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Traveling and Exploring the World Solo

woman walking outdoors with backpack and suitcase

Traveling as a widow can be terrifying. Making all of the arrangements, staying in a hotel room by yourself, being the sole parent responsible for your children on vacation—how do you handle the newness of everything without collapsing into a puddle of tears and being completely exhausted?

When you are ready, there will be a time that you decide to take a trip by yourself. Yikes, that is yet another new and scary step. I have only taken a handful of trips by myself, and in reality I only spent portions of those trips alone. I have always spent part of my travel time with my family, friends, work travel, organized tours or workshops. Today, I am leaving for Turkey to speak at a professional conference. Since they are paying me to get there, I thought, "Why not spend an extra week exploring the country alone? What could go wrong?" I have never been to Turkey and wanted to see as much of the country as possible, so I planned a four-day, three-night tour of three different regions in the country, one of which will take me to Cappadocia, which is very far east in Turkey. Take a look on the map and you will see that, given what is going on in the world right now, it is getting me pretty close to some countries that are in the midst of major upheaval. Cappadocia is a tourist town. I know I will be just fine, and frankly, I don’t want fear to get the best of me. So off I go.

Some of you may be considering taking a solo trip. I wanted to share the types of trips that I have taken and how I have approached them, just in case some of these ideas may resonate with you. 

Grief Trip:

One month after losing Steve, I stumbled upon an advertisement for a Grief Exploration program at a serene holistic retreat center in Arizona—a place I had visited with my best friend on previous occasions. It felt like fate had intervened, urging me to be there.

For those unaware of my journey, I transitioned overnight from being a full-time mother to suddenly managing Steve's business affairs, caring for him during his illness, and grappling with relentless media attention—all while tending to the needs of our three daughters. Amidst the chaos, solitude had become a luxury I hadn't experienced.

So, with a heavy heart and a suitcase filled with grief books, I checked into the retreat center.

In the solace of my hotel room, I allowed myself to cry, scream and have some well deserved private alone time. Attending the grief program felt like a poignant milestone—a symbolic start to my journey through grief. Surrounded by the beauty of nature, I found some solace, comfort from those in the grief program and the release of the emotions that had been building inside me. 

statue of woman meditating

Hawaii was Calling: 

During a trip to the Big Island of Hawaii, I found myself revisiting a place where Steve and I had celebrated our honeymoon. The purpose of my journey was twofold: to provide support to a family member receiving care on the island and to reconnect with cherished memories.

With the intention of trying to find a connection back to my husband, I opted to stay at the same hotel where we had spent our first week as a married couple. However, what I encountered was far from the comforting nostalgia I had anticipated. Instead, I found myself surrounded by couples, their laughter and affection serving as stark reminders of my own loss.

One evening, I got dressed up and I ventured alone to a picturesque dinner on the hotel grounds. Seated next to another couple, I was met with a question that pierced my heart: "Why are you here by yourself?" In that moment, I felt a surge of anger and grief, compelled to share the raw truth of my journey amidst their romantic evening.

Looking back, I realize that my response was a reflection of my own healing journey—a journey marked by moments of vulnerability and emotional turmoil. While I may not have reacted in the same way today, those experiences have served as poignant reminders of the complexities of grief and the importance of self-compassion along the path to healing.

woman dressed up for dinner

Paris Rediscovered:

Since my high school days participating in an exchange program, Paris has held a special place in my heart. The language, the culture, amazing friendships—it all captivated me. Even during my college years, I found myself drawn back to the City of Light, spending my third year truly immersing myself in all that Paris has to offer.

When Steve entered my life, I introduced him to Paris, eager to share the magic of the city with him and later with our daughters. However, after his passing, Paris became a bittersweet reminder of our shared memories; I wanted to reclaim Paris for myself.

It was important to me to revisit memories and process them, so that when I went back one day with my daughters, I would be doing it from a stronger place. When I saw an ad in the Chicago Tribune for a writing workshop in the cafes of Paris two years after Steve died, I knew I had to be there, and I signed up right away.

I was drawn to the prospect of structured writing sessions in the morning and leisurely exploration in the afternoons. As I penned my thoughts and revisited cherished locales, I found myself reclaiming Paris for me.

group of women standing outside  in Paris

Adventures with My Daughters: 

In the wake of our loss, I felt a profound desire to try to regain a sense of normalcy for myself and my daughters—something I knew was impossible, but it was important to me that my daughters and I learned how to do this on our own. We used to always travel somewhere warm for spring break, and we continued that tradition.

Though the initial trips had plenty of logistical challenges and emotional hurdles, I was determined to create moments of joy and connection each time. Despite the weight of our shared grief, we found solace in exploring new surroundings and creating new memories together.

We also added being away from home on July 31—the day my husband was shot. That day is so hard for all of us, and spending it at home seems to make it harder. Being in a new place, doing new things, did help all of us.

