While sitting around the campfire with strangers during an outdoor class, one woman said something that struck a chord with me.
She said simply, but with force, “It is not safe to travel alone.” Then she said speaking to a hypothetical person, “I’m sorry. Nothing bad has happened to you…yet. And it gives you a delusion.” She went on to say how she hated bloggers and influencers (like me, although she didn’t realize it) who encourage people to travel alone. I just listened to her and assumed something bad had happened to her. She was speaking from a place of pain, and I didn’t take it personally.
The thing is, she is right. There is a risk of traveling alone, and bad things do happen. But there is also a risk in driving my car 18 miles to and from work every day. And no one sees fit to tell me not to do that.
“Do you have a gun?” is probably the question I get the most when people see that I’m a single female traveling alone. And no, I don’t have a gun. Nor do I really want one. I foresee a gun just getting me into trouble, like Thelma and Louise.
But just because I don’t carry a gun doesn’t mean I just blindly go into risky behavior. Just like when you take a defensive driving course to help protect you from getting in a car accident, there are ways to be smart about traveling safely solo. One of the biggest problems with the well-meaning worry is that it assumes I’m not smart to know and plan according to the associated risks.
One way I recently took precautions while traveling solo, was to simply remove myself from a sketchy situation. I realize being able to leave a bad situation is a privilege. But I also am going to assume anyone who has chosen to go to a certain area for fun, has the option to leave.
On my last trip, I made a reservation for a county park campground. When I pulled up two men gave me the creeps.
When I got to the campground, I was out of water and super thirsty. I was beginning to think that big burger and fries I had eaten were a mistake when I didn’t have anything to drink. I found the spot marked with my name and got out to double-check. A man about 50ish said, “Heeeey!” I said hello and immediately said, “Where is the water?” He had a questionable look in his eye, but I thought maybe I was being judgmental. He told me where the water spigot was and double-checked his answer with his companion — who was dirty and clearly drunk.
I walked over to fill up my water with a bad feeling in my stomach, and it wasn’t from dehydration. As I walked back to my campsite I heard, “Miss?” I ignored it. “Miss?” I ignored it again. “Hey, Miss?” I looked up at the man. “Are you camping here?” he asked. I nodded. “Are you…alone?” he pushed. I simply looked at him and his companion.
I got a good look at the men and their vehicles and hightailed it out of there. It was a full campground, but there was no ranger or camp host. I didn’t plan on staying in a motel, but sometimes you have to follow your gut. And I did not feel comfortable staying at that campground that night.
I have camped by myself too many times to count, and this has been the only time I’ve been uncomfortable when alone. Only two other times before, I have found myself in a situation where I thought it could turn bad. And both of those times I was with a large group of people –– not alone.
And those men may have been harmless. Maybe they were impressed that I was a single woman camping alone. I didn’t want to stick around to find out.
I’m a firm believer in taking calculated risks. We take risks every day. I’m so clumsy, I could fall and break my ankle walking into my office. I did, in fact, break my leg simply taking an afternoon stroll in my neighborhood.
And I know what you’re going to say –– believe me I get it all the time. “But in the woods, there’s no one around to help you.” That’s where taking calculated risk comes into play. You need to know the risk and plan as best you can for the “in case.” I have a Garmin InReach. I can literally call for help anywhere in the world via satellite. Yes, it will take help longer to reach me, but that’s something you know and plan for. This is one reason I recently chose to get certified as a wilderness first responder.
Crazy people lurk around everywhere, but you are way more likely to encounter them on your weekly trip to the grocery store. I believe knowing the associated risk, how to mitigate that risk, and the steps to take in the event something does happen, are great steps to a safer solo trip.
I do need to point out that I am a white, straight female and can only speak from that perspective. It is not lost to me that these are a privilege, and with that privilege comes responsibility.
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