Solo Hiking Around the World

Spread the love

Society tells women to travel in groups, especially when hiking, but I can assure you that hiking alone can be more rewarding and empowering than going in groups. Admittedly, there are added risks and one does need to take more care, but isn’t it dangerous getting out of bed each morning? Yes, when one is alone there’s no one to wrap your sleeping bag in the morning; there’s no one holding your hand and warning you not to slip; there’s no one to share your miserable hut-to-hut journey with; there’s no one to take a photo of that awesome natural feature in the distance; there’s no one to help you push your boat off when you’re doing a solo multi-day canoe trip.

Benefits of Solo Hiking

Backpacking is the closest thing that you can do, in terms of outdoor sports, that comes close to having a real wilderness experience. Biking, climbing, rafting, etc. all are activities that are full of excitement and adrenaline because they are rides or have fast-changing parts of the sport happening all the time. They are great, and I love those sports as well, but when solo hiking you are one with nature. Alone with some time to think in an environment that dwarfs all of your social baggage and technology clutter, and you can sense, feel, and see the wonder of life that a crowded adventure can never produce.

There are many benefits of solo hiking. One of the main reasons why many people choose to hike alone is because hiking is one of the best ways to unplug from all technology noises and distractions and hike your thoughts. Not everyone likes to hike alone, but if you do, the number one benefit of being on the trail solo in the wilderness is that it will give you some real focused thinking time. We are all stuck in the clutter of instant messaging, emails, text messages, online chat rooms and sites, phones, and the constant hum of the electronic stimuli that surrounds us like bugs do in a warm summer night around an outside light. Often creating an environment of daily confusion, chaos, and misdirection that ends up eating away each and every day of our lives. When you are silently stepping through the wilderness, your brain has time to stretch and wander in a similar way that long-distance drivers will tell you they adore, unless they are on the phone or trying to keep the kids quiet.


The act of trekking means that as you walk with your thoughts, so do you journey within your soul. You and the trail are suspended in a different time, but it gives you a better place within the society as you shoot forward from within. Hiking is a perfect metaphor for life. Just like life, going to the hills also meant carrying a heavy backpack. Imagine your entire existence being reflected in the trail that you will walk. At times, you find yourself trudging up and down sharp ascents and descents. The paths are never straight – just like life and the difficult grip of those ankle-crushing sheets of ice I had to awkwardly enjoy from time to time. You crossed dangerous river crossings and end up getting incredibly wet and muddy. Anytime you approached a dangerous-looking section of trail, confidence held me up and in the end, you earned a sense of accomplishment. You hike long distances, but realize you have to cross that same hill later on.

There are multiple benefits that make solo hiking a positive and enriching experience. Seek inspiration, adventure or rediscover the very best of humanity, maybe learn more about yourself. A 21st-century person can simultaneously feel isolated and bombarded with so much information that this prevents self-reflection. I will dare to say that most of us do not know what we are capable of accomplishing, simply because we had no chance to confront the challenges worth our potential. The best way to discover our strengths and weaknesses is to step out of the shadow of the familiar surroundings; the time for reflection about life is when we are brought out of our comfort zone, and there is no better way to be challenged than the exploration of nature.

Freedom and Flexibility

When looking at well-being as the ultimate goal of any form of tourism, this confirms one of the main results from existing research: namely, that the lived experiences of long-distance hikers is very rarely linked to nature itself, but rather to the constructed platform of the trail; whether the motivation of the hiker be certified as spiritually, culturally, aesthetically pleasing, or linked to personal development, the fact remains that most hikers established themselves as loving long-distance hiking and felt good due to it. On the subject of general well-being, long-distance hikers felt good doing so, having renewed resources and put their own issues or questions into perspective, albeit with distinct differences between social context of the trail, hiker experience and destination.

According to the forty-nine solo long-distance hikers interviewed by Tarr and Gauthier, few hikers have the same motivations for embarking on a solo long-distance hike. Findings from research suggest that solo long-distance hikers experience a great deal of freedom and flexibility. Participants in existing studies reported taking on three kinds of freedom into the wilderness, which could neatly be labeled as freedom from responsibilities, constraints linked to society, and constraints linked to time-scheduling. They also emphasize the flexibility of solo long-distance hiking as compared to other travel and recreational activities. Indeed, linkages have been drawn between flexibility and the possibility for people to travel around the world.

Personal Growth

As one becomes an experienced traveler, he learns to listen to his intuition and ultimately to trust his own capacity. In an increasingly social world, we tend to interact more than necessary as we lose some of those native predispositions in our personality. Revitalizing confidence, assertiveness, intuition, understanding, empathy, and humor are emotional skills that are all put to the test with international communication. I believe to have found, in my numerous solo hikes on four continents and through several social environments, adequate ground for a few considerations on the matter.

Solo hiking is a profound and emotional extended experience. It is a continuous exercise of strength as well as a keen work of introspection. It is best to prepare for this journey starting some months before actually leaving. I found it useful to ponder on the idea of spending a great deal of nights of my life inside one tent, accepting the consequences of being in a mountainous area (long distances, wild animals, relatively little society) and facing the consequences if things were not to be handled as expected (the authorities at the nearest town, over one day away). In particular, hiking solo through international borders requires a good balance between security and engagement.

