Sleep In The Dirt

Why Solo Adventures Make You a Better, Stronger Human

The Campfire Chronicles

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.

Comments (10)

10 responses

  1. Jaime Glasser

    Hi Elizabeth!
    So great to read this! I have been camping, backpacking and hiking solo since I was 17! I am a 59 year old woman and did not consider it very unusual until a friend said “well, do you know any other women at your age who do this?”. Truth be told, I have not run into too many even when I was 18! Thank you for this! I whole heartedly agree . Recently I took a friend camping who has never been and I was quite shocked to realize how much different the experience was in good ways and bad.
    I agree with all on your list and would add that my solo trips (even a good dayhike when I can not leave town overnight) have inspired me to 1( always examine my priorities 2) check in to my authentic self. Being quiet and in the balm of the wild I can not pretend to care about what I don’t or ignore when I am not true to my core ideals or goals. It also suddenly is so clear when I have strayed from my core values or gotten sucked in to spending a lot of energy on something for someone else that may not be such a good thing for me.
    As a woman, I agree that solo trips have inspired my own self reliance, test and define my limits, inspire my own stories and most importantly stop looking so much for outside validation or justification for what I need to love myself.
    I believe and again agree that age toohas brought a great perspective and patience but I do not think I would be as far along in my path towards positive change and an appreciation of life if not for the frequent and soul filling solo camping, hiking and traveling I have done.

    Thank you for prompting me to appreciate this with gratitude today!


  2. Juli

    I am nearly 64 and just finished an 8-day solo in the Eagle Cap Wilderness. It was an amazing adventure–hard hiking at elevation, not enough food, new aches–but also wildly inspirational. I journaled deeply, soaked in the beautiful surroundings, flyfished a bit. I have friends ask all the time, “but aren’t you afraid to go alone?” The answer is a resounding NO! I love solo hiking and travel, and like Jaime have been doing so since my early twenties. I can’t imagine it any other way!

  3. Sherry B

    60 yo this fall and I’m probably solo 90% of the time. My motto:
    Clay S Jenkinson
    The Character of MERIWETHER LEWIS

    I have rarely ever wished for someone to share my experience when solo, but I have often wished I was alone when I was with others.

  4. Joe Thomas

    Fantastic article – well done.

    Also… is more important for solo backpackers. In remote areas – I’d recommend carrying a SPOT or some other satellite detection device.

  5. Pete

    I solo more than I should, but less than I want.
    There are probably as many tangible reasons for solo hiking as there are against solo hiking. But it’s the intangibles that seem to intrigue me and keep me coming back for more.
    Like spooking a foraging bear on the shores of a remote pond or standing on the summit of a mountain in the middle of winter with no one else around.
    It also seems that when I hike alone, the mountains ask more of me and I gain more from them. I am totally immersed in every aspect of the experience from listening to the late afternoon symphony of a Wood Thrush to hearing snow land softly on my shoulder.
    Thirty-five years of mountain hiking have taught me more than any school I’ve ever attended or book I’ve ever read. I am very aware of what is necessary to reach a summit in any season and especially during the winter. I also realize that I am most vulnerable in the winter especially when I am alone. I know that even the slightest mistake, miscalculation or misjudgment can result in a life or death situation.
    Perhaps, that is why I take so much from solo hiking…because solo hiking demands so much from me.
    I am well past the “list” mentality and basically hike for health, body, soul “well-being” and the incomparable views!
    There are countless life lessons from immersion in the wilderness including one of the most instructive and valuable…how to accept defeat with dignity.
    Turning back is more often than not, the wisest choice and in doing so I not only validate my intelligence and commitment to myself and my family but I also gain a healthy respect and appreciation for the privilege of returning.
    I’m an experienced practitioner in the fundamental concept of failing forward. Simply stated, as long as I continue to try, I fail forward. That is, I accept the premise that even in temporary defeat, I continue to make positive growth and progress with each succeeding effort. I have wisely turned around enough times on solo hikes to fully appreciate the value of failing forward. Failure is not so much an unachieved goal as it is an unwillingness to try.
    Isn’t that what life offers us every day? A series of advances, holds and retreats that allows us to practice the strategies of knowing when to move forward, when to pause and when to accept a temporary loss in order to be able to try again.
    But I do have a few very close, trusted and valued hiking partners. It has taken years to find these kindred spirits. Their hiking pace is just right and they appreciate and have the same sense of wonder for everything from target lichen to Alpine azaleas to cloud formations…just like me! Those folks I would gladly share a solo hike with, anytime!

  6. Vicky

    I will be 64 this month and have been hiking solo since I started hiking. For one thing, there aren’t many people who hike where I live so if I were to wait for someone to go with I wouldn’t be hiking. The few times that I’ve been with other people made me realize how much I enjoy being alone. No worries about the other people and what they want. Totally have to depend on myself which makes me proud. Solo hiking is the best.

  7. Patrick

    Good stuff! I spent five days in the Adirondacks last week, some much needed alone time with my camera .
    Anxiety always tags along but I learned something fun about it when my therapist asked how I would handle an upcoming situation: “I can talk to anyone for five minutes…”
    A skill learned over many solo adventures!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *