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The downside of solo backpacking

The downside of solo backpacking and camping – Dealing with loneliness while solo backpacking and camping is something I'm overcoming. Blog posts about solo travel, especially solo hiking, camping, and backpacking, pull me in like a magnet. I love reading about adventures people have on their own. One reason for this is I am a single person. And I also have an odd weekend. Meaning if I want to go backpacking or camping, I usually have to go solo. But after some reflection on a recent solo camping trip, I definitely found the downside of solo backpacking and camping.

People preach at us all the time not to worry when solo backpacking, camping, and hiking, that it is safer than we think. And it didn’t take me long to get over that aspect, but I struggle with loneliness on a multiple day hikes. Perhaps I am too extroverted, but I see loneliness as the downside of solo backpacking and camping.

The idea of solo travel excites me. But to understand that, you need to know a little bit of my back story. You see all through my 20s I mistakenly believed I had to get married to enjoy life. Without someone to “complete me,” I believe I was not whole. Now I know that to be bull.

In my 20s the idea of traveling alone was absurd. That gorgeous view is pointless without someone to share it with, right? Psh, why did I think this.

I traveled with a friend for a few years, but when that relationship went south my main hang-up was who would I travel with. I didn’t want to not go anywhere the next year.

But then God provided me with other friends that wanted to travel, and soon I was taking not one big trip a year, but two. The problem with this is people’s lives take different paths. Like driftwood on the ocean, I knew eventually the currents would move us apart. People change jobs and lose vacation time. They have children or marry.

The downside of solo backpacking and camping – Dealing with loneliness while solo backpacking and camping is something I'm overcoming.

I knew eventually I would have to get used to the idea of going places alone. And actually, the idea really excited me. I could spend as much time or as little time in a museum as I wanted. Or I could hike at my own pace.

I took my first 17-hour road trip as the only driver and found I could stay awake the whole time. I was always afraid I would fall asleep if I didn’t have anyone to talk to. Audio books rock.

I went backpacking alone and enjoyed the time to myself. At one time I did think an armadillo was a bear, but talked myself out of packing up and leaving.

But the downside of solo backpacking to me is that I have to talk myself into going every time. Now when it comes to the road trip solo travel, I love that. I have made two 17-hour road trips alone. And I loved that.

But when it comes to talking myself into going backpacking or camping alone, I try to come up with a million reason why I shouldn’t go.

It’s not that I’m afraid, but I don’t want to be lonely. And for some reason, this makes me sad, like I haven’t really learned to be by myself yet. However if I was traveling to somewhere far, like Colorado to backpack and camp, I don’t have those feelings. Perhaps the excitement of seeing new things overrides the loneliness.

I attempted to solo backpack to a waterfall last spring. (I failed, you can read about it here.) About the time I bailed on my hike, I heard voices. My thoughts were, “People! Someone to talk to.”

And I met a pretty cool group of guys. We had nice conversations as we hiked back to our vehicles.

This instance highlighted the downside of solo backpacking to me? I began to questioned whether I could do a solo thru-hike.

The downside of solo backpacking and camping – Dealing with loneliness while solo backpacking and camping is something I'm overcoming.

But even more recently, I was camping at a local state park. After I set up camp and had the rest of the evening to read, write, get some work done, and just have “me time”, I chucked all of that aside and texted a friend to see if he wanted to come for dinner.

I felt like a solo travel fraud. I should also tell you that this was my ex-boyfriend. Totally a solo travel fraud. It was nice to catch up with him and find out what he has been up the past few years, but I completely failed as a solo traveler.

And although I do really love hiking alone, the downside of solo backpacking and camping to me is fighting loneliness.

I can sit at home and read my book, write my blog posts, work on projects alone. I can drive across the county and sleep in my car with enthusiasm. Why can’t I drive an hour and camp at a state park alone?

