Winging It: Our Last Minute Decision to Travel After Loss

Arenal volcano in La Fortuna, Costa Rica

We are just home from two weeks in Costa Rica and Panama. Unlike most our travel, this trip was ‘unexpectedly spontaneous’ – meaning, though planned and booked months ahead, the actual departure was unexpected. A tragic death made us reconsider whether to even travel after loss.. Read how this trip came together to ultimately bring us healing and peace.

trip planning, map, camera, and passport

Planning, and Re-planning, the Trip to Costa Rica

Summer 2021

Life was getting good again. Vaccines were available here in the U.S, and the pandemic seemed to be settling into an endemic we could deal with. Dave and I decided it was time to stretch our wings. We went over our list of travel priorities, researching what looked to be the safest options for over-60-year-old travelers. We decided to book a small ship cruise to Costa Rica and Panama, adding a short land tour before the cruise. Our niece connected us with a travel coordinator in Costa Rica, and we put together an itinerary.

Travel Optimism Rating- 90%

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Fast forward to December 2021

The incredibly virulent Omicron has appeared and travel is looking questionable. We check the status of our trip regularly, glad we’d purchased travel insurance…

Travel Optimism- 80%

January 2022 – three weeks before departure

The cruise line sends us out a notice that they are cancelling most of the cruises… but not ours. However… additional testing will be required before boarding and possibly throughout the week. AND there will be limited entertainment AND possible port closures. Not exactly the relaxing trip we’d envisioned…

Travel Optimism – 50%

Covid, cruise, vacation – all became unimportant when our sister Sharon’s health began to deteriorate. She was undergoing treatment for a recurrence of cancer. The cancer prognosis was hopeful, but the medicines prescribed to fight the cancer were so strong that her kidneys were beginning to fail. We rushed to Texas, arriving just in time to say our goodbyes. Our hearts were broken.

The trip we’d looked forward to seemed inconsequential now. We made a quick trip home to close the house and get the things we needed for the funeral, etc. Dave rebooked our vacation flights to leave out of Dallas, and we half-heartedly added passports and some travel items to our bags. But both of us expected to be returning to Boston after the funeral, all travel plans canceled. Neither of us was in the mood to travel after this loss.

Travel Optimism – 0%

Dave and Sharon in happier times. Travel after loss
Dave & Sharon in better days

Making the decision to travel after loss

The funeral weekend with the whole family gathered was at once terrible and wonderful. We were comforted by being together, but still in shock that we’d lost such a vibrant, essential member of the family. And we were once again reminded how unpredictable life is. My own bouts with cancer years ago had made us aware of how precious our time on Earth is, and had spurred us on to do the travel and adventures we’d been putting off. Losing Sharon reinforced this lesson. The night after the funeral Dave decided we should go ahead with the trip.

I contacted Nicole Engel of Absolute Experts Costa Rica, our travel coordinator, to come up with a back-up plan if the cruise was cancelled, or if we just didn’t feel up to the social aspect of a cruise. And we tested ourselves with at-home Covid tests before heading to the airport. No point in flying out of the country if we had contracted the virus.

weary and masked travelers on a flight
Exhausted and grieving, but on our way…

Travel After Loss: we fly to Costa Rica

This was not even close to how we usually travel. I am an over-planner – with itemized packing lists and detailed itineraries printed well in advance. For this trip, I had neither. As we sat in the airport I began considering what was in my luggage. No idea if I had everything I’d need for the cruise, but I knew we had cameras, binoculars, passports, hand sanitizer, and plenty of KN95 masks. We’d be ok.

The next morning we awoke to raucous cries outside our window. Dave and I looked at each other confused – we’d almost forgotten we were now in tropical Costa Rica. The parakeets were ‘serenading’ us. (sometimes the prettiest birds have the most unpleasant calls…) Now we were up and eager to see the hotel and environment in daylight.

This was a planned rest day. The hotel had lovely grounds and a nice pool for our enjoyment. Of course, we were still sad, stressed and uncertain about what lay ahead of us. But our consultant, Nicole came through with a new itinerary which included lots of time in nature AND days of relaxation. This sounded like exactly what we needed as we grieved. We cancelled our cruise. (Luckily, the cruise line gave us full credit for a future cruise.)

The decision behind us, we finally began to relax. The Covid precautions were much stricter than in the U.S. Everywhere we went restaurant and hotel staff took our temperatures before we entered. Mandatory wash stations were outside every restaurant AND in the national parks. Everyone everywhere wore masks, silverware was packaged, and a waiter served you from buffets. All those working in the tourism industry were triple vaccinated. We felt our risk of contracting Covid was minimal.

The people we met were extraordinarily friendly and helpful. That, and the time outdoors, brought us a sense of peace that we badly needed. Each evening we watched the sun go down, sometimes quietly, but mostly sharing happy memories of Sharon. After a few days, the laughter came back.

La Mariposa hotel view in Manuel Antonio

How’d We Do? Packing, the Pandemic, and Ultimately Peace

Despite my concerns, our quickly assembled wardrobe did just fine. The ‘fancy’ cruise clothing stayed in our luggage, but our tried and true travel favorites – merino wool clothing & Diane Kroe chiffons – came through. Casual, breathable clothing were our everyday wear. Exofficio insect repellant button-down shirts were added as layers for early morning bird walks, and packed away as the day warmed up.

Diane Kroe cover-up by the pool in Panama

My merino wool& dress, which I’d packed for the funeral, was great for casual dinners out with one of the Diane Kroe wraps. Those same wraps worked as cover-ups by the pool, and light robes for morning coffee. And my Icebreaker tees stayed cool and fresh even in the densest rainforest. I’d added an Icebreaker merino wool sweater at the last minute and wore it eight times in two weeks (several times overnight in over air-conditioned rooms) We did laundry once, but mostly just aired our clothes out each evening.

The pandemic definitely adds another layer of difficulty to traveling. The constant temperature testing was stressful at first, but since we felt fine, we stopped worrying as much. A health form was required to be filed before we could enter both Costa Rica and Panama. When the authorities accepted our form, they issued us a QR code which we showed several times at the airport. The big test came at the end of the trip when we had to have a negative COVID test to be allowed reentry into the U.S. The Hilton in Panama City made the arrangement for our tests. We celebrated when the negative results were received!

And we almost got used to wearing a mask all day. On our third day driving with Nicole, she mentioned that she hadn’t really seen our faces. A shared lunch that day finally allowed us to also share smiles – genuine smiles.

Travel Optimism – 100%

Manuel Antonio NP sign by the beach

Read more about our trip to Costa Rica.

How we found peace and the opportunity to grieve after loss. #CostaRica #peace
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Amy, a writer on responsible bucket list travel, is your reliable source for insightful travel advice. With a career background in libraries, and a degree in biology and mathematics, Amy's approach to travel is rooted in meticulous research and planning, and her commitment to eco-conscious adventures.

Amy’s dedication to sustainable travel practices, including efficient packing techniques, ensures that every adventure leaves a positive impact on both the environment and the traveler's well-being. Trust Amy to guide you towards meaningful and eco-friendly travel, making the most of your retirement years.

A lifelong New England resident, Amy is also the source for insider tips on travel in the Northeastern U.S.

17 thoughts on “Winging It: Our Last Minute Decision to Travel After Loss

  1. I can relate to this on so many levels. My brother-in-law has been critical in ICU for many weeks with covid-related pneumonia. We decided to go ahead with a planned trip to Spain (which we’d had to cancel twice before because of Covid) even though we knew we might have to make an emergency trip to Texas for a funeral. And just as we were leaving, our sweet little cocker spaniel became ill with what we thought was a minor bug. A week later, from Valencia, we learned that he was terminally ill with cancer, and the symptoms were from pancreatitis caused by the tumor. We made the devastating decision to euthanize him, which was carried out by our pet sitters. And here we are, still in Spain, and trying to enjoy the trip while coping with all this. Through the grief, we’ve realized we have to carry on with life.

    I’m so very sorry to hear about your sister, BTW. May she Rest In Peace.

    1. Life is so hard sometimes, isn’t it? I love the photos of your pup that you shared. We’re finally on the list for a cocker puppy after losing ours a year ago to cancer.
      Hope your brother-in-law is recovering. Too much sorrow.

  2. I’m so sorry to read your story! I am glad you traveled anyway though. Costa Rica is such a beautiful country with an amazing nature: I loved the flora and fauna there!

  3. Thank you for sharing this. I am so sorry for your loss. I love how you decided to go and enjoy your trip, even though it might not have seemed like the best time. Sometimes a change of routine makes all the difference – we recently had a similar travel experience, and it was just what was needed.

  4. I loved this post. I ALWAYS travel after loss. I call it “grief travel”. I have lost 2 children within the past couple of years and yes, I travelled. Travelling after a devastating loss reminds us that there is still beauty in the world and life must go on. (I’m sorry for your losss)

  5. So sorry for your loss, but glad you found it in your hearts to travel – even that can be a healing process even if you do not stick to your original plans.

  6. Travelling after loss can be life affirming & it helped me to recover from the death of my father. After cancelling a trip to Belize in the months before Dad died I was presented with an opportunity to travel to Uganda as a musician & teacher to spend a week teaching at an orphanage in Kampala & performing in the beautiful cathedral. It was a wonderful experience! I spent some quality time with a dear friend who lives on the other side of the world in South Africa, made some new friends & made a contribution to support the students in Uganda! I went chimpanzee tracking & out on safari in the stunning Semliki nature Reserve & it brought some joy to my life at a very bleak time.

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