Dealing With Travel Memories that Break Your Heart

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The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, April 2015

A year ago this weekend, I was in Montreal with my husband having an absolutely fabulous romantic four-day getaway.  Montreal is where we got engaged five years ago, on a lovely downtown rooftop.  Since that weekend, we’d returned to our favorite getaway city few times to relive those wonderful memories.  Everything always seems magical in Montreal.


During our weekend, walked through Old Montreal, strolled downtown in the snow, smoked Cubans and sipped White Russians at our favorite hidden cigar bar.  He read in cafes. I wandered through a fantastic exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts. We guzzled sangria and chomped on tough steak and sampled cherry beers.  We were the best version of ourselves, and it was magical.


When we got back to Philadelphia, and life returned to normal, something that we’d been working hard to avoid became unavoidable.  By the following weekend, we were separated.

A year later, I’m working through all of this the best that I can, making the decisions that are right for me, and building the life that I want for myself.  I’m making some awesome progress.  I’m really glad that right before everything fell apart, we had a great weekend, a final fling, to be our best selves together. I cherish that weekend we had together, even if looking at the pictures can hurt.

I’m really glad that right before everything fell apart, we had a great weekend, a final fling, to be our best selves together. I cherish that weekend we had together, even if looking at the pictures can hurt.


I look back on some of my happiest travel memories, and many of them are with my ex-husband, or with other lovers or boyfriends, and it’s hard. One of the benefits of other kinds of travel is that the memories pose very little risk of breaking your heart.

Even if you can close the door on a relationship, or make yourself forget the pain associated with loss, it’s very hard in today’s digital world to escape the images and the posts that surround events like these.  If you love documenting your life whether on Facebook, Instagram, a blog, even just saving text messages, all of these can turn on you if the person you’re with exits your life.  There is no hiding from your past anymore, and something that makes you smile today does have the potential to break your heart tomorrow.


A friend from college posted recently on Facebook that the Memories function on his page keep showing him pictures with his best friend who passed away, and that this was horribly sad and he didn’t know how to get it to stop. My own page offers up many pictures from my relationship, especially wedding-related photos.  I always request to see no memories, but they pop up unexpectedly.

Since I comb through old photos constantly, looking for forgotten gems for my beloved Instagram feed, I am always floored when a picture that held no emotional power over me previously is able to bring me to tears.  I am looking forward to when I am travelling full time and have to lean less on my photo archives so that I am not constantly thinking about all of the tradeoffs and hard choices whenever I see a happy snapshot of a life I don’t lead anymore.


And what to do with the cities and places themselves?  Even if I could erase everything ala Eternal Sunshine, I wouldn’t want to. But…I don’t know when I’ll be able to return to Montreal or Amsterdam or Copenhagen or Brussels…these cities that are so intricately linked to my past relationships that I don’t know if my brain comprehends that they exist in a world without it.  I don’t know how to face places that are so haunted to me.

For now, I’m kind of wallowing.  When something catches me off guard, I let it. I try to really feel the sadness that’s associated with it. A year doesn’t seem like too long to mourn a past life, but I would like to move on eventually. During this time, I’ve done a lot of solo travel which is always therapeutic after a divorce or breakup. There are many writers who’ve covered this topic (check out TravellettesHow to Start Travelling after a Breakup and this post by World of Wanderlust for some great tips). General travel is different than going back to these specific places, though. One day, I’d like to go back to Montreal and enjoy everything I love about that magical place, without worrying that it’s going to break me.

I hope that I’ll know when I’m ready…and I think that I will.  But I’m not there yet.



Is there something that you’ve been able to do to overcome travel memory heartache or helped you return to a place you love after associating it with loss?  If you’re comfortable sharing, please do!


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