Coping With the Fear of Death While Traveling

Before you click away – this isn’t some morbid, depressing post on life, death and the idea of traveling. I’m not going to tell you that nothing bad will ever happen while you’re on the road away from home. But I will tell you that those things might happen even if you’re sat in your mothers’ living room watching Say Yes to The Dress. The real point of this article is to remember that bad things happen and where we geographically are when those bad things do happen  doesn’t mean a thing.

If you take one thing away from this post let it be this: bad things happen regardless of your geographical location, and what you need to do in life is to remind people (near and far) how much they mean to you while you can, even if that’s over the phone or through a postcard that they won’t get for weeks. 

The other day I read this article called “If I Do Die While Traveling, You Should Know…” by a blogger named Gabrielle over at Packs Light – and it seriously got me thinking about how my friends and family view my travels and how scary it must be for some of them.

My big Canadian family (minus two)
My big Canadian family (minus two)

I mean, I leave on a whim and they (nor I) have any idea when I’ll be back to see them. My nephews and niece’s know I “take airplane rides”, but they really aren’t old enough to understand where in the world I am. I remember trying to explain to my nephew that I wasn’t actually inside my computer while we were Skyping, I was actually in a whole other country. My niece used to tell me to be “safe on the airplane” months after I moved to another country.


When I moved to Belgium on my first move abroad in 2013, my parents were understandably a little devastated, but also very excited for what my life had become and the adventures and opportunities that traveling could bring for me.

I, being a 20-something girl who was way too excited for the move and the change, really didn’t think about it much until I actually had been living in Belgium for 5 months and was looking to book tickets back home to visit for Christmas.

I was scrolling through all these flights, thinking about the last time I saw everyone and it was only then that I got to thinking about all the things that I missed since I’d been in Belgium.This obviously included some birthdays, a few weddings, a lot of family get-together’s or celebrations, and quite a few holidays. But it also, unfortunately, included the death of someone I cared about just a few weeks earlier.

I remember taking waiting for the train from Antwerp to my boyfriends’ hometown to visit his parents when I got the news of my grandfather passing away back in Canada. I connected to the WiFi long enough to tweet about how this was the first time I’d ever ridden a train (being as I was 22 and starting a travel blog, I thought it was note-worthy). Before I could tweet about my milestone, I received a message from my mother saying that my grandmother’s boyfriend (whom I’d grown close to the previous year) had passed away that morning.

I remember feeling an overwhelming sense of guilt upon hearing the news of my grandfather passing. Of course, there was the initial sadness and shock over the first few days – but the guilt, is what weighed on me. I wasn’t there. I was here, in Belgium, and he was dying in the hospital. I should have flown home to see him, I should have done something.

An old fashioned war veteran, my grandfather had always said he wanted no funeral. “We knew what we meant to him, he knows what he meant to us and that would be that.” is what he always said.

Honoring his wishes, there was no funeral; so I never ended up flying home to celebrate his life or grieve his passing. Instead, I dedicated a few of my Sunday morning walks to his memory, eventually finding my way to the little empty steeple I frequented and lighting a candle in his name.

Fast forward over a year later and I was actually back living in Canada, taking a road trip with my father and sisters to Florida to visit my other grandfather. We spent an incredible, sunny two weeks together golfing, eating and laughing.

A few days after arriving back at my Canadian home (my mothers house at the time), we received the news that he had passed away at his favourite restaurant (after playing a few rounds of golf).

I remember thinking that I was so lucky to have spent that time with him (which I was), but a few months after his funeral I also remember thinking that I had now lost both my grandfathers – one while I was abroad and one while I was home.

These tragic losses came at a time in my life where I was either home or I wasn’t – and in the end, did it really matter where I’d been living at the time? 

What mattered was the time I got to spend with them – whether it was a few days or a few months before their passing seemed somehow irrelevant, because it was time well-spent with them and I was lucky to have those memories.

“I know what I mean to you, and you know what you mean to me, and that will be that.” 

Traveling frequently or far away from home shouldn’t take anything away from the connections you have with people.

The people in your life want the best for you. And if they really know you, they know what some people can’t achieve happiness in just one place.

“Should I stay in one place because I’m afraid something bad will happen while I’m away?”

A lot of people think that travel appears to be more dangerous and puts you a little more at risk than staying at home would, but as I’ve learned in the last year, danger can happen anywhere. The place I now consider home has been a very active grounds for terrorism as of late (with the bombing in Brussels, the attacks in France, etc). These are all places that are within mere hours of my home.

While these terrorist attacks have been devastating, it has really made me realize that danger and death is just a part of every day life and traveling or not traveling won’t change a thing. The fear of dying shouldn’t keep you from traveling because you could (maybe not just as easily, but easily enough…) die in your own hometown while bagging your Tuesday night groceries.

A Little Tip for Coping With the Fear of Death While You’re Away…

These days, my biggest fear is that the people in my life don’t know just how much they mean to me. In a later post I will talk about how to cope with the death of a loved one while you’re abroad, but in this post I want to talk about how to cope with the sometimes crippling fear of death.

For a long time after my grandfather(s) died, I frequently had a thought… “maybe I should just not travel anywhere and just stay home so I can be there for everyone I care about when they need me.”

The very real fear that your travel lifestyle often takes you away from the people you love so often, that it will somehow make them forget you, or it will somehow make them think they aren’t as important to you.

So how do I deal with it when I start to feel scared that something bad might happen while I’m away? I send every single person I know and love a little message.

From a simple “I miss you today” to a 4 page text about how life would be meaningless without them – I let the people in my life know just how much I care.

Death is a part of life, and most of the time it won’t wait for you to say your goodbyes. It won’t wait for you to have one last Christmas or birthday together. So say that “I love you” that feels too cheesy to say. Send that letter that is you just rambling about your day. Text that person and tell them “I miss you today” for no reason other than that were thinking of them.


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About Travel Pray Love

Expat motherhood, travel lifestyle blog.
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