This article is reprinted by permission from NextAvenue.org.
Debbie Hitt always wanted to see the world, but her husband Charlie wasn’t much of a traveler. Hitt didn’t let that stop her. She took a few solo trips during their 36-year marriage — to Cancún for a long weekend with her friends, and to China and Thailand to visit her son and his wife.
It was financially prohibitive to travel more,” said the 65-year-old Ohio resident. “I was trying to raise kids and so forth.”
Hitt ached for more travel opportunities, but the unthinkable happened and Charlie died from cancer in 2017. Grief took a toll, but then Hitt thought to herself, “OK, now it’s time.’” The world was waiting, and she wanted to see it.
The couple saved as much money as they could during their marriage, so Hitt decided that travel was now possible. She has since been to Israel, Ireland, Kenya, Tanzania, the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy, Greece and Spain.
“I want to see popular tourist attractions, but I really want to see the people, how they shop, what they eat and how they communicate with each other,” said Hitt. “I just love to see how other people live.”
Some of her trips have been taken with tour groups or friends, but she prefers the trips that she took by herself. “I like being able to make my own decisions,” she said.
Hitt fondly remembers her trip to Kenya. “We’re sitting in the guide’s Jeep and I’m looking out across the Kenyan landscape with all of these wild animals and I thought, ‘wow, Charlie would hate this, but I’m loving it,’” she said. Up next? Egypt.
Her tip for other widows who want to solo travel? “Plan, plan, plan,” she said.
“Know where you’re going to land, how you’re going to get from the airport to lodging, and make sure you have all the documents in a row,” she continued. “Think about what could go wrong and how you would handle it. It takes the stress out. I’ve never been a fearful person because I’m a planner. Then you can just enjoy the journey.”
‘Do something that’s in your comfort zone’
Cheryl Heath and her husband, Raymond, were just shy of celebrating 43 years of marriage when Raymond died in April 2022 from duodenal carcinoma.
“We loved to cruise and went on more than 20 of them; the first was on our wedding anniversary,” said Heath. “I also liked to run half marathons so we would also travel based on a run. For example, we went to New Orleans and Las Vegas and spent extra days there after the race.”
Her husband was sick over the last couple of years, so travel was put on hold, but Heath is ready to travel again.
“I thought that people would think I’m crazy for traveling so soon, and it’s harder, but I would tell others in the same position to try it if they feel like they are ready,” she said. “Do something that’s in your comfort zone. Cruising was something we did together, and I knew that, but maybe you prefer something else.”
Heath embarked on a solo cruise in August for five days. “I just needed to get away. It was kind of sad, but it was also good,” said the 67-year-old. She took another cruise this year with a friend who had recently lost her mother.
She also joined Solo In Style: Women Over 50 Travelling Solo & Loving It! It’s a Facebook group founded by Deborah Ives. Although not a widow, Ives was looking for information and help for solo women travelers over 50 when she decided to start the group.
“I didn’t really know how it would go or where it would lead,” she said. “Now there are over 157,000 members from all around the world. Not every member is single, but they may prefer to travel solo. We support and encourage each other, share stories and tips, and give motivation if needed. It is amazing to see what all these ladies are up to.”
“I wanted to learn from other people’s experiences and what else I could be doing or what I could do better,” said Heath. Next on her travel agenda is a trip to Maine with her cousin to tour lighthouses.
Consider traveling with others
Kerri Campbell’s husband, Charles “Dale,” died from a sudden heart attack, otherwise known as “the widow maker,” when he was only 57 years old. The couple had taken many road trips during their marriage and had traveled to Germany. She admits that the solo trips she’s taken since Dale’s death haven’t always been easy.
“I did go to Germany the first summer Dale was gone and it was very hard going to see our daughter without him,” she said. On the way home, there was a couple next to me on the bus at the airport and they were obviously having a good time. They were about our age and it made me extremely sad. I cried. Seeing couples doing what I want to be doing with him is still the hardest.”
But Campbell decided that she wanted to continue her adventures. “Fortunately, a mutual friend introduced me to a new widow about two months after Dale died,” she said. “She also wanted to travel. I’ve been on a Caribbean cruise, we went on a concert trip to Kansas City this past summer and to Eureka Springs, Arkansas. We do a lot of road trips.”
The friends also have an Alaskan cruise planned for next year.
Campbell said that traveling with another friend who is also a widow is helpful. “Having another woman who likes to shop is an advantage,” she added, and said she’s not afraid of traveling solo.
“My way has always been to ‘rip the bandage off,’ ignore my fears and just do it,” said Campbell. “I know I can drive places alone and I know I can even fly overseas alone because I’ve done it now. My advice is to let go of the fears and just do it.”
Ives advises other travelers that if you feel you need someone to travel with, join a small group tour.
“There are lots of them for women of all ages going to all kinds of places all over the world,” she said. “Another great way to travel, if you are older and perhaps a little nervous about taking the first steps, is to volunteer. Again, there are so many great options and life skills that can be shared with so many great organizations around the world.
She added, “Finally, just do it. Plan well, be brave but sensible, be open to every experience and enjoy.”
Life after loss isn’t easy, but it does go on.
Lisa Iannucci is the founder of The Virgin Traveler, a travel blog for those who are finally getting a chance to travel later in life. She is the host of the “Reel Travels” podcast and “The Write Start” podcast. She is the author of “The Film/TV Lover’s Travel Guide” and “Road Trip: A Sports Lover’s Travel Guide.”
This article is reprinted by permission from NextAvenue.org, © 2022 Twin Cities Public Television, Inc. All rights reserved.
More from Next Avenue: