Should You Go Home If A Family Member Dies While You Are Travelling?

by | 11 Nov, 2017

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If you already follow our travel adventures you’ll know that we travel full time. And that recently, a few months into an 8 month trip around Mexico one of our family members died and we had a tough decision to make.

Should we go home to the UK? Or should we continue travelling?

For some people, what to do if a family member dies while you are travelling may be an easy choice. If that’s you, great, this post probably isn’t for you.

But if, like for me, such a decision is a little more complicated, I hope reading this helps you with your own situation.

Who Has Died & Was It Expected or Sudden?

I loved my nan very much and we had a close relationship. When we lived in the UK we visited each other often and I’ve felt a huge loss since she passed.

However, she was in her 90’s and her death was expected. She’d been terminally ill for some time and I knew when we left the UK for Mexico a few months before, that would in all likelihood be the last time I saw her.

I’d already come to terms with that and internally said my goodbyes at that time. Due to her illness she would have been unable to grasp it would perhaps be the last time she saw me. I’m not sure if that makes it better or worse.

Sarah with her grandparents

But what I’m getting at here is your decision will be impacted greatly by who has died and the circumstances around their death.

If for example, my parents or my sister had been involved in a serious accident I would be jumping on the next flight home without even a second thought. But when it’s an older family member the decision isn’t always clear cut.

And being completely honest, before my nan died I had pretty much decided that I wouldn’t be going back.

However, from experience, I can tell you that as much as you can prepare yourself, you won’t know exactly how you’re going to feel until it actually happens, and in the end I did go back home.

There were a number of further factors that influenced my ultimate decision and it definitely wasn’t an easy one.

How Are The Rest Of Your Family Coping?

Often the decision to go home when a family member dies is more about your relationship with other family members than just the person who had passed away.

In the build up to my nan passing, my mum, in particular was under a lot of pressure caring for her and I was worried about how she was coping.

So in the end, I decided to go back to support my mum, dad & sister who had been dealing with the latter and extremely upsetting stages of my Nan’s life.

For me hearing my mum crying and not being able to give her a hug because I was thousands of miles away was even worse than the grief I felt from my nan dying and I knew in my gut that I had to go.

Sarah at the beach view

What Will Happen If You Don’t Go?

Another important question to ask yourself is, if you don’t go, what will be the reaction of other family members and will that cause lasting damage to your relationships with them.

I didn’t feel like I needed to go home in order for me to grieve the loss of my nan, but I also didn’t want my absence at such a sad time to affect my relationship with my parents in particular.

And so I very much took the stance that I was far more likely to regret not going than going.

But everyone’s family dynamics are different and what was right for me under those specific set of circumstances may not be right for you.

What I will say, is that at a time when family emotions will undoubtably be running high, I think it’s important to try and look beyond, to anticipate the impact your decision will have on both you and others.

When Should You Go?

If, as I was, you’re in a position where you know your family member is seriously ill and are told that they will pass away over the next few days, you will likely be faced with another difficult decision to make on top of whether to go home or not. And that is when?

Do you try and get back before they pass away? Or is it more important and helpful to be there for the funeral?

And will you be taking a break from your travels or cutting it short?

Sarah at the mountain view

In the end, because I could only realistically go back for 2 weeks, my nan being conscious for only brief periods of time and having a lot of family who were able to be with her until the end, I decided that being there to support my family in the days after my nan’s death and at the funeral was the best decision.

It was also very likely that being over a day’s travel away, had I taken the decision to try and get back before she died she may have gone before I made it back anyway and that would have even more devastating for me.

I had nearly just booked a flight so many times but in the end I waited for the call.

How Much Will It Cost?

No one likes to think about this being a reason for not being able to go home when travelling if a family member dies unexpectedly, but it is a realistic part of your decision making process.

Can you actually afford it? How far away are you? What are your options?

I was very fortunate in that my family helped with the financial aspect and we were in a place in Mexico at the time which was logistically very easy to travel back to the UK from. But it could have easily been very different.

Then we also had the added decision of whether J was going to come with me or not. He knew my nan but they weren’t close, him coming would have been in support for me.

Because I’d had time to prepare for my nan no longer being around it didn’t hit me as hard as an unexpected death could have for example. So we decided he would stay in Mexico and take on some of my work to allow me more time to spend with family at home.

James and Sarah at Teotihuacan

Obviously because we travel together and are with each other 24/7, being away from each other was emotionally hard on both of us and also trying to manage a business from different time zones wasn’t the easiest.

Whether you choose to go home or not while travelling if a family member dies, it’s no doubt going to be a difficult decision. I felt torn in so many directions and changed my mind so many times but in the end I feel by going home that I did the right thing both for myself and family.

I can of course only speak from my personal experience but hopefully by talking through my decision making process it will help you deal with your own situation, or at least be a little more prepared for if the worst does happen while you are travelling.

Let me know in the comments if you’ve had to deal with the death of a family member while on the road and if you went back home or not and why.

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