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Dealing With The Loss Of A Loved One While Traveling | Don't Ever Look Back

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Dealing With The Loss Of A Loved One While Traveling

Dealing With The Loss Of A Loved One While Traveling

In November 2011, my 89-year-old grandmother passed away peacefully in her sleep in Melbourne, Australia after a long battle with illness. I desperately wanted to attend her funeral the following week but unfortunately our circumstances, being in Amsterdam at the time, made that impossible.

Losing a loved one while traveling is a scenario that many face before embarking on long-term travel and Amy knows exactly what she would have done in the same situation. Unfortunately I departed on this trip with a cavalier attitude, believing nothing bad would happen while I was overseas.

Fly home or not?

To fly home or continue traveling?

But it did happen. And as a result, I faced a very difficult decision on whether to end our adventures and come home early to say goodbye. With my family’s blessings we continued on our travels but it was a very difficult few weeks.

There are many of you departing on round-the-world journeys soon and I really hope this post can help you be prepared for an event like this.

Here are the things that you need to consider before your departure date.

Have a plan

Before you depart on any kind of extended travel, you need to be prepared for this kind of scenario. Regardless of whether someone in your immediately family is ill or not, life is short and it’s impossible to predict what will happen tomorrow.

Know exactly what you will do if a loved one becomes ill or worse and stick to that plan. Will you drop everything and go home immediately? Or will you continue on your travels?

Discuss it with your family before you leave

After Skyping with my parents they told me that they would be angry if I came home for the funeral, despite my strong desire to attend it and be there to support them. Although they also said it would be great if I could be there, they reminded me that we were on the trip of a lifetime and nothing should stop that.

This led to quite an awkward discussion and I know that my grandma would want me to continue traveling. But you need to discuss this before you take off on you big adventure!

Check your travel insurance policy wording

A lot of travel insurance policies cover unexpected expenses incurred by the loss of a relative. Unfortunately for me, the definition of a relative only covered family members under 85 years of age. This meant that if I wanted to go home for the funeral it would need to be completely out of my own pocket.

I can understand why this clause is in place, but it hurt a lot knowing that I might have been able to come home had the policy been worded slightly different. Know before you leave whether travel insurance is a viable option if anything bad does happen.

Have an emergency fund

This is crucial – don’t put all your eggs in one basket before leaving on your journey. Have at least $2000 in a rainy day fund that you can use to cover any last-minute flights or expenses incurred if you have made the decision to go home.

Even if you travel insurance policy does cover you, it probably will take several weeks for your claim to be processed so you need to have the money there and ready to use.

If you’re traveling soon, I hope you bookmark this post and take my advice. It may save you from a lot of heartache!

Flickr Photo: Kalexanderson


  1. Posted January 25, 2012 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

    I’m really sorry to hear that you lost your grandma while you were on the road. I can’t imagine how hard that must have been, especially since you couldn’t get home for the funeral!

    These are very good tips, though, and definitely a topic worth considering before leaving on a long trip. Not that it would make the situation any easier, of course, but at least you would be less likely to have family members upset with you.

    Though, I feel like most supportive family members would want you to keep traveling in this situation.
    Amanda recently posted..Photo of the Day: Kaikoura

  2. Posted January 25, 2012 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

    Thanks Amanda, it definitely did put a bit of a downer on our time in Europe but at least it didn’t come unexpected – can imagine how tough of a situation it would be for those who receive bad news in those circumstances.

    What made it tougher was that I should’ve been a pallbearer at the funeral and that we were scheduled to come home just a few weeks later. But hopefully others can learn from what I did wrong and be prepared when they go away (although fingers crossed they can travel without any bad news!).

  3. Shanon
    Posted January 25, 2012 at 3:38 pm | Permalink


    This is one of the reasons why I have close to $7k saved, this should do one of the following:

    1. it should help me get home if everything goes south whether it be me being overwhelmed or because of a death/illness in the family even if my insurance will cover it.

    2. This money would also pay to get one or two of my family members to come get me if I could not get home on my own and it would also pay to fly me back with them even if the insurance would cover me (some will pay for a family member to come to you).

