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:
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.
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.
Get advice 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 advice 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
The easiest way to get to Ladakh is by flying from Delhi to Leh (the biggest town in Ladakh). It’s a two day drive from either Srinagar or Manali and you will pass over some of the world’s highest motorable passes. Be prepared for road closures, altitude sickness, motion sickness, and at least a few adrenaline filled moments.
Carley Fairbrother, British Columbia Canada.
Carley is a self-declared nature nerd from British Columbia, Canada. She spent seven years as a backcountry park ranger in northern BC before becoming an elementary school teacher. She enjoys hiking, canoeing, cycling, climbing, wild foraging, snowshoeing, skiing and most things outdoors. She also runs a YouTube channel dedicated to teaching people about nature and inspiring them to get outside. She travelled Ladakh in the summer of 2017 with her husband, Clay.
Best time to visit:
Peak season in Ladakh is mid-June to August. The weather is warm and all of the roads are open. However, September and early October are less crowded, and monsoon season is over, making the roads safer and rivers on trekking routes easier to cross.
Climate/weather/temperature & appropriate dress
Ladakh, nestled in the rain shadow of the Himalayas, is classified as a cold desert. Winter temperatures average well below freezing. In Leh, summer temperatures can get into the high 30s (celsius) during the day, but nights are still chilly, and most treks will take you into higher elevations where temperatures are cooler. There isn’t much shade n Ladakh, so when the sun is shining, it is relentless. Expect a windchill of -20° celsius if you are going over 6000m.
Bring warm clothes, especially if you are trekking or climbing. Don’t forget a rain coat. June-September is monsoon season throughout India, even in the desert.
Leave your shorts and tank tops at home. While Ladakh can get hot, it’s important to note that local women, even the ones who wear western clothes, will rarely show their arms or legs. While nothing horrible is likely come from you wearing shorts, covering your shoulders and legs shows respect for the local culture. Plus you may save yourself a nasty sunburn. Bring light breathable pants and t-shirts.
Main attractions/Must dos
Just being surrounded by them may be enough, but here are a number of “trekking peaks” over 6000m. These peaks are advertised as non-technical, but usually require ice axe, crampons’, and rope, so unless you are an experienced mountaineer, they are best attempted with a guide. At 6,153 m, Stok Kangri is by far the most popular, but it is far from easy. It requires at least three days (usually 4-5) of trekking, a midnight start on summit day, a glacier crossing, some nerves of steel, and plenty of acclimatization.
If clinging to the edge of a mountain with an ice axe doesn’t appeal to you, there are many milder treks. The Markha Valley trek is a popular 4-10 day trek. It is one of the few treks in Ladakh that offer homestays the whole way, so there is no need to carry a tent or hire ponies. There is also lots of information available on the route and is easy to do without a guide.
Many people travel to Ladakh solely for the culture and history. Ladakh is sometimes referred to as “Little Tibet,” and is culturally and geographically similar to Tibet. There are plenty of ancient monasteries and palaces to explore.
Key Highlights for me
Sunrises at 6000 m
We climbed two mountains over 6000 m while in Ladakh, Stok Kangri and Mentok Kangri Both required midnight starts, so dawn hit as we were nearing the top. They were both extremely challenging, exhausting, and a little terrifying, especially when trying to navigate at night. Once the sun came up, we got our second wind and up we went.
Our trek through Changtang
Chantang is part of the Tibetan Plateau and home to the nomadic Changpa people. We spent seven days crossing it do get to the base of Mentok Kangri, our first climb. Among the highlights were the settlements of Changpa nomads, spotting the numerous kiang (wild asses), camping while surrounded by grazing yaks, ponies, donkeys, and goats.
I loved exploring the many old, crumbling buildings. My favourite was the ruins at the top of the hill above Shey Palace.
Things that make this experience different or unique
This is easily at the top of the list. No matter where you are in Ladakh, you are surrounded by breathtaking views. Be it giant mountains, windswept plateaus, or lush green valleys, Ladakh is the perfect blend of vibrancy and sparseness.
I found their honesty and kindness refreshing after the hustle and bustle of Delhi. I especially enjoyed the Changpa Nomads, with their genuine smiles and tendency to sing while working.
From the domesticated yaks and donkeys to the wild asses and blue sheep, I loved all the animals I saw in Ladakh. We didn’t see one, but there was always the chance of seeing a snow leopard.
Ladakh is home to most of the highest motorable passes in the world. They navigate steep mountainsides on narrow, bumpy tracks. They are often closed from landslides, and motorists often have to cross creeks, gullies, and washouts. By then end of the trip, I was sick of them, but they sure did get the heart pumping.
Things visitors should be aware of
Leh is at 3,500 metres, which is high enough to get altitude sickness. To travel most places, you will have to travel even higher. Be aware of the symptoms and give yourself lots of time to acclimatize. Consider bringing diamox to help you acclimatize.
