When the new year rang in this past January, it sparked excitement for all of the 2019 adventures I would stumble upon. It also meant it was time to plan my second GOFAR trip.
Upon moving to New Hampshire and starting at NEMO, my passion for competitive swimming brought me back to the pool and I joined the Great Bay Masters swim team. My new teammates convinced me to compete with them at Masters Swimming Nationals which, this year, were held in Mesa, Arizona.
I thought, hey, if I’m in Mesa for a weekend, why not extend it into a week long road trip through Arizona after the meet?
After a white winter in New Hampshire, I was ready for some of these views.
I just had one problem. I couldn’t get any friends to meet me in Arizona to be my adventure partner.
As I finalized my trip, I begrudgingly realized I’d be on my own. I quickly nixed my original plan of solo backpacking for car camping. Gotta walk before we run, right? During the weeks leading up to my trip, I became more and more nervous for everything that could go wrong; all the “what ifs” were swirling in my head.
But, I did it ... and it was SUCH an awesome experience. And while having a companion or two on an adventure can be a ton of fun, solo adventuring is fun on its own level. Here’s why…
With colors like this, I could just sit here all day.
You Choose Your Path
REI recently published a great article by Jenni Gritters about why women are choosing solo travel more and more. It's worth a read for some more inspiration. When you’re on your own, decision making isn’t shared. It’s all up to you. Make the stops you want to make. Spend as much time as you like staring over the Glen Canyon Navajo Bridge into a wide canyon that holds the emerald green Colorado River.
I’d qualify myself as a slow hiker. I realized, as I walked through the Glen Canyon Recreation Area, that I don’t usually hike by myself. I now had a lot of time to think and reflect ... and I liked it. As I walked along the Colorado River, I stopped to sit on a rock, watching the river slide slowly by as various birds chirped and sang.
Often, we get caught up in conversations and fall into the mindset of reaching the summit for the best view. But sometimes the best views are along the way. That day, I didn’t even finish the trail loop I was on. I simply turned around when I felt ready to head back to some shade and explore elsewhere. If I had been with someone else, we probably would have been more inclined to finish the hike. That’s the beauty of being alone — you decide your path.
Mesmerizing, right? Views from the Navajo Bridge in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.
You have complete freedom to spend your trip exactly how and where you’d like. You’re forced to step up.
The colorful Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.
You Don’t Need to Impress Anyone
Have you ever worried you were slowing down your hiking companion while you huffed and sweat up a mountain? Or vice versa — wishing it was appropriate to leave your friend in the dust? When you’re by yourself you get to hike at your own pace ... and it’s wonderful. There is no one to care when you stop to take another picture of the desert fauna or duck behind a tree for a quick bathroom break. There’s no awkward silence after you and your partner run out of things to talk about. When adventuring by yourself, there's only the occasional “hello” from a passing hiker.
View from Bear Mountain in Coconino National Forest.
I’ll also admit, I only showered ONCE during my entire road trip from Mesa, up to Page, on to Sedona, and then back to Mesa — and it was the day before I was due to return home and that was more for the benefit of the people sitting next to me on the plane.
View from a rest spot on the way up Bear Mountain in Coconino National Forest.
When Things Go Wrong, Go With It
Horseshoe Bend between storms.
The first day of my trip was eventful and it felt like I had maybe made a mistake. The rental car I picked up from Enterprise was a spaceship compared to my little manual transmission car with manual locks and hand-crank windows. After some confusion and embarrassment, I did figure out how to drive the thing.
I had to make it to Page from Mesa, Arizona for a guided Antelope Canyon tour by 5 pm that day and figuring out this modern car wasn’t in the schedule. I pulled into a gas station 15 minutes from the tour location when I got the call that all tours for the afternoon had been cancelled due to severe thunderstorms. Bummer. I sat in the car, tired and disappointed, and changed my plans to accommodate the free time. Instead, I went to Horseshoe Bend — which was beautiful, and then set up camp just over the border into Utah, on the shores of Lake Powell.