    I wouldn’t miss a funeral, I don’t think I’ve ever missed any funeral that I needed to attend.

    • Posted January 25, 2012 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

      Fantastic Shannon! It’s great that you know exactly what you would do in the situation and have the finances to make one of those options happen if required.

  4. Posted January 25, 2012 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

    Must have been/still is very hard to deal with all of the emotions and conflicting thoughts on what to do. I’m glad you posted this, because things do happen on the road, and it is nice of you to share some tips in case this happens to others. I struggled with losing loved ones in the past, but that was before my travels began, so I can relate somewhat. If you want to read about mine, the post is here: http://justchuckinit.com/how-to-find-your-way-when-you-have-lost and I’ll be linking these great tips there. Thank you for this post.
    Ryan Brown recently posted..Travel Video: Spiritual Cape Reinga

    • Posted January 25, 2012 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

      Losing loved ones is hard, no matter what the circumstances. But being overseas made it that much more difficult to deal with. I know I’m not the first it’s happened to and definitely won’t be the last but hopefully others won’t bury their heads in the sand and ignore the potential for something bad to happen like I did.

      Thanks for sharing that post – it must have taken a lot of courage to write and it’s great you’ve come out of that with a positive attitude.

  5. Posted January 25, 2012 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

    Ahhhh, I’m always terrified that a call might come about something happening at home while I’m on the road. I’ve pretty much sorted out in my head which would absolutely necessitate a ticket home and which I could manage on my own. The thing about death is that I think I’d rather mourn on my own–to recognize the loss and acknowledge it by staring at the ocean or eating their favorite meal. I’m much more worried about a stroke, a heart attack–having that rush to get home to say goodbye. Knock on wood it hasn’t happened yet–but this post is an excellent reminder that it can, it does, and that life goes on. And I’m sure your grandmother was looking down and thinking just how proud she was that she’s got a grandkid all the way in Amsterdam!
    Christine recently posted..Adventures among the tree tops in Western Australia

    • Posted January 25, 2012 at 8:24 pm | Permalink

      You’re right Christine – an unexpected call would be so much more devastating.

      Fortunately I was able to say my own kind of goodbye the Christmas before and after a few days of mourning on my own I could still enjoy our travels as much as possible.

  6. Posted January 25, 2012 at 8:16 pm | Permalink

    As I’m setting off for my trip next week, I can’t help but worry about this. My only remaining grandparent is 94 (yes, she’s had a pretty good innings already!) and I feel as though something bad could happen while I’m away. I would like to think that my parents would encourage me to continue my travels and I don’t think that will be the problem – I think it would be more my own guilt that I would feel myself at not being there.
    Having said that, if you’re on the other side of the world and you literally cannot afford to get back, what can you do? It’s a toughie. I suppose I’ll have to cross that bridge when I come to it and hope that it is only old age that would cause a death in the family and not something worse, as mentioned above.
    Julia recently posted..I Pack My Case. I Check My Face. I Look a Little Bit Older.

    • Posted January 25, 2012 at 8:26 pm | Permalink

      That is a fantastic innings – I had the same feelings but just didn’t want to think of them. Would definitely recommend discussing it briefly just so that there isn’t any awkwardness should that situation arise.

      You definitely feel some strong feelings of guilt for not being there but that’s just the way it turned out and at the end of the day my grandma is in a better place.

  7. Posted January 25, 2012 at 8:17 pm | Permalink

    Wow, I’m terribly sorry for your loss 🙁 It’s a big fear of mine.

    I got a similar call on my first full day in Paris, back in October 2010. I was sitting in a cafe having lunch and my cell phone started ringing and I saw that it was my best friend calling – I ignored it cause I figured she knew I was away and maybe she made a mistake in calling me. 2 seconds later it started ringing again. I picked it up and my best friend was on the other line bawling. She told me that her sister had died due to medical complications while in Costa Rica. I was in absolute shock. It was one of the hardest phone calls I’ve ever received. I didn’t know what to do. My best friend is like my sister and to hear her so distraught killed me. I asked if I should come home so she wouldnt have to be alone while her parents sorted things out in Costa Rica, and then in Canada with arrangements. She told me to continue on my trip, i was due back in 3 days as it was still going to be close to a week before the funeral. I immediately called my mom and told her to take care of my best friend on my behalf until I got back.

