Being a solo traveler, and even more so, a solo hiker or backpacker can be an intimidating endeavor to undertake. I cannot emphasize enough the need to be comfortable when partaking in anything serious such as hiking or backpacking in the wilderness by yourself. The same goes for traveling as it's just not worth it to feel overwhelmingly anxious to the extent that it outweighs the joy of traveling or trekking solo.
I, too, have gone through anxiety over being alone on my travels or in the mountains in my prior travels/treks in the past 15 years. Despite being fully prepared, sometimes, the unexpected happens and the best you can do is to stay calm. That way you can assess your situation more clearly and decide on the most appropriate action.
But before you even dive into going solo on an extended travel or trek, it's important to take baby steps to get you to a point where solo hiking/traveling falls within your comfort zone. Here are some of my tips based on my own personal experience with hiking/trekking/traveling solo that will help prepare you mentally for the solo experience:
1. Start small. If you are completely new to traveling or trekking solo, then start out with a day hike or day trip. Then, as you feel more comfortable with solitude and organizing the logistics of your hike or travel, you can build that up by adding more days, thereby transforming it into a weekend trip. There's no reason to go extremely extravagant on your first time hiking or traveling solo. Why would you want to spend so much money on a 4-week solo trip only to find out that you dread the experience of going alone? Avoid regrets and do a test run first. Start with a day or two, and then build up.
2. Study your itinerary. Sure, at some point you will want to be spontaneous. Book the flight and go. But to calm down that anxiety from going solo, it's recommended that you do plenty of research on your destination or the trail you wish to hike. You can never have enough information, especially if the place you're traveling to or hiking in is a first time destination. Even with a place you have been to before, I would still recommend doing plenty of research because oftentimes when we go with people, we tend not to pay attention to the logistics the way we normally would when it's only us that we have to rely upon for guidance.
3. Get advise and tips from others who have been to the trail or place you are eyeing. This is part of your research and it's crucial to take advantage of any resources that are out there for you to learn about the trail or place. For example, when I went to China, the resources for the trails in that country were hard to find because it was either the trails were still unknown to the western world or the blogs or information were written in Mandarin. However, still, I managed to find a few websites which turned out to be heaven sent as they helped significantly in planning my trip. An equally better resource is, of course, an actual consultation with someone who had been to the trail or place of your choice. The advise given is usually invaluable as you won't find such information online or anywhere else. Note that most people are more than happy to share their travel wisdom and experiences so there's no reason to be shy.
4. Learn to love yourself. Somewhere along the way on your trek, travel or both, you will get frustrated with yourself. You will make mistakes here and there. Before you venture out on your own, it is important to have a good grasp of self-love. By that, I mean, learn to be easy on yourself. Be forgiving of your mistakes and learn to go with the flow of life. Understand that mistakes are inevitable including yours, and that's okay. In addition, loving yourself also means taking care of you. While on the trail or the road, eating healthy and maintaining a workout routine are critical. No one is there to care for you when you're ill or injured except you. And, trust me, being ill or injured alone is not something you'd want, so take preventive measures to avoid that scenario at all cost. Along the same lines, you also have to learn to be your greatest motivator. Be the cheerleader for yourself. When you get lost on the trail or in a remote town, positive thinking and encouragement can make a difference. Finally, meditate. Now that you are on your own with no one to take away your time and attention, focus on you - the inner part of yourself. Take a few minutes each day to just close your eyes and clear your mind. Meditation is the exercise for your brain's health. It teaches you mindfulness which exponentially increases the level of enjoyment from your experiences. Meditation also teaches you how to be in control of your emotions, especially during stressful times. And, like I said above, the best thing you can do in a bad situation is to stay calm.
5. Provide your itinerary to friends or family. In the event of an emergency, it is crucial that someone is privy to your itinerary. You owe it to yourself to have this extra layer of security. Sure, it is enlightening and somewhat romantic to abandon civilization and go off on your own but that doesn't mean you should be foolish and not tell at least one trustworthy person about your whereabouts. If your travel or trek is for a long period of time, make sure to maintain contact with someone regarding your plans. In this day and age, with the height of social media, there's really no excuse not to maintain contact with family/friends. If you are venturing into a remote area with no connection whatsoever, the least you can do is provide your loved one the details of your itinerary and the specific date as to when they can expect to hear from you again. This gives them peace of mind, and that in turn, makes you feel at peace too. (A more expensive alternative would be the use of a satellite GPS/locator which will allow you to maintain connection with friends/family even in remote areas).
6. Learn to smile and be friendly. This should really be a given even if you're traveling with others. But in the world of solo trekking or traveling, a friendly demeanor can truly save you at times. A smile can easily attract the right stranger to help you with directions or a fellow hiker who can become your trail friend for days. At the same time, be mindful of the level of friendliness that you are exhibiting, especially if you are a female who finds herself interacting with a male. An appropriate level of friendliness is the key. Practice smiling and chatting with strangers in your daily life and you'll soon make this a habit that will carry over to your solo adventure with ease.
7. Practice fine tuning your intuition. Expect chats and interactions with strangers when you venture on your own. It's part of the adventure, and in most instances, it's really the highlight. Oftentimes, the people you strike a conversation with in far away places or in the middle of nowhere are exactly the ones that become your long time friends. At the same time, learn to pay attention to your intuition. You have it for a reason. Your intuition is your imaginary friend - it knows better than you at times even though the actual circumstances in front of you may not clearly support the sense of danger that your intuition is warning you about. So, listen to that intuition the same way you listen to your body when you feel pain. It is nagging you for a reason.
8. Disregard all the above preparation and go for it (assuming you keep an open mind). Having said all the above tips, you can still opt to disregard them all and just take the leap into the abyss of solo traveling/trekking. By doing so, you will learn at a faster rate all the above. It’s a crash course that can potentially maximize the lessons learned in a little bit harder way. As long as you are aware of the risks, then, sure, why not just go for it all at once?
So, there you have it. This list is just a start. Preparing your mind for that solo adventure is as important, if not more, as the things you put in your backpack. So, take the time to prep!
Do you have tips to add? Share them in the comment section below.
Brown Gal Trekker (BGT) is a nomad at heart who loves mountains and survives the wilderness to blog about it. Check out more trekking advise & stories via the blog, Brown Gal Trekker (www.browngaltrekker.com). BGT has recently launched a social enterprise, Peak Explorations, LLC, and is a co-founder of the non-profit organization, Trails Without Borders, to promote local tourism in remote mountain regions globally. BGT aims to serve the mission of creating opportunities for local trek operators to market their tours in the U.S. in order to support local tourism in developing countries. After over a decade of practicing law in Washington, DC, BGT intends to shift her focus towards promoting sustainable tourism in mountain regions where hiking and climbing are prominent activities on a full-time basis.
Interested in trekking with other solo travelers? Visit www.peakexplorations.com for budget-friendly treks worldwide. For information on the non-profit, Trails Without Borders (TWB), which works on various social projects in mountain and rural regions globally to promote trail building, sustainable tourism, education and environmental conservation, please visit www.trailswithoutborders.org.