High altitude can alter your stomach flora, which, combined with India’s reputation for water and food borne pathogens, can be a nasty combination. Be wary of any raw foods that might have come in contact with water, including fresh juices and ice. Bottled water is safe, but I’d recommend bringing a pump and treating your own water, as Ladakh has trouble dealing with all the empty bottles. Consult a travel doctor about antibiotics for traveler’s diarrhea before you go.
Don’t count on internet access. In fact, count on not having internet. It can be down for months at a time.
Always have lots of cash stashed away somewhere. There are plenty of ATMs in Ladakh, but most of them don’t work. Look for ATMs with lineups.
If you aren’t on a time crunch, don’t book a tour until you get there. You can probably get a better price if you plan from Leh, and you’ll have some flexibility if a good opportunity comes up.
While here you should:
Trekking should be at the top of your list. It’s the best way to meet locals, spot wildlife, and get a feel for Ladakh.
Climb a mountain
If you can, don’t miss out on your chance to climb a Himalayan Peak.
Climb to the roof of Namgyal Tsemo Fort to watch the sunset over Leh.
Visit Thiksey Monastery, a short drive from Leh. If you go early in the morning, you can listen to the monks chanting and avoid the crowds. The 15 m statue of Maitrya Buddha is the biggest indoor one in Ladakh. Its intricate details are pretty.
Ride the bactrian (two-humped) camels in Nubra Valley. This ended up being more of a tourist trap than I’d hoped, but it was still completely worth it.
Ladakh is a good deal more expensive than the rest of India. Expect to pay 30-50% more for food and accommodation than in the rest of India. You can probably get good deals on the shoulder seasons (spring and fall).
Transportation is probably the biggest expense. Public transport isn’t as easy as the rest of India, so most tourists opt for taxis, which are unionized and have fixed rates. This means less stress haggling, but higher fares. Try to make friends at your hotel and share rides or keep your eye out on bulletin boards outside the many, many tour agencies for bulletins of people wanting to share taxis. Expect to pay around $100 -180 USD a day for a taxi and driver. Flights to and from Delhi cost around $100-300 USD.
A fully supported trip with a certified mountaineering guide, ponies, and a cook will cost around $50-100 per person per day, depending on how many people are in your group, your haggling skills, permit fees, and transportation costs. Be wary of price that are too good. You will pay less if you have more people on your trip. Just a mountaineering guide is around $25 a day. Trekking guides cost considerably less. Equipment rentals will cost around $12 a day per item. Trekking peaks over 6000 m require permits, which can range from $50 to $300 or more. Many places in Ladakh require inner line permits, but don’t panic – they are easy to get and cost a few dollars a day.
Medical – There is a hospital in Leh. Most larger towns have a small medical centre, and there are roadside medical tents at some villages and army checkpoints.
Transportation– The airport in Leh has scheduled flights to Delhi, Jammu, Chandigarh, Srinigar, and Mumbai. Taxis and public buses are easy to find and both have central stands near town. There are many motorcycle and bicycle rental shops.
Banks/ATMs – There are several banks on the Main Bazaar. The State Bank of India has the most reliable ATMs.
Internet – WiFi is available at most hotels and tourist restaurants. An internet cafe on Main Bazaar has extremely slow computers. Unfortunately, Ladakh experiences frequent region-wide outages.
Phone – Phoning home can be tricky. We needed to call home, and ended up using local’s cell phone because the internet phones were down. Satellite phones are available in some villages for emergencies. Cell service is surprisingly good along the roads, but SIM cards are hard for foreigners to get because of the proximity to the borders.
Tour Operators – There are hundreds of tour operators in Ladakh offering car tours, cycling, motorbike tours/rentals, cultural tours, bird/wildlife watching, meditation and yoga, white-water rafting, climbing, and paint balling (yes, paint balling).
Restaurants – Most tourist restaurants have similar menus with a variety of Ladakhi, Indian, Chinese, Israeli, and Western food. Take a short walk away from the tourist areas for cheap Indian food.
Shopping – Leh is absolutely packed with shops selling pashmina shawls, made from the wool of the adorable pashmina goat of the Changtang Plateau. There are also plenty of handicraft and souvenir stores selling hippie clothes, wool hats, and knickknacks imported from Nepal.
If coming here, don’t forget to bring:
A good first aid kit. There is a hospital in Leh anda few first aid posts in Ladakh, but if you hurt yourself trekking, you are on your own. Make sure you bring antibiotics for stomach problems and consider bringing diamox for altitude, though it’s definitely better to acclimatize naturally.
Good travel insurance. Check the fine print. Most travel insurance companies will exclude mountaineering injuries, and you can bet they’ll count any ascents of Ladhaki peaks as mountaineering. Also check if they will cover mountain evacuation and any other dangerous activities you plan on doing.