Each adventure was a step forward on our collective healing journey, a reminder that even in the face of loss, there is beauty to be found in the world around us.

women wearing life vests in front of raft

Trips with Friends and Extended Family: 

I am fortunate to have a group of incredible college friends, my best friend and extended family who live all over the country. We have made it a point to see each other regularly. I am so grateful for these friendships. They were a huge part of my healing then and still are today.  

friends standing in front of cave

Trips Combined with Work Meetings:

Last year, eight years after Steve died, I took what felt like my first “real” solo trip. I had a work meeting in the Florida Keys. My brother loves Key West, so I thought, "Why not go there before my work meeting?" One of my daughters lives in southern Florida, so she met me and we drove together to Key West, and she spent the first weekend with me. It was a fun drive, and we made some touristy stops along the way (which of course included sampling key lime pie).

After our weekend together, she went home and I was alone for a few days. I rented a moped to scoot around the island. I have never ridden one before and was a little nervous about it, but the agency gave me a quick lesson.  Off I went exploring the island on my own for a few days. I made some solo dinner reservations, scheduled some tours and didn’t miss a sunrise or sunset. I did it. It felt empowering and fun.

woman wearing helmet riding moped

 ● ● ● ● ● 

I am a little nervous about this trip I'm taking to Turkey. It is a brand new country for me, the language is very different, and I will be going to some remote places. I did have a tour company plan all of the details for me, but I am not part of an organized group that is staying together the whole time. I will be in a number of different hotels by myself, taking intra-country flights and having dinners alone. I even signed up for a hot air balloon ride. I will certainly be very careful and have taken all the precautions that I can as a solo traveler, but I did not want to miss this incredible opportunity. I will share some photos when I return.  

So what have I learned? 

  • I am very lucky to have the means to be able to experience all that I have. For that, I am incredibly grateful.  

  • One of my personal values is adventure and personal enrichment. I did not want to compromise that due to my husband’s death, and I know he would not have wanted me to either.  

  • It takes time to learn how to travel again. So many of the details of travel were new to me. It took a while to figure out how to do it in a way that made it less stressful.  

  • The importance of trying new things. I really went outside of my comfort zone so often. I did not want my daughters to miss out on experiences because I was afraid, and I didn’t want them to be afraid either. I learned to stand-up paddle, hiked in the mountains, went parasailing, explored the National Parks, snorkeled (I do have a fear of jellyfish), ziplined down the strip in Las Vegas, flipped a truck tire, bicycled down a volcano, rode ATVs in Mexico, drove a dune buggy in the desert, almost got stung by killer bees, took a hot air balloon ride and made so many new friends. I had not done any of these things before Steve had died. 

  • Planning gives me comfort. I researched things to do and booked activities and restaurants well in advance of traveling. Of course, things happen with travel and I learned to go with the flow, but knowing that a significant part of our trip was researched helped me to not miss out on some of the well-known activities and things to see wherever I went. Also, to have an itinerary as a solo traveler and share that information with others is important. 

  • I have a toiletry bag packed with the creature comforts of home (minus my makeup) that is just for travel. I have learned from doing this that not having to pack toiletries for every trip saves me time, and I also don't forget things since they are ready to go. I wear slippers at home, and I have a pair of travel slippers that I take with me. The same goes for the shampoo and conditioner that I like, perfume and other small items that I enjoy. I am not a minimalist packer.

  • I love Packing Cubes. They help me stay organized, especially when changing locations. 

  • Sharing my location gives me peace of mind and gives my family peace of mind that they will always know where I am. 

  • Never compromise safety. I am very careful when I travel. I do not walk alone at night, I pay attention to what I drink and I will not go off the beaten path if I don’t feel safe. 

  • Good luggage makes a difference. I am finally saying goodbye to our 15-year-old suitcases. Their wheels are broken and just don’t function well anymore. 

  • I like to check my luggage. I don’t like schlepping a ton of things in the airport, trying to heave them into the overhead compartments or worrying about being able to find bin space. If I have items that I can’t afford to have delayed at my destination, I put them in my backpack, like medication, my outfit if I have a speaking engagement, etc. I also use air tags. So far, I have only had my bag delayed once.  

I hope that my sharing some of how I eased back into travel after the loss of my husband will help you. There is an underlying sense of liberation—an acknowledgment that amidst the solitude, there lies boundless opportunity for growth and self-discovery.

So, to my fellow widows contemplating solo travel, I urge you to take that first step. Start small, but start nonetheless. For amidst the fear and uncertainty lies the promise of newfound strength, resilience and the courage to embrace life's adventures, one journey at a time.


Jody Hello Portrait2.jpg

Hi, I'm Jody!

I’m a widow, grief expert, widow coach, and mom. I hope that Widows in the Workplace is able to provide you with comfort, support and guidance while you find your way with your grief journey. 

It is possible to Rediscover, Reimagine and Relaunch your Life again. You do not need to do it alone. 

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