Storms rolling through the first night of the trip on Lake Powell.
I didn’t get much sleep that night thanks to torrential downpours and thunderstorms that brought 30mph gusts for most of the night. I was a bit worried. But I stuck it out knowing I could always jump in the car if the weather turned worse and the lightning got too close. I survived and woke up to some beautiful views the next morning.
A storm-less morning was very much welcomed on the shores of Lake Powell.
You’re Never Really Alone, and Often Rudely Reminded of This
Unless you’re backpacking in the remote mountains miles from any town, you’re going to encounter other people. You’re never really alone. Sometimes you make friends with a sweet, retired roadtripping couple from Portland, OR in a campground. Other times, you’re banging on a camper door at 2 a.m. to ask some drunk campers to kindly turn down their loud music so that you can get some sleep. When you're in the wild, you meet some wild characters.
If something were to happen, don’t be afraid to ask for help. People are more than willing to help you out if you need it. Safety was really my biggest concern going into traveling alone. REI’s article did a really great job of pointing out the potential dangers of solo traveling and offered some relatively simple ways to stay safe.
Some of the best advice I found in the article was: “Get to know the ins and outs of a new city.” Or park. Or trail. Do the research before you go so you know what to expect. Get advice from a park ranger. There are a ton of resources out there — use them to your advantage to avoid dangerous situations.
Another important tip: Let someone know where you are. This can be hard if you’re in the wilderness with no service, but establishing check-ins with someone is really important when possible. I sent a daily check-in text to my mom with what trail I’d be hiking and what time I’d be back/when she could expect to hear from me again. This may seem like overkill in a well-populated area like a national park, but never hurts to use extra precaution when traveling by yourself — even just for mom’s peace of mind.
Why Your Next Trip Should Be Solo
I learned a lot about myself on this trip. I’m self-sufficient. I can motivate myself to hike alone without a companion to push me. I can be content in my own thoughts. I can travel alone. And it was awesome. I’m so glad I was able to have this experience and I’m definitely going to be planning another solo trip in the future. One of the women interviewed for the REI article said she likes solo travel because she doesn’t need to compromise. I totally agree — I get to choose where I want to go and how I want to do it. There’s something really special about experiencing new places by yourself.
So, how do you take your very first solo trip? Here are 5 tips:
1. Start Small
Plan a trip where you’d feel comfortable being out of your comfort zone a little. I wouldn’t recommend taking your first solo trip internationally where you don’t speak the language! Save that for solo trip 3 or 4!
2. Plan Your Trip Well
I like to find a whole bunch of hikes and activities in the areas I’ll be in. Then, once I’m there I can pick and choose what I’d like to do based on either a park ranger’s advice and other factors like weather. Having a range of options makes it easy for when a trail is closed or the weather is bad. You can switch things up and do something else on your list.
3. Communicate Where You’ll Be
This one is SUPER important if you’re traveling alone. Anything can go wrong; you don’t want to be on a trail in the middle of nowhere with no service and sprain your ankle. Having a support crew on stand-by back home is key to the success of your solo travels.
4. Don’t Be Afraid to ask for Help
People are usually more than willing to help if you're in trouble. I met some really great people toward the end of the trip. I had extra supplies and food that I didn’t have room to pack into my suitcase for the return flight home so I donated these items to a couple in a campground. It felt way better to gift my leftovers to other people rather than throw everything away!
5. Have Fun!The best thing about a solo trip is that it’s just you and you get to choose what you want to do. Do something that you probably wouldn’t do if you were with a friend. Take a tour — wake up early to sit and watch a sunrise. It’s your trip — make it a good one. One final quote from Gritters’ article — I couldn’t have said it better myself...
”You have complete freedom to spend your trip exactly how and where you’d like. You’re forced to step up, trust yourself and follow your instincts. You discover that you're capable of more than you ever thought and this can really boost your confidence.”