Having my dog, Caddie, as a companion also helps. However she injured her knee and is aging, making long, hard backpacking trips impossible. The thought of going completely alone without her, doesn’t feel possible.

I tell myself it just takes some getting used to, that the more I do it, the more I will like it. And maybe it does. I know I had similar feelings when I first started day hiking alone.

And a bigger mystery to me is the thought of going with people I don’t know well is even worse. I hate small talk. My friend wanted me to join a hiking group that backpacks together. But I would rather go by myself.

Except I don’t. I say to myself, “I think I’d rather take my kayak out.” Or, “I rather just do a long day hike. Maybe that can strengthen Caddie’s knee.” Or, “I’ve got a lot of work to do, I don’t know if I need to be gone all weekend.” However if I was going with a friend, I wouldn’t even blink at that work.

I don’t know what the answer is. I’m terribly extraverted, but I crave those few relationship that are close to me. And like I said, they are not always available.

But like with solo day hiking, I did get used to it and found going solo to be relaxing and beneficial to my life. And I love traveling solo to far off places, so I know it’s not the long periods of time alone that puts me off.

A friend of mine recently went on her first solo hike. She asked for advice to quiet her safety concerns. I immediately responded with, “The more you do it, the more comfortable you feel. The more you realize how safe it is.”

So maybe dealing with loneliness on a multiple day hike is the same. The more I do it, the more comfortable I will be with it. I am actually already starting to find this to be true in that when I force myself out of my comfort zone to do, I do enjoy it.

The downside of solo backpacking and camping – Dealing with loneliness while solo backpacking and camping is something I'm overcoming.


7 thoughts on “The downside of solo backpacking”

  1. It takes courage to admit loneliness. It makes you vulnerable. We all want to be seen as having it all together. And it is not comfortable. But looking back on my life, I find the loneliest times have also been times of great growth. Going out of our comfort zone to a lonely place is a challenge but the rewards can be great.

  2. I agree with this. I’ve only done one solo backpacking trip, and I wasn’t scared of bears or murderers – but I was definitely lonely. I kept thinking “My husband would love this!” or “This would be a great spot for a girls weekend”. I did read an entire book and learned how to build a fire, so I’m definitely calling it a win, but it’s hard to be alone out there! Thanks for posting this and making me feel like I’m not alone (pun not intended!).

  3. I relate so hard to this – even though I am married and my husband and I frequently do activities together, we can’t do EVERYTHING together. I’ve had to go out and do things by myself and it’s tough. Like you, I yearn for solid relationships and people to share my experiences with, but those people are a little more rare. I hope that you find more people to share your good times with!

  4. This is a great post. I traveled alone a lot when I wrote for a news magazine, and I knew if I didn’t learn to enjoy things by myself, I’d never enjoy them at all. And it’s a lesson I’ve tried to teach my kids — don’t wait until all your friends are free. Just go do stuff.

  5. Hey, thanks for the post. I just got home from my first solo trip. It was supposed to be two days (Friday and Saturday night) and I called it a day early. As I sit back in my warm home with the affection of my cats, I’m trying to review and analyze the thought process and emotions that lead to packing up early. Admittedly, a late fall trip to a federal park on a small island 4 hours and two ferry trips away may have been a bit over ambitious for a first solo, but I had absolutely everything together. I had shelter, plenty of food, lots to hike and see, was dry and wasn’t cold. The weather and its potential to affect the ferry ride home, I think, played a part, despite how unlikely (nay impossible) it was. Ultimately, I think, it was just this level of sadness and loneliness you describe and to which I can so relate that was the impetus to quit. It won’t bring the lost day of the trip back, but I find your words comforting tonight, and feel the empathy is likely to carry me further to successfully enjoying my next solo trip.

    Wishing you the best,

    1. Awe, thank you! I’m so glad you found words comforting. And totally been there before where I’ve told myself “better play it safe,” but it’s really my loneliness. Even a day short, it sounds like you had a beautiful trip.

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