It doesn’t matter if you’re camping alone at a local park or trekking through Asia for three months, getting comfortable on your own is key to figuring out who you are and what makes you tick. Traveling by yourself can be daunting if you’ve never done it before, but the more you go beyond your comfort zone, the easier and more enjoyable it can become. Here is what I have learned over the years from mistakes and triumphs on the road…
1. You’ll start paying attention to the little things
It’s not that friends are a distraction, but they can certainly shift your focus. If you’re busy having a conversation during a hike, there are a lot of things you won’t pick up on. When I camped in Monument Valley last April, there were other tents around me, but I had zero interaction with my neighbors, other than a smile and a wave. Instead, I chose to stare at the night sky in silence, and a few hours later I found myself happy to hear the distant howl of coyotes. When I woke up in the morning to shoot sunrise, I made of note of how the cool, dry air felt when I inhaled it through my nose. When I watched the sun reveal itself from behind the massive rock formations, I felt just as much at home as I did alone. And alone isn’t a bad place to be, as long as it’s your choice. It doesn’t mean you’re sad or lonely, it means you’re doing something on your own. Independence isn’t something to be bummed about at all. It’s something that should be celebrated.
2. You’ll get better at making decisions
I’m still indecisive at times, but when it comes to picking a sunset spot or finding the least sketchy campsite on a forest road, I’m getting a lot better at committing. Sure, it’s nice to get someone else’s opinion, but so is having the satisfaction in knowing that you made the right call. If you screw up, it’s on you, but you’re also not being judged by others, which makes it a lot easier to move on and gain confidence with your next move. More often than not, you’ll find that there is no such thing as a wrong turn, as long as you’re prepared to veer slightly off the course you mapped out for yourself. I have made so many so-called “wrong” decisions over the years, but I’ve always learned something from these experiences and ultimately benefitted from them. On top of that, it’s also taught me to better recognize when a good thing comes along, and that I should do everything in my power to hang on to the moments and friendships that make me feel alive and connected.
3. Having your own stories is just as important as the ones you share with others.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for experiencing magic moments with other people. But I also see a great value in the things you can keep all to yourself, if you so choose. You can share it and tell the story your way, or have a beautiful secret that makes you smile when you need it.
4. You learn to give less of a f*ck what other people think
This also comes with age, but the more miles you put on your solo adventure-o-meter, the less of a f*ck you give about what others think. I have the kind of anxiety that freezes me dead in my tracks, but relying solely on myself has made me more confident, which has thus made me more comfortable around strangers. I used to live in LA and work in the soul-sucking world of television and online publishing, and from my clothes to the way I acted, I cared SO MUCH about what other people thought. Following a career 180 and spending more time outside, I found myself caring more about the bigger picture, and far less about superficial things. These days, confidence is going into a coffee shop with a granny panty line peeking through my pajama bottoms, smelling like the hot springs I just soaked in and ordering a latte, all while having a chipper conversation with the barista. It’s also caring more about letting my voice be heard than doing what’s popular, especially with regard to social media. As you may know, I’m very vocal when it comes to following LNT principles. I’m also well aware of the fact that calling out bad behavior among outdoor photographers makes me seem like a bitter Betty, but if people learn something from my rants, I believe I’m doing the right thing.
5. You figure out what your limits are.
Have you ever bitten off way more than you could chew? I have, and it was terrifying. While snowshoeing in Crater Lake National Park last December, I wandered off the main trail, and up a path I thought was safe, but wasn’t at all. I was after this view of Wizard Island, but I wasn’t quite sure where to get it. This seemed like the spot…until I saw the massive crack underneath my feet. It was then realized I was standing about 30 feet past where I should be, and I was understandably freaked out. But I also had a camera in my hand, so I snapped a few shots before scrambling back from the edge of the cornice that could have led me to a very cold and shitty death. It’s a great picture to remember the day that I learned two big lessons: Check the damn topo map and do not follow in the footsteps of previous idiots. If your heart is thump thump thumping away as you approach a questionable situation, you can choose to ignore it, but listen to it first. I stepped out of my comfort zone, out of my safety zone and I now know not to push it that far again.
Words and Images by Elisabeth Brentano, @elisabethontheroad.