    That turned into a longer anecdote than I was intending. I digress, its definitely a terrible situation and puts a damper on your mood. Alas, as you said, it’s important to have a ‘just in case’ plan set aside.
    Melissa recently posted..Photo blog: A day at Taronga Zoo

    • Posted January 25, 2012 at 8:29 pm | Permalink

      Wow, that is a terrible story, especially on the first day in a new city. You certainly feel so helpless not being able to do anything from the other side of the world. Glad that you got to make it back though and be there for your friend.

      Luckily in my situation my family seemed to be ok and accepting of it since it had been coming for a long time which made me feel not quite as bad for not coming home.

  8. Posted January 25, 2012 at 10:31 pm | Permalink

    It really is a difficult thing to deal with and I’m sorry to you had to go through. I’ve met a few people along my travels that have lost people and they felt similarly lost as to what to do….most continued (as the parents didn’t want them to give up their trip) but it certainly affected them and they needed ‘me time’.
    The emergency fund is a great idea, not just for this but in general…if things go wrong, you want to be able to get yourself out of the situation and if you have no money, it can’t always happen so good to have a contingency fund!
    Toni recently posted..It’s ok NOT to travel the world

    • Posted January 27, 2012 at 10:55 am | Permalink

      Yep – had a few days of just hanging out in the hotel room with room service and movies. We’ll be writing another post shortly about the importance of an emergency fund so stay tuned for that one. 🙂

  9. Posted January 26, 2012 at 3:26 am | Permalink

    I’m truly sorry to read about what you went through. It’s happened to me a few times over the years, the latest two losses within days of one another. And while we go through the agony of the moment, having our family’s support, as you did, makes all the difference and helps you to cope.
    Jim @NeverStopTravel recently posted..The Secret on the Queen’s Yacht

    • Posted January 27, 2012 at 11:01 am | Permalink

      You’re right, the situation would have been a lot more difficult without the family support. Hopefully you don’t have to go through it again after already experiencing a few.

  10. Posted January 26, 2012 at 5:03 am | Permalink

    Very sorry for your loss, but a good topic that hasn’t really been covered too much in blogs, something to think about.

    And I did consider this when I traveled back in 2007-09. My parents are a bit older, but were in fine shape when I left and the entire time I was away, thankgod. 2011 was not a great year for them and it makes me thankful that I traveled when I did because I don’t think I could do it again right now.
    Rebecca recently posted..Random Weekend: Book: Lost on Planet China

    • Posted January 27, 2012 at 11:03 am | Permalink

      That’s great you got through your extended travels without anything bad happening. At the same time (for those who are thinking about long-term travel), you can’t pause your life and wait for it to happen – I know a few people who think like that and it’s absolutely no way to live!

  11. Lisa
    Posted January 26, 2012 at 7:46 am | Permalink

    Kieron, I am so sorry that you had to face loss during your travels. Losing those we love is so painful. Your Grandmother and your family knew this was the adventure you had worked so hard for. It is a tough choice and I’m glad you had skype to talk with your parents, that feels more face to face and their support must mean the world through a painful loss. All the best.

    • Posted January 27, 2012 at 11:05 am | Permalink

      Thanks so much Lisa – being able to Skype my parents made all the difference and just seeing they were ok totally reassured me about my decision to continue traveling.

  12. Posted January 26, 2012 at 10:22 pm | Permalink

    I am SO sorry to hear about the death of your Grandma. I remember your post when she wasn’t too well – sending warm thoughts and I’m glad you got to say a personal goodbye back home.
    Anthony recently posted..Muay Thai Kickboxing Experience in Thailand (VIP, Baby – Video Included)

    • Posted January 27, 2012 at 11:08 am | Permalink

      The grandma (my mother’s mom) I wrote the post about a year ago is still alive and kicking – just shows that the doctor’s aren’t always right! Thanks for the well wishes, really appreciate it.

