6 Types of Grief Travel – Which is Right For You?

I’ve shared how travel has helped my own grief process in an earlier post and included some tips for planning your first travel experience. But grief travel can have different purposes and take on different forms. If you are going to plan an extended travel experience for yourself you’ll want to know your goals for the trip so you can choose the best type of travel for your needs.

Here are six categories of grief travel for you to consider:

  • Restorative
  • Contemplative
  • Physically active
  • Commemorative
  • Informative
  • Intuitive

Read more about each of them below to see which type might be best for you during your own experience of grief:

Restorative

A restorative grief vacation may be the best thing if you are grieving acutely and not yet ready to return to the mainstream of daily life. Consider visiting friends or family who will help care for you by providing food and shelter, offering companionship or solitude as needed, and permitting you to gradually reenter the world on your own terms. This type of visit is likely to be time-limited since most people cannot drop their own schedules for too much time in order to be of service. But during the early days of grief it can help you immensely to have a safe and nurturing place to just “be” yourself for a short time.

After my father’s death I traveled back to my hometown with my husband and two small children to help make funeral arrangements and be with family. My cousin took us in and housed us in her home for an entire week so we wouldn’t have to stay in an impersonal hotel. She cooked nourishing meals for us, watched my children when I needed time alone, and sat up listening to my stories late at night when I couldn’t sleep. Her lovingkindness made all the difference for me in my own grief process and I left her home feeling much stronger than when I had arrived.

Contemplative

If you are further along in the grief journey you may be ready to spend some time alone so you can dive deeply into the pain you have encountered and explore all of your emotions. For this contemplative type of travel you might want to visit a meditation retreat center, spa or healing resort that will allow you space for your own private experience. Many retreat centers also offer meals and a variety of classes like meditation and yoga that you can join if you want.

This travel experience is perfect if you need to process some deep feelings and are comfortable being alone for a few days. Bring a journal, music, candles, instruments, inspirational books, and anything that helps you connect with your higher self to get the most out of your travel.

Several years after my father’s death I spent a long weekend alone at a hot springs resort in the mountains so that I could do some thinking and writing about the impact of his suicide on my life. I had a profound experience there as I confronted old fears and anger and found a new level of forgiveness for him. But it was only possible because I was there alone and had time to go deep into my own dark emotions.

Physically active

Some of us process our emotions more easily when we have a physical outlet to help dissipate stress. If this is true for you, grief travel that involves physical activity might be most appropriate. You could consider going on a long backpacking trip like Cheryl Strayed who wrote her book Wild about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail as a way of coping with grief after her mother’s death.

Biking, camping, climbing, sailing, surfing, and kayaking are among many forms of active travel that could be beneficial when you are dealing with grief. A company that provides guided adventure vacations might be helpful to handle some of the extensive planning that is necessary for this type of travel.

I once participated in a 60-mile walk to raise funds for breast cancer research, motivated by the deaths of two friends from the disease and the recent diagnosis of my young niece with breast cancer, as well. I trained for several months before the walk, which allowed me ample time to contemplate the nature of serious illness and death and to dedicate my walk to a higher purpose. During the walk itself I had many inspirational encounters that helped me see the connections between all of us—those who walked and those who were struggling with cancer. Through that walk  I reached a new level of spiritual understanding about death and loss that helped me immensely over the years that followed.

Read the full story of that grief travel experience here.

Commemorative

Travel to remember a special experience from the past with a loved one can be a powerful way to connect with and process grief. Consider visiting the site of a memorable celebration or a place where you felt connected to your loved one in a meaningful way. Returning to a place of positive memories can help you recall your love for another person and also strengthen your sense of an ongoing connection that can transcend the physical realm.

On many occasions after my father’s death I returned to the cabin he had built in the mountains in a place he dearly loved. Spending time there helped me recall happy moments from the past and also provided me with a tangible sense that Dad lived on through the cabin and through the trees, streams and wildflowers that surrounded this very special place. I could sit next to his favorite fishing hole and still hear his laughter and see him casting his fly line above the water: Dad was with me again in those moments and I felt that our connection was stronger than ever before. Though I also experienced pain through these memories, I came to terms with my grief a little at a time with each and every visit.

Informative

Travel that includes historical research can be very therapeutic for grief. If you have questions about the past you might find that an excursion to a particular place to discover new information can be a productive way to work through your emotions. Consider doing background research on the place you plan to visit before you go so you can maximize your time once you get there. Take careful notes, ask lots of questions and search out people who may have stories that can help you fill in some missing pieces.

