Going hiking alone is an exceptional opportunity: among the many experiences you will have on the trip, the beauty and power of nature, encounters with animals or other people, the most powerful experience you will have will be meeting with yourself.
Us humans are social creatures. We usually live in a group and are also inclined to engage in recreation as part of a group. Going as a group (and to this end, a couple is also a small group) has many advantages. The group protects us and provides us with comfortable and beloved company, helps us to split the load and the cost. The group quells our anxieties regarding natural hazards and encounters with wild animals or strangers.
But those same advantages that envelop us in a warm and comfortable protective shell are the same factors that prevent us from having more direct contact with the environment. A group creates a kind of bubble through which we move and experience our surroundings. It prevents us from depending on ourselves alone, from struggling more, facing our fears, facing the quiet that often brings up a feeling of social isolation and the internal voices that arise.
When walking alone in nature, we are without the noise that a group makes: the noise of chatter and the need to talk and listen, the noise of social dynamics – interpersonal relations and issues within the group that we (usually) bring from home, the noise of the walking rhythm and waiting for someone slower or catching up to someone faster, the noise of different desires which sometimes clash.
The absence of all that noise leaves a big space which to some people could feel very threatening, since it forces us to encounter the magnitude of our own thoughts and feelings and largely neutralizes our social identity and status as they are reflected to us in the eyes of our fellow group members. Leaving the comfort zone is always challenging, and all the more so on a solo trip in nature where we leave not only our social comfort zone but also the familiarity of civilization.
But that same space that opens up can be a big opportunity. Getting out of our comfort zone can challenge us to try harder, to connect us with our deep inner voice, a voice that needs the quiet and stimulating surroundings of nature in order to come out. It makes us polish our social skills, inviting us to have different kinds of encounters with different travelers than those we would meet when traveling as a group. We are less limited and moving alone we are more flexible, finding the rhythm that suits us. Walking alone forces us to have a more direct, more powerful encounter with nature. It teaches us more about ourselves, and improves our self confidence. It will also likely lead us to greater satisfaction and pride at the completion of the hike.
Does it suit everyone?
No, hiking alone would not suit everyone. There are people who simply need the company of others and would get terribly bored or unhappy alone.
And what about the rest?
There are those who would like to but are afraid, those who are curious to check if it might suit them, and those who simply do not have the friends or social circle to be available at any time for these types of trips so for them it is a question of whether to go alone or to go at all.
Tips for beginners:
- The most important rule concerns safety – you must always leave your itinerary and the route you will take with someone you trust before setting off, even if your hike is to take place in a relatively inhabited place, like some of the treks in Europe. The itinerary should include the time and precise points of the beginning and end of your hike.
- Women traveling alone: women are inherently more vulnerable than men to attacks by other people. In general, the vast majority of the people on long hiking trips in nature are nice but that does not mean that there could not be exceptions and as such, the most important rule is simply to exercise healthy, logical judgment and slight suspicion regarding anybody who appears to be a potential threat. That said, it is worth noting that for all the trips described on this website, none has had any particular warning or history suggesting particular risk to women.
- Restaurants: one primary concern of people who begin traveling alone is social anxiety and very often is the discomfort of eating in a restaurant alone, particularly in the evenings when eating is a social act. We picture ourselves in our heads and worry what others will think of us that has no real basis in reality – the people around us don’t really care. And even if they did, you do not need to care – after all, you are walking alone so it makes sense that you would likely eat alone too. I can promise you that after a couple of times it will seem completely natural.
- Contact with other travelers: most of us, even those of us hiking alone by choice, need some social interaction and sometimes it is hard for us to create it with strangers. So one way that always works is … to make it happen: the intention is simply to dare to approach a person or group in your vicinity during the hike itself and to start a conversation. A good time to make initial contact is during a short rest stop that hikers take at a lookout point or food break or in the evening at the hut with the people sitting beside you. Don’t forget that most hikers are social people and are happy to meet people with common interests. You will also see some of them again in the coming days since they are probably on the same trip as you. The simplest way, as banal as it sounds, is to simply ask them about the shared experiences that you have also had, such as how did the walking go today? How was the ascent? It’s so beautiful here, etc., and after you’ve broken the initial ice you will usually discover their curiosity about you – where have you come from, which route did you take… Many times deep friendships are made from meetings such as these, and will continue long after the hike.
In conclusion, it is worth daring to take a trip alone, the returns may be greater than another hike in nature, and for those who are threatened (but intrigued) by the prospect, you could start with a short trip of just a few days in order to minimize any potential difficulty.