad, has returned home to Toronto, where she works as a Content Editor at TourRadar. When she's not reading, writing, or dreaming about her next trip, she can usually be found cooing over other people's dogs or hunting down Mexican food.

Elephant with calf by its side
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