Love, Loss & Traveling On

With an incessantly rotating banner of seven captivating images, an ever growing feed of pictures that tell a collective story, and a mere 150 character limit to explain who you are, there’s something that’s just so intriguing about Instagram. Honestly, I really don’t know why I didn’t add the platform to my portfolio years ago. I suppose I was reluctant to jump on yet another social media bandwagon.

While I’m still relatively new to Instagram, what I’m enjoying most is discovering the inspiring accounts of people from all walks of life who travel to the far corners of the world and back and weave their stories together one picture and one hashtag at a time. Somewhere between the picture-posting, likes and comments are exchanged, and soon enough, you find yourself following someone’s feed.

And that’s exactly how I met @travelingblackwidow, an Instagrammer I’ve come to know whose real name is Char. Her images drew me in, but it was the storytelling in her short bio that made me want to follow her account: “31 years of marriage…NOW I’M A WIDOW?! Guess I’ll go see the world! (Mom of @drlizsayz).”

When I first read her bio, I gave some thought to my nearly seven years of marriage to Jave, and I confronted the morbid thought: if he passes away before me, would I be able to overcome the unavoidable onslaught of depression and despair that I know I’d fall into, pick myself up, and continue my part time travels solo?

#auckland #NewZealand’s stunning skyline. #wanderlust #travelpic #womentravel

A photo posted by Char (@travelingblackwidow) on

Although death is an inevitable fate that we all must face, the mere thought of losing my life partner, my best friend, and my other half seems like it would be just too much to bear. And that’s part of the reason why Char’s profile caught my attention. As I looked through her feed highlighting her travels in places that I still dream of traveling to like China, New Zealand, Russia, Finland, Aruba, and most recently Antarctica, Nepal, and India, I realized that Char exemplifies perseverance and she personifies travel. Because after all, at the heart, isn’t that what travel is all about – the insatiable desire to keep going, to keep discovering, to keep moving forward no matter what?

I knew that I wanted to feature Char here on the blog, and despite being a very private person, I’m so happy that she agreed to this interview. In sharing it, my hope is that you’ll be as inspired by Char’s travels as I’ve been and that you’ll follow her lead and “make lemonade from the lemons” and keep going no matter what life throws your way.

Read on…

How long ago did your husband pass away?

My husband died in the summer of 2008 after a 2.5 year battle with kidney cancer for which he was originally given 4-5 months. God calls those shots.

Did you guys travel often when you were married?

When we first married he said he wanted to see the fifty states. He NEVER organized a trip but we did visit them all. Favorite was Cali for me. He loved the national parks and fishing – Wyoming, Utah, etc.

Our daughter (Liz) was with us always. Our first European trip was England. My husband hated the inconveniences like no ice, warm beer, and weird restrooms. We only went to Germany a few years later to visit our exchange student in Hamburg. He was not into Europe.  Liz and I went to South America to celebrate her undergrad graduation, but he had no desire to go.

We’ve always had a line item for travel In our budget. As much as I love traveling, it would be horrible to receive bills after returning home. Strictly cash and go.

What sparked your interest in traveling after your husband’s death?

We traveled quite a lot together, so it really was only natural that I’d continue. I found that oftentimes, friends either wouldn’t want to go to a particular destination, wouldn’t have money at that time, or just needed lots of time to make a decision.  Both my travel mate to China and to Scandinavia/Russia had to think about it for a couple of months and then we went about a year later.  That made me decide to just do my own thing.  Not to mention, after my first venture into solo travel – Italy for 15 days – I was so satisfied that I decided I wasn’t waiting around anymore.

What motivated you to decide to start documenting your travels on Instagram?

I only started Instagram at Liz’s insistence; I didn’t even know what it was.  I love taking hundreds of photos when I travel, and of course, no one wants to see them. She will look at a few a night over a period of days. So she just thought it would be fun for me. She also says that her friends think I’m a little “different” from some moms and might be interesting to other young people.

I do Facebook occasionally for family connection – mainly with my 22 nieces and nephews around the country. I must admit that now I’m addicted to Instagram. I love the connection and “snapshot” into the lives of today’s young people.  I feel so “in the know” on the views of GenXer’s.

How did your first solo trip to Italy after your husband’s passing affect you, and what did you learn about yourself during that trip?

My luggage didn’t arrive until day 11 of the 15-day Italy trip.  So I learned lots from not being able to look my best and also being alone. It was a real double whammy: no make-up, no curling iron or even night head scarf or perfume. Just the clothes on my back and a T-shirt from Delta along with a little toiletries pack. I borrowed scissors at the front desk and made the Delta t-shirt into a headrag so I could at least tie up my hair at night.