  13. Posted January 28, 2012 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for your words of advice Kieron! So sorry to hear about your grandmother. I actually cut my rtw travel adventure short late last year to attend my grandma’s 100th birthday! I’m heading off again in a few weeks’ time and unfortunately (especially due to her age) I’m going to need to consider some “what ifs” of my own. Your post has sure made me think about something I have kind of been avoiding….
    Maddycat recently posted..Why I don’t use a guidebook

    • Posted January 28, 2012 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

      Reaching 100 is a fantastic achievement and that definitely deserves a big celebration. I avoided thinking about it before we left and that’s probably my biggest regret because it led to so much angst and indecision about what to do.

  14. Posted January 29, 2012 at 5:54 am | Permalink

    I’m so sorry to hear about your grandmother. Losing a loved one is always difficult and being on the road presents new challenges.

    I talked at length with my family about what I would do if something happened to my grandparents or other family members. They weren’t easy discussions but necessary ones. Good tips up above for folks to think about before they embark on long term travel!
    Heather recently posted..Australia Day 2012

    • Posted January 30, 2012 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

      I’m glad to hear you talked about it in detail before you left – I’m sure many are like me and try to ignore the issue because it’s obviously difficult to talk about.

  15. Posted January 29, 2012 at 6:30 am | Permalink

    So sorry to hear about your loss, but this was a great read for me at the moment as my grandfather’s health isn’t doing well at home, and it has me quite worried. It’s tough to deal with ‘reality checks’ from time to time, especially when it comes to not being there for family members due to your travels. All the best, these are great tips, thanks for sharing.
    Dayna recently posted..From Princes to Paupers – Meeting Counts and Vagabonds in Transylvania

    • Posted January 30, 2012 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

      Yep – it is difficult but good to know you’re preparing yourself. Really hope your grandfather’s health improves!

  16. Posted January 31, 2012 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

    I’m sorry you lost your grandmother. It’s something I’ve worried about during our last 2.5 years of traveling, since it isn’t like my grandparents are getting any younger… We’ve had to make some tough choices about whether or not to return home for various things, and while it’s never easy, it does make your choices less hard when you’ve done some planning ahead like you’ve mentioned in this post. Good job helping others to be able to make informed choices!
    Tiffany recently posted..Visitor’s guide to San Jose

  17. Chelsea
    Posted February 2, 2012 at 12:56 am | Permalink

    Sorry to hear that, Kieron.

    My grandmother passed away the first time I went to Thailand – she had been sick and was 84 years old so while it was heartbreaking, it was also not a complete shock. Blessfully it happened in my last 24hrs before I was flying home anyway so nobody told me (though I worked it out when my sister who doesn’t live in Townsville answered my parents’ phone when I was doing the ‘plane landed in Sydney ok, domestic times are still the same’ routine call). If something bad had to happen while away I guess I kind of got the least-worst case scenario experience.

    Glad you posted this though because had Ninny not been really sick (and I did have that conversation with everyone about if I should even still go) I don’t think that the fact that something could go wrong at home would have even crossed my mind, so it will help others have that contingency sorted before they leave.

  18. Posted May 4, 2012 at 9:01 am | Permalink

    Thank you for this post. One of my very good friends I’d known since second grade was found dead in a field in Indiana with no explanation of what happened and why she was there (I’m from Michigan) at the end my of a six month study abroad term in Nairobi, Kenya in college in 2008. I could not come home. At the same time in Kenya, my host family and I were stuck in our apartment in downtown Nairobi during the political riots of the 2007-8 Kenyan presidential election that left 2,000 people dead. It took me almost two years to get over and they still don’t know what happened to her. I still don’t know once in awhile if I’m over it because I want to know so badly what happened to her and have to accept that its not important and I probably never will. And it stopped me from wanting to travel for the long term for awhile. However, after saving up money for a year after graduating college, I spent 3 months in around 16 European countries solo backpacking and found a full circle renewal in myself, my curiosity about the planet and its life, and the fact that I always want to travel-not just to go on vacation. It is so important to think about this stuff before you go, but it should never stop you from doing what you want to do and experiencing the things you want to see and living life. At the same time, ignoring grieving emotions can be very traumatizing down the road. This experience makes me so sad, but I describe that 6 months as the best and worst 6 months of my entire life. It has made me who I am.

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