Solo Travel: Surviving all the ‘Firsts’ after losing a spouse

If you’ve lost your spouse – or someone else close to you – you know that the year of ‘firsts’ is the worst. First birthdays after your person is gone. First anniversaries. First time you think “I can’t wait to tell him about this”. The one-year marker after they’ve passed away. This list goes on.

Travel is a great coping mechanism for these firsts. Call it distraction, call it avoidance—or just call it fun, but for me, it works.

That said, solo travel after a loss comes with its own firsts, so consider this your heads-up. They definitely shouldn’t stop you, but if the person you’ve lost was also your travel buddy, they can be doozies. Go in with your eyes wide open and they’ll take you less by surprise:

  • In Case of Emergency. My first solo travel was two months after my husband passed away. And while in Manhattan, renting a bicycle of all things, I was filling out a rental agreement before peddling my heart out in Central Park. Damn form. Asked for “In Case of Emergency” contact info.Not only do I not know anyone’s number without looking at my phone, but Vince was always in my phone as ‘ICE’ from way back in the day when phones didn’t lock and people recommended having an In Case of Emergency” in your phone in case anything happened. A bit of a gut punch.
  • “Just you?”. You really wouldn’t think that solo diners would surprise anyone these days, but I cannot tell you the number of times restaurant staff have awkwardly asked me to confirm that I’m alone. Of course no one means any harm, but really. . . how ‘bout just assuming that when one person asks to be seated, that if there’s a gaggle of people in the wings that are going to join her, she’ll mention it?
  • Solo for lodging. I’ve always been very practical – I’m never going to tell someone that I’m travelling alone if I don’t have to. I booked my first few Airbnb’s with carefully worded exchanges with the host that included “We’re looking forward to it”, ‘We’re hoping for something near . . .”. Same thing for small hotels. Blame it on too much TV, but I don’t think it’s a great idea to advertise to perfect strangers that you’re travelling solo. Turns out though that most Airbnbs cut you a break for just one traveler. Ditto on some hotels.So, yes, I’m practical—but I’m also tight with the money! So, I see what I can learn about the pricing online and plan accordingly—going for the deal whenever I can.
  • Getting personal. When I’d meet others travelling, I found myself that first year sharing stories about all the places Vince and I had been to. This inevitably resulted in a lot of “We . . .” stories. “We love Bologna”, “Lucca is one of our favorite places”. Honestly, I didn’t even realize I was doing it (I still talk to Vince every day—out loud—so dropping an occasional ‘we’ certainly wasn’t a surprise’). But, it does make people wonder how you got from ‘we’ to ‘me’. And, if you don’t feel like getting all that personal – and sharing that story – it may throw you off a bit.
  • Going solo on traditions. Vince and I took a travel journal with us on all trips. We’d pass it back-and-forth throughout the trip to make sure both of our voices were being documented. For my first solo travel, I made a new journal with some of our favorite travel photos on the cover. The first time I finished writing in the journal, I had no one to pass it to. I was glad I was doing it, but I missed being able to say ‘your turn’.

What other ‘firsts’ have you encountered while traveling after your loss?

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