How Taking a “Griefcation” Can Help You Handle Loss

Photo: Stocksy/Trinette Reed

I was eating lunch in Bogotá, Colombia when I heard the news. A dear friend of mine, a woman I’d met in graduate school and was inseparable from in the years that followed, had died in a car accident. I immediately felt bewildered—and devastated.  During the coming months I bowed to the grief I felt, despite it feeling like a never-ending kneel at the feet of a lost friendship. I struggled because the tried-and-trues in my self-care arsenal, my healthy ways of coping during hard stretches of life weren’t resonating this time.

The grief fully arrested me months later—and I had to get out the house and find a change of scenery. My initial solution was to turn to my yoga practice to process my grief without an audience. Then, I took a couple of trips: to Ireland, to California for the first time. My soul immediately responded. Traveling didn’t exonerate any of the pain I felt, but I was able, instead, to exhale and hold my grief in a way that felt less suffocating.  

"While there's no easy fix to grieving, travel may offer a balance between feeling and perspective."—Moira Fitzpatrick, clinical psychologist and naturopath

“While there's no easy fix to grieving, travel may offer a balance between feeling and perspective,” says Moira Fitzpatrick, a clinical psychologist and naturopath at the holistic and integrative health center Pacific Pearl La Jolla. “On a plane, there is nothing to do except be. In this way we enter into ourselves, feeling what we feel. The movement of the plane symbolically takes us forward.”

Fitzpatrick was careful to note that although traveling can provide new insights into understanding grief, it isn't to be viewed as an exoneration of the myriad of feelings. I understood this keenly.

Still, travel led me to discover inner insights, while also widening and deepening my understanding of the world around me. While nursing the loss of a dear loved one, relationship, career, or life path, consider planning a "griefcation"—for comfort and quiet, adventure and thrills, meditative slowness and yoga, or art and culture; whichever suits your particular needs.

Keep reading for "griefcation" getaway ideas for each type of traveler.

Travel healing: How a trip can help with grief
Photo: Stocksy/Hillary Fox

If you seek...comfort and quiet

The lush, rolling hills in Ireland will take your breath away—and inspire you to relish in the serenity and awe-inspiring beauty of the natural world. Staying in an actual castle in Shannon, Ireland, was magical and an experience I’ll never forget. But even more care-inducing were the number of comfy cottages and country houses, in the fashion of bed and breakfasts, of Ireland’s Blue Book collection I called home while on the road. Scones and piping hot cups of morning tea were just a few of the things I grew to look forward to. Ireland is the perfect place to be nourished and to soak up the peaceful, beautiful quiet that can be found watching the morning fog rise from the rolling hills in the distance.

If you need...adventure and thrills

My first time in California was not spent lapping up Pacific Ocean waves and becoming a bronzer version of myself beachside—though that does sounds pretty nice and I'm sure healing for many. For me, I opted to test my limits and do a lot of daring things I’d never done before. I booked a trip to the coastal city of San Luis Obispo for an otherworldly experience dune buggying on the Oceano Dunes and zip-lining over a picturesque vineyard underneath my feet.

Travel healing: How a trip can help with grief
Photo: Stocksy/Jakob

If you crave...meditative slowness and yoga

For a break from the fast pace of your everyday life, head to beautiful and vibrant Oaxaca City in Mexico’s southern state of Oaxaca. I visited for the first time last summer for over a month and was amazed to discover there was more than molé and mezcal to be gleaned from this often-overlooked city. I found my days there, a place with strong indigenous roots, to be longer because I was constantly pausing to flow with the lifestyle and pace. Eat wholesome vegetarian meals at La Jicara, a restaurant space doubling as an al fresco courtyard and bookstore, and for restorative asanas, take a yoga class at either Prana Yoga or Shanti Yoga Studio.

If you and culture

In all my years of traveling, no city has left such a lasting impression on me than Porto in Portugal. It's known for being the home of the fortified wine, port. But it was the art galleries throughout the city—not to mention the vividly decorated tiles on buildings, churches, or lining the streets throughout the town—that were truly mesmerizing and transformative. A number of them are free, such as Centro Português de Fotografia and Museu Nacional Soares Dos Reis. And when it comes to sustenance, I recommend the quintessential Portuguese dish of bacalhau at Solar Moinho de Vento and pasteis de nata from Padara Riberio

Getting out of my comfort zone and into the world brought some much-needed distance from my day-to-day, in addition to providing me with context when it came to my sadness. I couldn't have asked for anything more.

For more on the transformative power of travel: Read about the silent retreat this writer calls "life-changing" or what happened to this writer after she married herself in a shamanic ritual

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