Home » Life is short. This story is a reminder to live it to the fullest.

Life is short. This story is a reminder to live it to the fullest.

written by Jessica Carpenter August 2, 2018
inspirational travel story

There really are no words to explain the despair of going home from the hospital the day my husband passed away following a 6-month battle with cancer.

It was literally incomprehensible to me that he wasn’t alive anymore.

Nothing really prepares you for death, especially that of your spouse, even when it’s been anticipated for months. All you know for certain is that life will never be the same.

I had always been passionate about traveling, and in our 8 years together, my travel infatuation rubbed off on my husband.

inspirational travel storyUndeterred by being broke college students, we made the most of our limited budget and time, traveling as often as we could near or far, even checking Bora Bora off the bucket list.

Once my husband was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, I didn’t go back to work at all for over a year. For 6 months, my life became about being the best caretaker, advocate, personal pharmacist, and wife I could possibly be. I lived and breathed for him because that’s what he deserved and needed, and I wanted to spend every second I had left with him.

inspirational travel storyAfter my husband was gone, it felt like my entire future had been ripped out from under me. All my hopes and dreams had involved the two of us together. But life took on new meaning. Now it was “me” instead of “we.”

Having been together since we were 19, I needed to learn how to be an individual. So much of who I was had been defined by us as a couple. Who was I, after all of this? What did I want out of life? I needed to find out. I needed to encounter myself somehow.

inspirational travel storyFollowing the memorial, a family member offered their Maui condo to me if I wanted to take some time for myself. I knew this was what I needed to do.

Arriving in Hawaii by myself was quite possibly the loneliest feeling ever, second only to leaving the hospital the day he died. But I rented a car, I walked the beaches, I hiked to waterfalls, and I spent time with old friends who lived there.

Then I went to Kauai and rented a beautiful house in the jungle by myself. I spread my husband’s ashes in the ocean at the secluded beach we’d discovered together the first morning of our honeymoon. I hiked some of the NaPali Coast by myself, and I wallowed in sadness most of the time, wishing a heart attack would strike me dead so I could be reunited with my husband or at least be put out of my misery.

Something about having to be alone and carry the weight and pain with me continually made me stronger. And doing it in unfamiliar places with no one to lean on gave me confidence. Maybe I learned I could rely on myself. I was my own good friend. Being alone with my thoughts and memories was the hardest thing I could face, but I think at the time, it seemed easier than going back to my old routine with a huge vacancy in my life.

Pretty soon, I was on the go continuously.

inspirational travel storyI’d come home for a few days to be with my in-laws and dog before heading off to travel again. I started to live life to the fullest, experiencing things I would never have imagined I’d get to, as if each day was my last.

I went to Florida and saw my dad for the first time in 6 years.

I went to Australia by myself and walked the phenomenal white powder sand of Whitehaven Beach, went scuba diving at the Great Barrier Reef, rode a helicopter over the reef and the 12 Apostles, and I made lasting friends from all over the world.

inspirational travel storyFor my birthday, I went to the island of St. Lucia and zip-lined through the jungle, bathed in mud hot springs, rode horses on the beach and in the ocean, and made great friends with some of the locals.

With a close friend, I went to Tanzania. We went to the incredible island of Zanzibar and stayed in a traditional 1500s palace, we wandered the narrow rock streets of Stone Town, and snorkeled in the Indian Ocean. Afterwards we went on an unforgettable Serengeti safari.

After numerous other trips to the US East and West coasts and back to Maui again, it was time to return back to work. But I had made a commitment to myself to work less and experience more. I’ve never gone back to work full time since, and I don’t ever plan to.

inspirational travel storySince my husband’s passing, I have traveled to over 20 countries and fallen in love with all of them. There are people scattered across the globe whom I’m lucky to call friends. The world is my home, and each place has stolen a piece of my heart.

The lesson I learned from the loss of my husband was to live in the moment. He taught me that experiences and connections in life are what matter most.

We can’t predict the future, or even control much of it, but I don’t want to wait to follow my dreams and check things off my bucket list.

I hope you don’t either.

Ready to follow YOUR dreams and explore the world? Check out Intrepid’s range of small group tours in 100+ countries.

(All images c/o Jessica Carpenter. Read more about her adventures at myfeetwillleadme.com.)

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7 comments

Anonymous December 8, 2018 - 7:23 am

Thank you for your message Jessica. I went through a separation 3 year ago and that has inspired me to travel the world. I have two young boys 3 and 5 years and this time round we went to Canada, England and Wales. We are planning to travel every year as that is what they have enjoyed to. Meeting new people and culture and understanding the world is larger than our house and city.

It’s a great experience, I’ve loved to travel and I feel I have the freedom to do so now and share it with my two boys.

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Jill Cummins November 20, 2018 - 1:13 pm

My husband died 15 years ago, when I was 47 and our children were 14 and 17. After raising them I began to travel, sometimes with them, sometimes alone and sometimes with Intrepid. I love the feeling of getting off the plane in another country where everything is new and different. It’s easy to do if you just make that first reservation.

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Leah Boniface August 10, 2018 - 7:15 am

Jessica has expressed the feelings and experience of losing a spouse so very well. We were married 43 years having been together since our teens and travelled after we had our family. It was difficult for me to live a solo life. But I grit my teeth and set off on a train journey across Europe. This gave me the confidence to do another cross-continent train trip–the trans-Siberian. It is a long haul from New Zealand before even starting the next journey. Now at 72 years old I am planning to visit South America and Antarctica. Time is running out and I still have a lot to do!

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Renuka August 10, 2018 - 12:57 am

Beautiful! I’m amazed that true live exists in today’s time and age! Great to learn that you are living life to the fullest by traveling to different places.

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Nina Garces August 9, 2018 - 7:21 am

What an inspiration! I almost have similar experience like you! My husband passed away almost 3 years ago and I have 2 teenagers to take care of, however they are my best companions traveling with me since he passed away. Now I wanted to venture on traveling solo and I know it’ll be a completely different experience . Reading your life experiences and from different travel blogs give me the courage to pursue my dream of discovering the world. Thanks for those inspirations.

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maya August 3, 2018 - 12:16 am

You have shared a big message here Jessica, how to turn pain around doing what you have always enjoyed doing, coz the future is never guaranteed . Thank you, for sharing , humbled & grateful for your story <3

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Wayne Emde August 2, 2018 - 4:52 am

Jessica – your story certainly resonated with me. My wife Joan an I met at university, married in our final year (and lived in a funeral parlour), taught school, raised three children and two years after I retired, she suffered a massive arterial hemorrhage. Our travel plans, that we had put off while raising the kids ended. I was lost, but then I stumbled onto a job teaching photography on cruise ships and ran away to sea for a couple of years. My oldest son, who lives in Japan, recognized my need to do something, so we walked the 1200 pilgrimage path around Shikoku. When I told a friend, a retired priest, of the experience, he said he had dreamed for 35 years of walking the Camino in Spain. The following year we did that and became part of a documentary, “Walking the Camino – Six Ways to Santiago. Next we hike the Offa’s Dyke Path in Wales and I soloed on the Hadrian’s Wall Path, followed by the West Highland Way with another friend. Another trip, with Intrepid, took me to southern India. Other trips have taken me to Normandy for the 70th Anniversary of the D-Day invasion, to London, Berlin and Paris, on the rivers from Budapest to Amsterdam. I tell you this because, like you, I’ve realized that tomorrow is not bound by any promises we make today. Travel has been my way through grief, and it has opened many doors and connected me with many wonderful people. When I’m not travelling, I’m a freelance photographer/journalist in the Okanagan Valley, just north of you.

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