Our first stop was the Amalfi Coast where even a pair of panties was $18. From my solo travel and no necessities, I learned to be way friendlier and more humble than I’d normally be.  It was “travel life-changing.” I could address it for hours. We rely so much on our appearance, companions, etc.

I REALLY learned to pack light, carry tiny necessities in my purse, be friendly to everybody (because occasionally, you just can’t be alone and need for someone in the group to have a connection with you), appreciate my freedom, be confident and bold and independent, even if I’m just faking.

You’ve been a lot of places, so where’s your dream destination?

Would you believe my dream destination is South Africa? Liz wants to go so I’m waiting for a convenient time for her to go. Now that she’s engaged, who knows when it’ll happen. I just don’t want to go there alone. It seems there will be too many things I’ll want to share.

Do you usually travel with your daughter, with friends, or solo?

A mixture, but solo is becoming the norm.  I do want a companion for South Africa (I think).

How often do you travel each year?

I take a couple trips out of the country a year and a few in the states.

Tell us about your trip to Antarctica.

I went on a 20 day cruise and was actually in the Antarctic Sound/peninsula about six days, I think.  The weather got bad and we couldn’t stop in the Falklands, so we were actually at sea nine days!

It was my first cruise alone.  I was a little concerned at first, but once again, I just had to “fake it ‘til I felt it” when walking into the big dining room and getting a table for one, while all dressed up.  After that first night, I decided to try sitting with others and ended up at a table of three couples of Mormons and a single woman from Australia.

I once had a secretary who was a Mormon and I was knowledgeable of them and had just been to Australia last year, so I enjoyed and easily participated in the conversation and always joined a table of other diners after that. I met many other singles and had a SUPER time.

What were some highlights from the trip?

I saw three whales jump up in unison as if in a Sea World act. It was divine. Those whales truly seemed to be showing off. They were way better than the Sea World acts.  The variety of penguins was beyond my imagination. I saw thousands of them in the rookeries (which by the way could be so smelly that you couldn’t stay outside and watch for long, the stench was unbearable; but don’t repeat that and ruin their image, as my daughter says). But they’re still little sweeties (just hold your nose).

Did your Midwest roots prepare you for that kind of cold?

Oh yeah, it was summer there and in the low 30’s. Coming from the snow-belt, I was totally prepared. We frequently refer to northern Illinois as “the tundra”.

You also just got back from India and Nepal. How was that trip?

India and Nepal were OVER THE TOP. I think I’ll return to southern India someday.

Where are you headed next?

Next up is the destination wedding my darling daughter @drlizsayz and her fiancé are planning in the Cayman Islands this fall. It’ll be fun to get there a few days early and hang out on the beach and do that whole thing before the big day.

What’s been your favorite trip/destination to date?

Rio’s the city. Egypt though – it remains my trip of a lifetime. The history, culture, religion, the sounds of the call to prayers, the terrain, the manmade wonders, the people of color; I ALWAYS love being someplace where I can momentarily blend and be in the majority.  I just LOVE that.  While there, little girls would stare. Our wonderful tour guide said it’s because the little girls assumed I was Egyptian and yet wasn’t dressed like anyone they’d ever seen.  They’d want pictures with my daughter.  I love being in a country with lots of people that look like me.

What lessons have you learned from sharing your travels on Instagram?

I love seeing the zest for life so many Instagrammers have. I so admire how they really just can forsake so much and pursue their passions. I LOVE their Instagrams. I am so saddened by the young women who seem to tolerate such pathetic, worthless relationships with guys. How I’d love to inspire them to know that God has so much better in His plan for them.  He doesn’t want them accepting the crumbs from some other chick’s love life, sharing a man (KNOWINGLY!!!) and being the “side piece.”  So sad.  I know that’s not about travel on Instagram, but there’s so much Instagram communication about relationships.


What’s your advice for anyone who’s lost a spouse or significant other?

Just go ahead and accept and express that heart-wrenching hardcore unavoidable grief.  It’s so rough because it can come upon you just from seeing a commercial, a song on radio, or running into an old acquaintance.

I can’t remember what prompted it, but I started reading obituaries. Amazingly, EVERYTIME I read them there would be some person who’d died who was only in their 20-30’s and had left a spouse and kids. When I tried to imagine being alone AND HAVING TO COMPLETE RAISING MY KID WITHOUT A SPOUSE, I knew I had to thank God for His timing in my life.  It just seemed selfish to not be thankful that I had a husband for 31 years. Some of my girlfriends never even got married – some got divorced. I feel I got a great deal.

* Follow Char @travelingblackwidow, and follow me @timecardexpress and @timetravelplans.

Are you on Instagram? If so, have you come across any inspiring accounts recently?