As I sought answers for my father’s suicide I began to suspect that his experiences during World War II played a key role in the depression and anxiety that had plagued him for years.  I researched the history of his army division to the best of my ability and learned that he had been part of the invasion at Normandy as well as the Battle of the Bulge. On a subsequent trip to France I visited Omaha Beach and many other historic sites in Normandy with the help of a knowledgeable guide.  Walking the beach where so many died during the invasion deepened my awareness of the trauma Dad and other soldiers experienced during the war and I felt that I finally understood him thoroughly for the first time in my life.

Intuitive

This final type of grief travel requires an adventuresome spirit and a willingness to take a bit of risk. To travel intuitively means to arrive at a place without a firm agenda or plan and allow yourself to “wander” and see what experiences arise for you. You might come across a museum or park that seems interesting or be inspired to walk along a beach or enter a certain church. When you follow your intuition you might discover a connection to a certain place that helps you process your grief–a connection that you couldn’t have planned or discovered by reading a guidebook in advance. To enjoy intuitive travel you’ll need an open mind and curiosity about the “mysteries” of both life and death.

Once on a trip to France I felt inspired to take a bus to a small village nearby, without knowing  what I would find there. I wandered the little streets and came upon a church that attracted my attention. When I stepped inside I heard angelic music that filled the entire space. A soloist was practicing her songs for Sunday mass and I was treated to a spontaneous and inspirational  concert as I sat within that comforting space. I could not have planned or scheduled this special experience on my own, but it transformed my entire trip.

As you can see from the examples I have shared, my own grief travel has made it possible for me to heal in ways I could not have anticipated. For this reason I am eager to share my inspiration and travel suggestions with you so that you might also experience the benefits of grief travel. If you decide to travel while you are grieving, first identify your goals for travel and assess what type of travel might work best for you at this time. I’m sending you wishes for meaningful journeys that bring insights and healing to you over time!

 

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Tips for Planning Your First Grief Travel Experience

In previous posts and podcasts I’ve shared some thoughts about the benefits of travel for those who are grieving and told the story of  one of my own experiences with “grief travel.”

Other authors have also written about journeys that were undertaken as a way of coping with grief, like  Cheryl Strayed, who wrote her bestselling book Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail about  an epic backpacking trip she took while grieving her mother’s death.

If you think you might benefit from some “grief travel” of your own, it’s important to be prepared. Here are some tips for planning your first journey:

Start local and go small

The first time you venture out into a new place while you are grieving it can help to stay fairly close to home and limit your time commitment. For example, after my mother’s death I planned a special trip to a botanical garden that was just 90 miles from my house. I set aside a half-day for the trip, which didn’t disrupt my schedule much and let me see how I felt when I was outside my usual comfort zone.

Plan ahead

Before I went to the botanical garden I did some research to see what it had to offer. I found that there were lots of walking paths and benches in private areas that would lend themselves to quiet moments and meditation, which was exactly what I needed at that time.

You might feel more comfortable in a busy area with less solitude so it’s important that you know yourself and have a sense of what will work for you. However, during a time of grief you might not know what’s best for you or how you will react and it’s okay to experiment with different locations and settings. If you start local you’ll be able to change the plan quickly if it’s not right for you.

Choose a destination that has meaning

I decided on the botanical garden for my first journey because I knew my Mom would have enjoyed  going there with me. She loved flowers and the beautiful displays at the botanical gardens would have thrilled her.

On other grief journeys I have hiked to places my Dad would have loved and visited places we had all once experienced together as a family. Such special locations helped create positive ties to the past for me and brought back pleasant memories.

Keep your loved one in your thoughts

The day I visited the garden I “invited” Mom to join me on the trip and as I walked along the paths there I imagined what she would say and how she would react. I felt comforted by her presence and was reminded that I could still share special moments with her even though she could no longer be physically present with me.

Remember that grief travel isn’t meant to be a distraction from grief or a way of forgetting the pain of loss.

Grief travel is an opportunity to embrace grief as part of your ongoing life and discover how to live the “new normal” that loss has created for you.

Bring a journal and a camera

Recording your experiences in words and photos will give you a tangible reminder of your journey and help you focus in on the experience so that you don’t just “go through the motions” while you are there.

Take time for contemplation

While I was in the botanical garden I stopped a few times to meditate in the lovely surroundings. It helped me  slow down my pace and notice everything around me, like the beautiful colors and the sounds of flowing water.

The value you derive from your grief travel experience will be determined by the quality of the intention you put into it. So take your time, breathe deeply and utilize all your senses as you engage with your surroundings.

Accept your emotions as they are

On your grief travel experience you might feel overwhelmed with sadness but you might also find surprising joy during the journey, as I did in the botanical garden. Allow your feelings to arise naturally without judgement and observe them as they flow through you. Then take time to reflect on any memories or emotions that come up by writing about them in your journal.

