Being a solo traveller, 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 travelling as it’s just not worth it to feel overwhelmingly anxious to the extent that it outweighs the joy of travelling or trekking solo. The key is being able to mentally prepare.
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 journey or trek, it’s important to take baby steps to get you to a point where solo hiking/travelling falls within your comfort zone. Here are some of my tips based on my own personal experience with hiking/trekking/travelling solo that will help prepare you mentally for the solo experience:
If you are completely new to travelling 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 travelling 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. This is a key exercise to mentally prepare yourself well ahead of the trip.
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 travelling 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 process to mentally prepare. 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 travelling with others. But in the world of solo trekking or travelling, 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 within 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. An important aspect of being able to properly mentally prepare yourself.
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 travelling/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!