If it’s in your budget, a SPOT or DeLorme inReach will give some peace of mind to your family. These devices allow you to send messages and your location via satellite.
A Diva Cup, or a similar menstrual cup. Tampons and sanitary napkins can’t go into the toilets, and really shouldn’t go into the composting toilets on trekking routes. If you can’t stomach the idea of a reusable cup, bring your own tampons (they are hard to find in Ladakh) and put them in a trash bin or burn them.
A hat, sunscreen, sunglasses. Hats drive me nuts, but I learned the hard way and nearly fried my nose off on our first trek. After that, I got a hat.
Reviewer’s rating out of 10
I give it a 9. I loved the mountains, and the unique culture, but after six weeks, I really missed the forests and lush vegetation I’m used to in Canada.
My first backpacking trip turned out to be an utter disaster. The trip consisted of a backpacking, snow-shoeing trip up the mountaineering route at Mount Whitney in California. I labeled myself as a failure, and the weak link in the party of 3 whom attempted the trip. Granted it was my first time backpacking and had not been prepared for the struggles that were endured.
My trip started to unravel when I realized I had inadvertently grabbed the wrong sleeping bag for the November camping trip. I remember laying down to sleep and my shivering turned into jaw shattering convulsions of my body attempting not to freeze. It was the only time in my life I was afraid to fall asleep, because I did not think I would not wake up — I wanted to appear tough, so I stayed silent.
I said many prayers the next morning when after an emergency blanket, hand warmers on arteries, and my down jacket literally saving my life I decided to always be properly prepared for my subsequent camping trips.
My next camping trip was also to Yosemite National Park, but it was a trip in September and we were packing in our tubes to float on a lake. My roommates at the time & I paired off to help ensure we didn’t forget anything.
My sense of accomplishment came from my list of things I would need. My camping skills were significantly more adept for summer and fall camping then they were for winter camping to be sure. I was paired with my roommate who I lovingly call Jelly Bean, she had far less equipment than I, so I volunteered to gather the needed supplies and food.
With our packs set and the car loaded, we headed southwest from Las Vegas Nevada to our destination. We arrived around 11 am and immediately set out on the trail. I am a slow hiker & had to be kind to myself during the hike that it was only my second time doing a backpacking trip, so it is ok that I was the slow one in the group. I find that if I use my hiking poles it becomes significantly easier for me, due to the fact that I have a constant fire like pain in my feet from Plantar Fasciitis. If I had one piece of advice to readers here, it is to be kind to yourself during these times — you are doing more than 3/4 of those sitting at home on the couch watching Netflix all weekend. If it takes you longer to climb, hike or walk….who cares…..you are moving and not letting self-doubt and fear stop you from exploring your own boundaries.
My companions were kind and offered frequent stops for me, and encouraged nourishment along the way to help Jelly Bean and myself keep going.
When we finally arrived at our camping location, I was so excited to pull out my two-man tent and use it in the REAL WILDERNESS. I pulled out the tent sack, and after unrolling it realized with a sinking feeling that the only thing contained within was the fly & the little bit of sand from the prior trip.
I panicked……what was I going to tell Jelly Bean……..I just stood there trying to conjure the actual tent with my mind. Jelly Bean came over and asked, “What is wrong Janiel?” …….I replied softly, “Uhhhhh, we have a problem”.
I’m so glad Jelly Bean is a good sport because she just laughed at me and said, “Of course you forget the tent! Guess we are sleeping with the bugs tonight”. I promised her that we would have adequate shelter from the cold, and there are plenty of people who camp with much less than what we had. A lean-to was decided upon, and the comedy continued. We had the fly, a tarp, and there was a large fallen tree and plenty of rocks.
I tied the strings on the fly around a few rocks, threw them over the fallen tree and Jelly Bean did the same for the other side, but just tacked the strings down to a pile of rocks at the other end to anchor it.
There were tree limbs everywhere so we stacked rocks and bark on the side of the lean two where the breeze was coming in & some branches on the other side with pine needles as our door. Sleeping bags were inserted and we still had enough daylight to fix our dinner.
Our other roommates who were John Muir Trail Veterans & highly versed in camping supplies watched us build this with entertainment value to rival that of HBO. After all was said and done, Jelly Bean and I were quite proud of our Lean-to and when put to the test it worked exceptionally well.
So, if you ever find yourself lacking supplies in the wilderness, just be creative, mother nature always provides a way. Despite my forgetfulness, Jelly Bean and I now have a memorable story and a certain pride for surviving in Yosemite with our Lean-to (#wildernessbeasts).
Happy Travels, Happy Tales and see you on the flip side! Big thanks to Camping for Women for allowing me to be a part of this amazing group and hope to share more adventures with you in the future.