“It’s good to walk with people
That way you can always stop and listen at the right time.”
–Byrd Baylor, The Other Way To Listen
What does this mean to you? When were you last alone? Why does being alone conjure fear for most of us humans?
I have somehow climbed over that hurdle of fear of being alone, and I’d like to share some thoughts on how I did that. I am not immune from being lonely or a little fearful when I’m flying solo, but I’ve grown to need time by myself in wild spaces. Being alone is one of the most important things I do in my life. A little fear & loneliness is good for the soul! Beyond fear and loneliness there is curiosity, happiness, and the magic of knowing I get along with myself.
Face & embrace your fear
So how did I get to a place where I actually WANT to be alone? I went outside on my own a lot. I was scared at first. I just felt the worry. My world did not crumble. My early solo backpacking trips were full of fear, anxiety, and hardly eating anything (my appetite vanishes when I’m feeling lonely and sad). I did not die of a broken heart or sadness. It hurts to feel lonely. It’s uncomfortable to be scared. Breath deeply, reason with yourself, and let yourself feel uncomfortable. It sucks, but there is no easy sneak around to the other side. For me, every solo trip starts with a bit of emotional pain, but it fades after a few days, and being lonely helps me re-focus on what I care about. If I’m missing something or someone, I can see what is important to me at that moment of my life.
Plan fun activities
I forced myself to do things I knew I liked (climb peaks, watch bugs, cover ground, identify wildflowers, read), and before I knew it, I’d be lost in the moment, enjoying my trip. It may feel a bit funny to plan activities for yourself, but a bit of structure to lean on can help you through a lonely patch.
Bite off what you can chew
I started with road trips and worked my way to backpacking. My early trips were chosen to match my skill set. I would go someplace I knew, climb a mountain well within my comfort zone, or go on a road trip where I could visit friends or family every few days. Once I realized what I could handle, I could branch out to longer, more advanced trips, like the Grand Enchantment Trail.
Loneliness is relative
I realized that sometimes when I am with other people I can feel more alone than when I’m actually solo. I’d much rather be alone than ignored or feel self conscious. When I’m by myself, my social anxiety can shut down, rest. I don’t have to think about the impression I’m making, if I’m offending anyone, or embarrassing myself. Most of the time these anxieties are subconscious, and I really only noticed how they effected me when I started spending time alone. Knowing I will be fine on my own has eased my fear when moving on from relationships & jobs, and made it easier to launch myself into new adventures. Realizing that you can handle being alone, and sometimes are better off on your own, can be a powerful & empowering tool.
We are all alone
Even when you are traveling with other people, you are still in charge of your own body. Mistakes can happen. You can still die or break your leg while you are traveling with other people. A travel companion will not be able to stop you from slipping on a snow field or tripping over a rock. That person can tell other people where you fell, or help you hobble back to the trailhead. A witness or rescue partner can be nice to have, and sharing outdoor experiences is wonderful, too. Going on trips with people can be great, I’m not trying to say you should never go for a group adventure. I just want to debunk the myth that traveling solo is significantly more dangerous than traveling in a group.
I am monumentally more cautious when I am on a solo trip. I know my life is in my own hands when I’m alone, and I make conservative choices. I scramble over rocks with care, I take time to find less sketchy river crossings, I wait for snow fields to warm up & kick deep, sure steps. I camp in hidden places, I choose my interactions with other people wisely, I am alert, curious, aware of the world around me. When I travel with others I have to consciously remind myself not to get lulled into a false sense of security.
I reached a point where I was tired of waiting for someone else to want to do the same thing I wanted to do, and realized I could just go on my own. This is a big deal. You are free to go on whatever trip you dream up if you have the courage to go by yourself. Pick something that is in your skill set, or start learning & training ahead of time. Watch out for getting stuck in the training/prep loop & let yourself get out the door sooner than later. Most adventures will train you & teach you as you go, so there is no need to be perfect before you let yourself out the door. If you want help getting ready for your first solo trip, let me know!
Have you always wanted to go to Thailand? Book the ticket and go already! Want to hike the PCT? Go do it! Do you dream of seeing golden aspen leaves in the Eastern Sierra or the Appalachians this fall? Hop in the car and make it happen. Maybe someone will want to come, but don’t wait around for them to commit. Just plan it & go. For yourself. Because you want to.