Notice the “small things”

Another way to deepen the meaning of your grief travel experience is to pay attention to the small signs and symbols around you that might otherwise go unnoticed. On my journey through the botanical garden I had several experiences that reminded me of my mother: a chickadee singing in a grove of trees, a tiny waterfall in a nearby stream, and a “scripture garden” that would have filled her with joy. These little moments enriched my visit that day and helped me feel connected to Mom and to all living things.

Find your own unique path

Wherever you choose to go on your grief travel adventure, the path will be uniquely yours as you explore your loss and pain. Go slow, listen to your heart and be gentle with yourself. Stay flexible so you can make changes when needed and accept any obstacles that arise.

Grief comes into our lives to change us and help us grow–but that doesn’t happen easily. Wishing you meaningful travels and inspirational trails in the days ahead as you plan your own journeys!

 

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How to Find Comfort for Grief Through Travel

During a trip to Italy a few years ago, my husband and I received the shocking news that our dear brother-in-law had died suddenly back at home. Unable to change our flight reservations to return home immediately we had to finish our planned travel, even though we desperately wanted to be with family.

But we found a certain comfort during those days as we wandered around in unfamiliar surroundings and we soon discovered that travel can bring solace in the midst of grief. You can listen to my recent podcast about this story here.

You might wonder how travel could be a positive experience for someone who is already devastated by the death of a loved one. Though it seems counter-intuitive, here are some of the  benefits I have received from my explorations in “grief travel:”

Get out of the “comfort zone”

The death of a loved one is an event that has the potential to change everything in our lives. In fact, after a death we gradually discover that things will never be the same again, even though we desperately long to go back to what used to be “normal” in our lives.

We can resist this “new normal” that has been ushered in by grief for some time as we struggle to accept what has happened. But travel to an unfamiliar place actually helps us accelerate the process of change and get comfortable navigating through new territory, which is exactly what grief is trying to teach us. When we leave behind our “comfort zone” we open up to the possibility of inspiration and growth, even in the midst of our sorrow.

Find a new perspective

When you travel you have opportunities to meet  new people from cultures and religions far different from your own. You can see the monuments they build, the ways they express love for one another, the activities they value, and how they cope with day-to-day life.

You soon discover that everyone, no matter where you go, must deal with death, loss and grief as a normal occurrence of life. Your own broken heart is one of an infinite number of heartaches that have been happening since the dawn of humankind. You begin to recognize that you are not alone in your pain, even though the way you process loss is uniquely yours.

While standing in the middle of Pére Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, I came to understand that all human beings have a need to memorialize the dead as a way of coping with the pain of loss and the fear of the unknown. I felt comforted by seeing the many thousands of graves there that had been washed by tears of love, just like the tears that were flowing from me.

“I am human in every way,” I realized, “and this grief is what it means to be human. I have come to this life to learn to love and to learn to grieve for those I have loved.”

This was a profound shift of perspective for me and it demonstrated that travel makes possible a new way of seeing our existence.

Discover small moments of joy

One of the most difficult parts of grieving my father’s death when I was in my 30’s is the fact that I remained in a state of numbness and shock for nearly three years. I simply could not pull myself out of the darkness that surrounded me.

But my travel experiences have introduced me to a wealth of new sights, sounds, smells and tastes which have helped me awaken from the cocoon of numbness to discover joy in the tiny moments of day-to-day life.

Hearing a bird’s song in the mountains of Switzerland, feeling the mist from a waterfall in Iceland, smelling fresh croissants in a French boulangerie, listening to a spontaneous operatic solo by a street singer in an Italian piazza, and tasting a cool draught of German beer were all experiences of the senses that awakened me from numbness and brought unmistakable joy in the moment.

Get in touch with what really matters

On my travels I have met and observed people of every race, culture and ethnicity and have seen how they connect and care for another.  I have been reminded that love is the most powerful force on the planet–in fact love is what really matters in all of existence. Grief is a form of love that I have learned to cherish, even though it is painful and heartbreaking.

The greatest tribute I can pay to those who have died is to carry my grief with grace, feel the pain of grief to my core, and continue to live fully in every moment.

Travel for me provides a pure and spontaneous opportunity to enjoy life to the fullest and love even the pain that comes from this human existence. Rather than stay tightly wrapped in a cocoon of  sadness after the death of a loved one I have learned to  wander in strange places and to find my comfort there. Travel has helped me love life, no matter what life has brought to me.

May your own grief inspire you to take new journeys to unfamiliar surroundings and may you learn unexpected lessons on your travels. How has travel brought comfort to you in the past? Please share your stories in the comments below.

 

 

 

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