How Group Travel Is Changing the Way Young Widows Deal With Grief

Traveling while grieving can be daunting, but diving into an adventure with an understanding group immediately tells you you're not alone.

<p>Dana Frost/Courtesy of Widows In The Wild</p>

Dana Frost/Courtesy of Widows In The Wild

It was way past my bedtime, but John (a self-proclaimed “night bird”) and I were still awake and making future plans.

We were both travel lovers and leaned into new adventures; I was a journalist constantly being swept off to a new destination. Even when John couldn’t be physically present on a journey, we always found a way to get him involved. For example, upon my return, I would bring home a special bottle of wine I had sipped or make a meal or cocktail that was particular to that region. I would spend the whole trip sending him photos and bookmarking things we should do together while he would Google the items on my itinerary and ask me thoughtful questions about each stop. Together or apart, many of my travel memories have him attached to them.

“Where should we go for our big birthdays?” he asked me, as we would reach milestone ages in the same year.

Without hesitation, I said, “The Maldives! When else could we make that trip — or justify the cost?” Images filled my head of myself and the love of my life in an overwater bungalow with floating breakfasts and lots of Champagne. He agreed.

Less than a year later (and in a matter of weeks from first symptoms), I would lose him to Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. The dreams we had and the grand adventures we had planned were no more. I had lost my future at 35 years old. I became part of a club no one wants to join, especially at that age... But it turns out many are.

<p>Dana Frost/Courtesy of Widows In The Wild</p>

Dana Frost/Courtesy of Widows In The Wild

While not always top-of-mind, there are lots of young widows and widowers who lose their adventure, travel, and even parenting partner as their lives together are just starting. The thought of traveling can be daunting enough while grieving, but the idea of traveling alone or just with kids can trigger an overwhelming sense of sadness.

This is where young widowhood travel groups come in. They are a way for those who lost their life partner when other people their age are just starting to have children to gain some sense of adventure and normalcy back into their lives — albeit with people who have lived through the very same thing.

“One thing I struggled with when Steven died is that I became the keeper of all those travel memories. It's like, I don't have anybody else now to reminisce on those memories,” says Jessica Foley, founder of the Instagram account @Grief.Unravelled, referencing the many travels she and her husband, Steven, have made. She lost him suddenly in 2019 while she was in her early 30s.

Foley and her husband traveled the world for a year before having their first child. Then, they traveled with her, too. When he died, she struggled with traveling again: How would she do it with her two young children? How would she feel, emotionally, doing it without Steven?

“When he died, I thought, ‘Oh my God, I'm never going to travel again.’ I'm never going to be able to do this again,” she says.

<p>Dana Frost/Courtesy of Widows In The Wild</p>

Dana Frost/Courtesy of Widows In The Wild

Dana Frost, founder of Forced Joy Project, was also a traveler with her husband, Brad, spending six weeks in South Africa for their honeymoon. Just as life was starting for the duo, Brad passed away from cancer at the age of 35 in 2017; Frost was only 33 and a cancer survivor herself.

"Losing [my travel partner] was a hit to me on top of everything else. Losing the person that there was the comfort of traveling with was another loss on top of so many," says Frost. "I just struggled a lot as I think most young widows, or maybe widows at any age, do. Your life looked a certain way, and it was going a certain way. Then suddenly, you're on a different path than you ever imagined being on."

However, in the throes of grief, both Foley and Frost found themselves intrigued by travel trips made up of groups of widows and widowers around the same age. While Foley found herself on a more relaxed trip — a group of young widows and their children with a loose itinerary, Frost has enjoyed more adventure-style trips and structured retreats.

“My network and community didn't understand that I still felt so alone. Even my friends didn’t understand, and that’s part of the problem. Loneliness exists whether you are in your community or not because they don’t understand,” says Frost. She attended her retreat through Widows In The Wild in Costa Rica last year and notes that even in the almost seven years since her husband passed, it was her first time being around a group of widows her own age.

“This first trip really allowed me to see the wall that is immediately stripped down,” Frost says. “From the second you walk off that plane, it's like, ‘We have an understanding; we've been through this.’ And that level of community that is immediate is pretty powerful.”

While both Foley and Frost had a healthy appetite for travel and adventure before embarking on these ventures, they aren’t only for people bitten by the travel bug pre-grief. Grief comes with complicated emotions, and it is truly a wave. But diving into an adventure like this is said to bring so many benefits; you will feel more confident and hopeful about the future and leave with a network of people ready to catch you when you need it most.

“I think what's unique about a widowhood retreat, or traveling with people going through the same thing, is that you're going to be held and all of these emotions,” says Foley. “And it's almost like widows [and widowers] have more space to hold the pain for you than people who are not going through these challenging times.”

<p>Dana Frost/Courtesy of Widows In The Wild</p>

Dana Frost/Courtesy of Widows In The Wild

Both women, though, say that these experiences changed their post-partner lives. Frost says that these trips left her with a sense of empowerment and community, as well as invaluable life skills that have helped her cope with grief — ones she wouldn’t have had if she had not taken the chance.

“One of the biggest beauties of this type of trip is the confidence that you gain. And not just in an ‘I can travel myself’ kind of way, but there is this confidence of, ‘I can understand myself, I can process this, I can overcome these things,’” Frost says. She explains that she also learned how to take space for herself, which she has tried translating into her home life.

Foley says that these trips have enabled her to find a group of men and women who support her through those times when the grief feels heavy—and on days when it almost doesn’t exist at all. It’s been helpful to watch her tripmates overcome challenges and grow in their grief both outside of their usual routines and when they return home.

“For us, it's like this friendship that transcends any other friendship I've ever had. We just go deep, like instantly, and there's no judgment. It's just like a sisterhood,” she says. She also says that, since she lost her partner, having these widows also become memory keepers for her children has brought a comfort she wouldn’t otherwise have had.

“I think what’s great about these widow friendships is that they're also witnessing the experiences my kids are having on these trips, too. They will say, ‘I can't wait to tell your daughter this story about herself when she's 15 or 16.’ That’s another special piece,” she says.

And in case you were wondering if a young widowhood travel group would be a good idea for anyone going through it, the answer is a resounding ‘yes.’

“You're going to be in good company, and you're going to be supported. Take a chance and do it,” Foley says.

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