Challenges of Solo Hiking

In the long term, long-distance solo hikers run risks, with no one accompanying them to spot potential signs of health concerns. Certainly, hiking for 9 months alone, as I have done around this last loop of the globe, this risk was profound in my mind. Managing fear is a key skill to long-distance solo hiking, so I believe. The way I managed my fear was by reminding myself each day that the risks of hiking up and down hills were no higher, if anything less, than crossing any crowded street. Only 4 miles from home, the young mother of two young children was killed in Penicuik, January 2013, when struck by a truck as she crossed a pedestrian crossing with her children. With risks all around us, I find it helps to remember we are all at risk. Heights is another common fear that solo hikers must manage by themselves.

Solo hiking will always bring with it many challenges, some of which will be common to all solo hikers and some of which will be individual to specific hikers. One of the most difficult challenges for any solo hiker is fear. Fear is not related to scale, can be minor or major, and can be temporary or long-lasting, though the latter is probably hard for most people to imagine. The sense of personal isolation, being all on one’s own, then if things go wrong, there is no one to call upon to assist, especially for those hikers who, like me, never carry a mobile (most of the time I would have no signal even if I did).

Safety Concerns

So armed for protection, do I need to worry about dangerous people when I hike? This publicity surrounding crimes against hikers certainly piqued my concerns as a woman alone. Early on, I considered whether I should avoid a particular country because of such risks. My research suggests that many safety concerns related to solo hiking are stereotypes. In the United States, for instance, most reported crime against hikers is committed in urban parks as opposed to more isolated wilderness settings. Sexual assaults, in general, occur apparently most frequently in crowded settings like colleges and bars where witnesses may be inebriated or unwilling to intervene as opposed to on an isolated path in the bush. In the summer of 2016, rogue criminals cruelly murdered two young tourists, including an experienced European female cyclist, following a vicious, brutal attack on camping hikers; witnesses could do nothing to stop the bloodshed. Defying my fears, throughout my own solitary travels, despite fierce windstorms and desolate climbs, freezing waters and miles of snow, long stretches of cycling in bear country and camping solo not infrequently in more isolated locations, I personally never once encountered anyone: man or woman.

Although generally safe, solo hiking can have inherent dangers. Predators threaten unprotected hikers, especially in deserts where hikers regularly encounter snakes, mountain lions, and wolves. In urban areas near the lower Rio Missiones and Iberá Wetlands in Argentina, the capybara, a large, mostly passive rodent with tree trunk-like legs and teeth that can gouge a bear’s skull, regularly leaves the marshes at night to graze at the foot of buildings. As I considered whether to hike despite my visual impairment, I thought about such hazards and decided that if facing danger in the wild, I would use the same strategies I already use at home: keep moving and create a lot of noise. Alone in the wild, I would prefer the biggest threats to avoid me, ensuring that I and whatever wildlife may be sleeping nearby will not cross each other’s paths.

Loneliness and Isolation

Once the adventures appear insignificant (major adventures as “I am touching an idol that was built on the mountain…”) at the stage of the final opening to the world, over the years or since childhood, there is participation in the last third of life. The main burden is given of acceptance, opening to oneself and others; loneliness and isolation become the joy of freedom. The journey is changing; it imposes on the hiker loneliness, which isolates it from everyday life in the world, and at the same time provides the experience that separates and unites those matters and beings again. Richness and humility of the last horizon of being. Successful movements are an essential element of realization, without success on the ground, a successful journey becomes an illusion.

Isolation is the result of the hiker’s decision (self-selection as explained in chapter 2), even before the encounter with locals who can become friends or attendants. The three-month journey is a voluntary escape from the predetermined rhythm of life and culture in the perceived security zone. The first feeling is based on total freedom and hence isolation worth investigating. The recognition of some basic patterns in the life of a nomad, the learned physical condition (what were challenging milestones at the beginning of the adventure becomes easy at the end), the knowledge as a result of numerous conversations. The embodiment of traveling behavior, of the individual and essential orientation, allows for new socialization, but different. Here again is an example of tension movement in action – moving away from the known environment and moving towards the values of civilization of humanity. It creates a kind of living preparation in the far end of the social shock. At the time of her departure, the journey seems like an attempt to seek the human race in forces of beings who move and construct habitat in solidarity. On the road, she meets people. She surrounds people who welcome her and share during the journey, but everyone builds his around in everyday relationships. This duality of the global and the intensive creates a helping move from the received and given knowledge.

Hiking around the world in freedom, autonomy, and independence, moving around the world, living from the rhythm of walking, living in the richness of encounters with strangers comes with the price of isolation, which is very specifically coupled with loneliness.

