Back in 2013, I was sitting in the stairwell of my Hanoi hostel, with people coming and going past me, skyping home to my family and bawling my eyes out. I’d just found out that my childhood dog had died.
I was all alone, though I’d befriended a fellow hosteller who wasn’t quite certain how to deal with a distraught girl. So he put me on the back of his motorbike and took me to the most expensive restaurant listed in my Lonely Planet guide.
When we rocked up, a pianist rushed to her instrument and a waitress draped serviettes over our laps. My eyes were still red and glistening and my nose dripped.
One of the hardest things about travel is being away when something important occurs back home. I was in Montreal when I found out my grandfather had passed away. I was in Spain when I learned my cat had curled up under the table and sighed her last breath.
Maybe bad news from home is easier to bear if you’re travelling with someone else, but if you’re travelling alone, you feel marooned on a barren island with no one to share your pain or offer any real consolation. It’s kind of claustrophobic actually.
Some news is easier to hear than others. But when you can’t be there to comfort those you love who are in distress or grief, you start to wonder if the nomadic lifestyle is really your own personal higher calling.
It can be tough dealing with bad news when you’re overseas. But there are ways to help you cope, especially in this tech-savvy age.
Spare no expense to reach home
This doesn’t have to mean packing up your belongings and ditching your travels altogether. But in this day and age, there’s no real reason why you have to feel remote.
So, don’t worry about the phone bill if it’s going to ease your mind. And if you don’t have global roaming, find a WiFi hotspot, either at your accommodation or shout yourself a drink at a nice cafe to get the best internet speed.
And then call home in whatever way you can; these days, you can choose from FaceTime, WhatsApp, Skype, Facebook Messenger, and any number of other social apps.
Let it go
One of the real blessings of travel – and the reason so many people find it addictive – is because it puts you in the moment. You don’t stress about the future or dwell on the past. Well, at least not nearly as much as you do at home.
So the fact is that overseas, there’s often very little you can really do, beyond calling home. Instincts will tell you whether you need to cut the trip short. But otherwise, it might just help to accept that you’ve done all you could.
While I was in Singapore, I received news that something had happened to distress someone I cared about back home.
Even after the phone call, I didn’t feel like I could really continue my day with the same level of enjoyment, knowing what they were going through.
Not wanting to taint any of the destinations on my must-visit list with my distractedness, I decided to shake things up and treat myself. I went to Raffles Hotel and indulged in a $36 Singapore Sling. Perhaps that new friend in Vietnam set a precedent…
It doesn’t have to be a fancy hotel. You might want to take yourself to a quiet space – some public gardens, maybe – or even visit a spa for a massage. The idea is simply to do something to treat yourself and help you relax.
This is the big one and is usually only worth considering if something huge is occurring back home.
Thankfully, I’ve been blessed to not have to contemplate shortening a trip. And for this reason, I can’t say under what circumstances you should consider going home.
But I also feel like I shouldn’t have to. I suspect your gut will tell you whether an event calls for an immediate return home. And if that doesn’t work, I’m certain that a phone call home would tell you enough.
Travel does seem to make one thing very clear. Really, at the end of the day, it’s the people in your life who define your existence, even if we spend much of our lives trying to escape that very fact.
Have you ever received bad news while travelling? I’d love to hear about it – and how you dealt with it. Otherwise, check out some of the other ways I’ve dealt with the issues associated with long-term, solo travel!