I’ll never forget the night I decided to go back to the African continent. I was sitting in my aunt’s driveway in Napa, California looking up at the stars. It was a warm July night and my life was a mess. I love California, but at that moment it wasn’t where I wanted to be. I wanted to be back in Spain, living the digital nomad dream, traveling and working. But I was stuck in the US for several weeks while my aunt cared for me. Not only did I have a broken foot (from when I fell down the stairs at the flat that I rented in Cádiz, Spain) but I had a shattered heart as well.
A few weeks prior to this balmy July night, my very courageous mother lost her valiant battle with pancreatic cancer. To say this fully broke me was an understatement. After the funeral, all I wanted was to run away. But I couldn’t; the doctors advised me to stay completely off my foot for some time. At that moment, I had no outlet for my grief and could not do any of the things that usually soothe my soul like go for a hike, a bike ride, or explore the world. I was stuck, literally unable to move or move on.
“You said that you were going to make big travel plans after your mom passed,” my best friend gently reminded me during yet another teary phone conversation. And he was right; throughout my mother’s illness, I confided in him that after my mom died, more travel was definitely in the cards for me. But it was not like I could just drop it all and run away at that moment. I had a fucking broken foot. But then my professional expertise kicked in and I remembered… something really epic would need to be planned well in advance. And anything less than epic would not suit the bill for this trip. I needed something that would redefine me, change me, challenge me, and take me well out of my comfort zone. A trip that could at least put a really strong band-aid on my grief.
Right then and there, I planned something epic.
Under the Northern California stars, I booked my wildest African dream through G Adventures. An adventure of camping under African skies; overlanding from Kenya all the way to Victoria Falls passing through Tanzania, Malawi, and Zambia before finally reaching the falls in Zimbabwe. And just for good measure, since I am a solo traveler at heart, I added on a few days solo days in Botswana. Six brand new passport stamps! This would be my second time in Sub-Saharan Africa; I had already backpacked solo throughout South Africa and Mozambique several years earlier, but this exact trip was what I had been musing over since as long as I could remember. And after losing my mother anything less than my biggest bucket list dream almost seemed not worth it.
Five months later, that December, I was at the Barcelona airport sipping my last glass of Rioja for a while, waiting to board the first leg of my flight to Nairobi. By October I was able to walk again, so I went back to Spain as soon as I could. Although my foot was nearly all healed, my heart still had a long way to go. Walking down the jetway and on to the plane that would carry me to Nairobi, I was ready to put travel therapy to the ultimate test.
As a traveler, I had an inkling that this trip would help fix me, but I did not know the extent that it would be such a huge catalyst to my metamorphosis of who I am today.
Somewhere on the dusty roads of the African continent, my heart started to mend and I found my fierce badass self again. Maybe it was that first moment of daybreak as I watched the sunrise over Ngorongoro Crater from the campsite on the crater’s rim (pictured above). Or maybe it was in that hot air balloon from which I was soaring over the Serengeti, also at sunrise, watching the wildlife below. Or perhaps it was every time I saw a lion in the wild, which was many many many times on this trip. Cats of all sizes are my spirit animals, and as a Leo, I closely identify with lions. Or it could have even been in that traditional Tanzanian dhow, with my entire G Adventures group, off the coast of Zanzibar where we learned local songs and bonded with our local hosts. But all I know is by the end of the trip, early in the morning on New Year’s Day (after I had watched fireworks on the banks of the Zambezi River), I put on my brave pants and bungee jumped off the bridge that connects Zambia and Zimbabwe. Propelling at full speed down toward the Zambezi River (which, by the way, is home to crocodiles and hippos), it was so clear to me how much this trip threw me outside of my daily comfort zone and allowed me to boldly move on in my new reality of being motherless.
The truth was, my mother was with me that entire journey, looking over me, probably worrying (she was a stereotypical Jewish mother), but at the same time smiling down upon me as I worked to reclaim my life again.
And there it was, in Sub-Saharan Africa, where I learned all of this.
So can travel help heal a broken heart? Absolutely. But everyone has different travel dreams and budgets. My Sub-Saharan Africa trip may be your trip to Andalucia, Sri Lanka, Southeast Asia… wherever you want to go really. It may just be a weekend away or an epic adventure of several months. The important takeaway here is that travel is a very powerful healer. Of course, I still miss my mother every single day. But trip propelled me into the next stage.
And you too may want to give travel a try when you are experiencing the rawness that is heartbreak (in any form). I highly recommend at least giving it a try.
(I took this particular trip with G Adventures is one of my preferred travel companies. Not only have I had taken several amazing trips with them, but my clients love them too. They have all types of trips, for all age ranges and all budgets. I’d love to help you find and book one of their trips of your dreams. And (yay!) I can *sometimes* get my clients slight discounts on their trips that only apply if booked through a travel agent. If you’re interested in doing a trip with them let’s chat! And of course, as always, I can help with any aspect of travel planning, even if you are not interested in doing an organized adventure like this.)
My name is Karen & travel is not only my passion but also my profession.