Don’t get me wrong, I love adventuring with mates. Hanging out in the bush with your best pals makes for seriously good times. Whether you are walking, biking or running to your destination, whether its breakfast or time to set camp, banter is flying, jokes are being made, laughter is your constant companion. Friends have the ability to make every scenario hilarious. Take falling waist deep into Tasmanian mud. Alone – terrifying, upsetting, enough to bring you to tears. With a mate who is laughing their ass off at you, it might be the funniest moment of the trip, provided you make it out with both your boots still on.
Even when things are not going well, the terrain was way rougher than you expected, you are tired and starting to snap at each other, being in the trenches together brings you closer in a way no experience in the front country can. Usually once you have a break and something to eat, the resentment the trip attender had towards the trip planner fades, and you continue towards your goal, that end of day high five and cup of tea made even sweeter by the adversity you overcame, and your friendship irrevocably strengthened.
Although it may not have the same number of bonding experiences or laughs (unless you really like your own jokes) solo adventuring brings with it a myriad of benefits you can’t get any other way. Although the idea for many people seems daunting, I want to assure you that if you want to give it a go, you can do it. Having been on a handful of solo trips and thoroughly enjoying all of them, I hope to encourage you to give this a go and see for yourself.
To start with, solo adventuring generally means that you take the lead in planning the trip. If you are more of a trip attender than trip planner, already there are loads of things you will learn just by putting it all together. Sure, you can get advice or seek recommendations from other people, that’s probably a very sensible idea, but in the end, you have the final say on all the decisions made. Doing it on your own means no need to compromise, go wherever you want by whatever means is your favourite and spend as much or as little time as you desire. If it all seems a bit overwhelming at first, break down your trip into its separate elements and tackle each one at a time. For example, route, overnight spots, menu, resupply locations, gear list.
One of my favoured techniques is to work out what will be the most difficult logistical challenge and start the planning there. I was taught this by my younger sister, an outdoor education professional who spends her time guiding high school kids in Western Australia’s arid bushland. For her trips, water resupply is often the most challenging factor. She gets out her map of the area, takes a pen and locates all the water resupply points along the route. That forms some sort of structure she can start planning everything else around. Not all trips necessarily require this approach, but if you are overwhelmed with options, it can help you get the ball rolling. Alternatively, there are many great guidebooks and websites that can help shoulder some of the decision load for you.
The best part of solo adventuring is definitely when you finally make it out there. My last big solo trip began in a carpark in Chilliwack, a small town about 100km east of Vancouver. I stood there, months of planning behind me, filled with apprehension and I’ll admit, a bit of fear. I took a deep breath, sat on my loaded bike, and pushed off. With those first few pedal strokes, my trepidation melted away. I was filled with an immense sense of freedom and excitement for what lay ahead. Sure, there was an iota of fear still lurking somewhere deep inside, but it was quashed by a swelling sense of self belief. I had got this far, now all I had to do was ride my bike.
Just thinking about how I felt that day makes me want to pour myself into planning a new adventure. Stepping out alone, on a trip you engineered, is one of the greatest feelings you can have in the outdoors.
Traveling solo is extremely liberating. You can do whatever you want, whenever you want, you answer to no one but your own needs. I tend to break camp a bit later than most, spend time drying and meticulously packing my kit and don’t mind if it means I’m still moving until 7pm. Others like to be up with the sun and out of camp before most of us have even boiled our coffee water. They may prefer to get into camp early and relax, or to cover longer distances per day. You can stop for as many breaks as you like, schedule your day in a way that suits. No one is going to yell at you for stopping 15 times in 1km to check the map because you just aren’t confident this is quite the right way. And no one is going to complain when you put your head down and grind the final two hours into camp without a break because you just need to get there. And conversely, you don’t get mad at anyone else for their own trip idiosyncrasies. Traveling solo allows you to be uniquely selfish in a way that doesn’t occur in a lot of other aspects of life.
Spending the majority of your time alone in nature has other benefits too. Generally, you won’t be doing as much talking as you would on a group trip. As they say, when your mouth is shut, your ears are open. Sure, I like listening to music or an audiobook when out on the trail, but even so you spend a lot of time just listening to the sounds around you. I had this realisation on the same trip riding through Western Canada. I was having lunch in a clearing somewhere near the BC/Alberta border. As I sat munching on my avocado salt cheese bacon bit wrap, I noticed the sound of a squirrel dashing through the undergrowth. I heard the call of a bird high in the canopy. Leaves rustling gently in the wind. It felt like my hearing had suddenly become acutely sensitised, I noticed everything. The forest, which had felt comparatively dormant and quiet compared to the roaring of cars and machinery of town, was full of noisy life. I hadn’t had the opportunity to listen before. When adventuring with pals, we bring some of the sounds of town, the joyful chat dominates the sounds around us, we are busy thinking about the conversation or what to say next and aren’t able to tune in to nature as well as we can alone.
Of course, solo travel isn’t all inspirational communing with nature and selfish focus on our own whims. All adventures come with challenges, otherwise they would just be holidays. These obstacles can vary in severity, some are mild setbacks, others potentially trip ending and in the absolute worst case scenario, life threatening. Hopefully during the planning stage you anticipated the most likely problems and made back up plans. However, even the most meticulous planners can still be faced with surprise issues. And when you’re out there solo, there’s no one to turn to but yourself. And there is no motivation to aid problem solving like necessity. You will come up with a solution, simply because you have to.
I had several set backs on my Canadian trip of varying severity. I packed too much, my shoelace broke on the second day, I lost one of the screws holding on my bike rack, my seatpost kept sliding down as I rode, a mother grouse tried to attack me, the trail I was following had been logged, I got blisters on my heels from hike-a-biking, I lost my multi tool, my tubeless tyre wouldn’t reseat, I lost one of my camp shoes descending Elk Pass… Fortunately none were trip ending nor life threatening, many were planned for, but they all required some thinking to sort out. And I did manage to sort all of them out, both planned for and unplanned. This leads me to my final point about why solo adventures are so worthwhile.
Solo adventures show us that we are self reliant. On a solo trip, you will have to face your weaknesses and find ways to manage them. You will have problems, but you will solve them. Even if the solution is to pull your PLB and bail out – that is still a valid way of solving a problem. The self assurance from planning and executing a solo trip, no matter whether it is a weekend in the local national park or a multi week epic through a distant wilderness, is one of the most valuable lessons time outside can teach us. We are all capable of surviving outside by ourselves, provided we do the research, plan appropriately and consider our decisions when we are out there.
The sense of accomplishment when someone says ‘Woah, you did that all on your own?’ is worth every stressful planning day, scratched up leg or slightly terrifying river crossing.
If you would like to put together a solo trip but aren’t sure where to start, feel free to get in touch and I’ll do my best to guide you