Coping With Grief While Traveling

One thing I love about having a travel blog is that I get to share my stories and inspire others to travel more. I have had countless experiences that were beyond amazing, but the truth is, it’s not all glamorous all the time. Today I am going to talk about coping with difficult situations back home when you are on the road.

Coping with a loved one’s illness or death is never easy, but imagine being thousands of miles away, literally on the opposite side of the world, when you receive bad news. In the first six months of my travels, three family members passed away; one only a few months after a cancer diagnosis. Another family member and two friends have also been faced with cancer diagnoses and illness. Furthermore, I have been gone throughout my sister’s divorce, which has been difficult for both of us.

It hasn’t been all bad though; one cousin got married and another one had a baby, but I’ve missed those too. Before I headed off to see the world I wrote about why I did not stay in town for my cousin’s wedding, and I stand by that post. However, that does not change the fact that being far away during such events, especially the tragedies, is extremely difficult.

So how do I cope when I get devastating news and I’m alone on the other side of the world?

Getting a phone call from home with sad news while traveling solo can make me feel very alone, but the truth is, I never truly am alone. I have made amazing friends that I’ve been lucky enough to see more than once on my travels, and they have wrapped me up in love and support whenever I needed it.

If I don’t have a friend by my side, my family and friends back home are just a text, call, or video chat away. Even though being so far from home can make me feel somewhat isolated and disconnected, I have never felt that way for long.

Mostly, however, I use the same coping mechanisms as I do when I’m at home. I take long walks and reflect on what is going on. Get out in nature. Treat myself to an overpriced decadent dessert. Spend time, whether in person or on the phone, with people I care about.

I also wrote a poem about my experience of being far away when something major happens back home. I have not written poetry since creative writing class in high school, but the following poem just came to me while on a bus in Thailand from Sukhothai to Chiang Mai while I was thinking about everything that has been going on back home:

On the road
Life goes on back home
Good and bad
Happy and sad

People live, people die
And I’m not there to say goodbye. 
Tragedy strikes, I can’t offer hugs;
All I can do is say “don’t cry.”

But it’s not all sad,
There are happy things too.
Babies are born,
Loved ones say “I do.”

Still I’m not there
To relish in the joy.
I sit feeling lonely
Eating kao soy.

So how do I cope
When I’m far away
And I’m missing milestones
Every other day?

I stay on the road,
Keep living out my dream.
I Skype with my mom
And smile as she beams:
“We’re so proud of you honey,
And we’re all okay.
Keep chasing your dreams,
Go live another day.”

What I have learned from my experiences is that grief looks the same no matter where you are. It is painful and it is difficult. But if you have coping mechanisms and some sort of support system, it will be okay; even if you are on the opposite side of the world from your loved ones and you have never felt more alone. You will get through it, and hopefully you will have some beautiful experiences on your travels that will help alleviate the pain. I know I have.

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