Nitobe Memorial Garden in Vancouver, Canada. Image by Flickr user Jennifer C.

One of the most difficult things about travelling long-term or living abroad can be dealing with bad news from home. Coming to terms with the illness or death of a loved one can be an incredibly difficult process, compounded as it often is with guilt or a sense of uselessness for being so far away or unable to be there to help. There are also times when tragedy hits our hometowns, our travel companions, or the places we’re travelling, plunging us into grief and survivor’s guilt.

While I hope none of our readers will ever be in these situations, I also hope the tips below will help you deal with the grieving process while abroad, if you should ever need to.

Be There from a Distance

Often, we lose those we care for with no warning; sometimes there is an opportunity to interact with your loved one first. Even if you are unable to be there physically, you should never feel as though you are useless or unable to help. Sending care packages, making phone calls, and even sending supportive or funny Facebook messages are all amazing ways to say ‘I love you’ in times of suffering. Whether you are sending them to someone who is ill or to grieving family or friends, your messages will be appreciated and recognized as ones of love.

Get Home, If Possible

Many airlines, train companies, and even bus companies can offer you compassionate fees to help you get home in a hurry. If this is an option for you, these fares are often available for both ill health and in cases of death. However, in some instances they are restricted to certain flights or have a minimum price attached. If you can afford the time to search, it may be worthwhile to do so for faster or more affordable flights back to your loved ones.

Reach Out to Others

Dealing with your own grief abroad can be incredibly difficult, especially if you are travelling alone. It’s important to acknowledge that you are grieving and to take whatever steps are necessary for you to feel stronger and start to heal. Talking to close friends and family, especially those who are slightly removed from the situation, can be a wonderful relief when coming to terms with what has happened. Our friends provide a sense of stability and strength during grief, even from a distance, with time differences becoming advantageous when you can’t sleep at 3 AM. Alternatively, your insurance may include access to counselling services.

Care for Yourself

It’s important to do things for yourself, even as you think of or remember your loved one. Strive each day to do or experience three things that will make you happy, and keep a record of them. This can be exploring a new place, seeing some type of performance, listening to music, or spending time with other travelers. Even something as simple as asking another guest at a hostel to join you in making dinner can be an activity that connects you with others and brings you temporary relief. Many grief counsellors swear by the ‘3 moments’ — finding and keeping record of three moments when the pain was at bay.


Chiang Mai’s floating lanterns festival. Image by Flickr user Mith Huang.

Say Goodbye

While in some ways our loved ones never leave us, saying goodbye to them, physically and spiritually,  is an incredibly difficult experience. This can be especially difficult if you’re away and unable to participate in your culture’s traditions surrounding death. However, most cultures have their own memorial gardens, observations, ceremonies, and even days for remembering ancestors and other deceased loved ones. Finding and participating in these activities while remembering your loved one can often help to bring closure.

Finding peace after a loved one’s death is a difficult and extensive experience, with the grieving process being completely different for each one of us. Accepting it cannot be rushed, or that grief will hit you long afterwards; it’s part of the path to healing. When the time is right for you, you will find joy again.

Have you ever experienced grief while traveling? How did you handle it? Share with us in the comments.