For most, the benefits of travelling solo far exceed the worry of something going wrong. In fact, solo tripping quickly becomes habit-forming and the primary danger is that you’ll snub all your friends and go out alone all the time. To quote legendary paddler Bill Mason from his film WaterWalker, “All of my life, people have been telling me that you should never travel alone... but it’s interesting—I’ve never been told that by anyone who’s ever done it.”
The benefits of solo travel start with the simple truth that a trip shared with others is more deliberate and arranged. In that respect, going alone is easier. You can eat what you want and when you want and travel wherever you want and for long as you like. Basically, you can do whatever you want. It’s also a time when your senses are more alive and you find yourself studying the complexities of nature more than ever before. Travelling solo is a life-altering experience. Before you go it alone, however, there are a few key points to consider.
Solo tripping in the winter is a lot more work. Hauling gear, pitching the tent, gathering wood, fetching water… it all takes double the time and energy, and you have limited daylight to do it in.
Make sure you are skilled in navigation, wilderness first-aid, weather forecasting and survival. Mistakes that occur within a group situation are often manageable. A simple blooper when solo can be deadly.
Most first-time solo trippers attempt a single night. That’s one of the biggest mistakes. At first, you’re going to be phobic of the unfamiliar and you’ll be spooked while sleeping in your tent at night. After day two or three, you’ll be so exhausted from not sleeping that you’ll start to relax a little. After day five, most of the phobias will go away. After all—you haven’t died yet. By day seven, you are at peace and the real hazard becomes the desire to stay out and live life as a hermit.
Pack lightly. Having no one to help share the load is a problem—so packing light should become an obsession.
Bring a good book. You’ll have a lot of spare time on your hands, especially if the weather turns foul. To keep your mind active and morale lifted, pack something to read. Some favourites for solo travellers are Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael, Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire, John Muir’s A Thousand Mile Walk to the Gulf and Kenneth Brown’s The Starship and the Canoe. My personal pick is Sigurd Olson’s The Lonely Land.
Tell someone back home your plans for each day and keep to those plans (or let someone know of any changes).
Buy, rent or borrow a satellite phone and/or SPOT Personal Locator Beacon. Also, wear a whistle at all times. If you don’t bring these emergency devices, you’re playing silly games and giving friends and family back home unnecessary anxiety.
Always consider the worst-case scenario and devise a contingency plan. You might have to pull the plug on your trip at any time. Don’t just pack a map of the trip route—add information about the surrounding area as well.
Keep a journal. You’ll have moments of deep thought out there. Take advantage of them and jot everything down. Great things have come out of others doing the same: Henry David Thoreau, Noah John Rondeau, Paul Gauguin...
Get a full physical prior to the trip. You don’t want any surprises out there. This isn’t the time to pass a kidney stone or suffer a heart attack. Your family doctor can also help you plan for the trip. My first-aid kit is top-notch thanks to advice from my family physician.
Never listen to people who criticize solo campers for being anti-social misanthropes. Some are, of course. But most are well-rounded, highly intelligent, heart-warming individuals who feel it a privilege to be able to break away from the norm every once in a while.