Decision-Making and Problem-Solving

A lot of people have criticized “learned people” for their “technical” thinking, claiming that they have distanced themselves from nature and nature’s laws. This, I believe, may be groundless in many situations, but a significant part of that opinion is likely true as well. Many people who get higher education do value rational arguments, proven facts, figures, reliable sources, what’s new, and success. While it’s not very obvious how attributing value to these things can lead to this during a packrafting trip, I think I might be taking into account these factors in particular while I plan the trip or, at least, choose the gear, in theory, meet people, get information (including information from the indigenous people who have not “transcended” the wildlife, like I have).

Every time I have gone on a long hike or outdoor trip, be it from the start to the finish or after a new decision had to be made, I realize how much I have changed. In my routines, habits, priorities, off-trail decision-making, and just in everything I do. Or, if that’s not enough, I compare my thoughts and actions to those who are not living this life, or to what I was like some time ago. It’s not really easy to put that to paper, but I find it critically important to note how the following three factors have become the most important skills for me in successfully completing my treks: fitness, decision-making, and problem-solving. The following contains my thoughts on decision-making and problem-solving. These are all based on my own experiences and common sense. If you think you won’t have any fun reading these thoughts, I suggest you skip that section.

Physical and Mental Endurance

Physical and mental endurance are the primary qualities required. They are an overlapping derivative of, and represent strengthening toward, the listed micro-qualities. The physical component of readiness is chiefly significant pertaining to the ability to sustain protracted exertion on foot and carry all you need on the move. Before starting off, we had all made our own experiences on long-distance trekking, or we had vitally maintained regular physical exercise to the full extent of our capacity and possibilities. We were prepared for suffering – and that is eternal, remorseless toil. A significant capability is, therefore, an early bird ability to wake in the morning and continue walking through the day until we made ourselves stop at night. We used all our resources to march through the day, backed up each other, and agreed to not, during daytime, indulge in further learning or relaxed exploration.

Travellers, even well-prepared seasoned wanderers, often have a romance with solo travel, entailing the premise of being on one’s own and completely self-reliant. Solo travellers – men in particular, but women as well – are usually the focus of admiration among their peers, and their actions are often romanticized, even though in practice the very same peers would never dare set off on their own. The long, self-reliant journey – even more so if it is done on foot – reflects, in a readily understandable form, deeply ingrained human values that are never forgotten, no matter how fast and furiously civilization rushes forwards. All endeavors are commensurate with skill, virtuosity, and harmony. However, even under favorable circumstances, prolonged walking, day after day in the company of only your thoughts, can cause mental alienation that only time-consuming reintegrated socialization can alleviate.

Tips for Successful Solo Hiking

When hiking in different climates (like from the beach to a mountain town) or even in different climatic conditions (promenade during the day and cold hostel at night), the suitcase can be challenging. Light and multifunctional, invest in good thermal tights, jogging pants, anorak, t-shirts, light sweaters, hats, and scarves. Even with rainy weather, avoid heavy pollution or risk of storms. Reported by a friend, the main difference between him and the other mountaineers was that he never ran from the rain. Sure enough, the other mountaineers must have gotten home faster. During the walk, make sure you stay safe from lightning. Keep an eye on weather information.

Good preparation is the magic of a successful solo hike. The first step is routing and logistics; the second is health and physical ability. Rates should be based on facts. And despite this, it’s important to be flexible – you may need to adjust your plans for weather, physical condition, etc. Talk to experienced mountaineers before routing. Be always up to date on the maps of the region, common paths, natural attractions, waterfalls, and caves. In case of international trips, check for travel advisories issued by our government, and check passport and visa. For the first international trips, initially choose the main kite places and classic kits, and over time make less obvious choices and off-road experiences.

Planning and Preparation

Then came time to plan. For me, all the brainstorming and mental evolution of the trip had to culminate in somewhere to aim towards in the end, and so as always, I drew up a resources and tasks list to get me from a wannabe-hiker sitting on a sofa in London, to an actual hiker on the trail somewhere in the world. Short of being out there in the wilds, the Planning and Preparation phase is my favourite part of hiking; I’m addicted to the back-and-forth with myself as my aim ping-pongs back and forth. I get a rush be it from the sense of progression in inching closer to my new hike-in-waiting, or to the dawning realization that I’ve bitten off more than I can author, and that I’ll need to gather up my pride, dust myself off, and reassess. The back-and-forth usually continues only after I’ve come up for air at intervals of a day, a week, even a month, with the resulting proposed plan of attack each time more considered and fortified than before. I get a buzz from seeing the gaps plugged, and the initial far-off prospect of spending a ton of time under the stars in possible solitude come closer to the day in question.

The tough thing at first was therefore knowing where to look in order to narrow down an area. Having scoured relatively heavily-walked areas such as the Caucasus, Dinaric Alps, or stretches of Turkey and Iran on smaller trips previously, the new direction ended up eventually being firmly towards the Levant. I figured that being a little further east would help with summer crowd-avoidance (though having not been in the Western Med at summer-time before, how wrong that assessment would end up being!), plus it just so happened that about as long a hike as I had time could be found in the form of a new trail called the Masar Ibrahim al Khalil.

Given that I was finishing off my cycling traverse in Athens, I’d been in a fair few European countries over the previous six months. From an initial urge to tick off variously Spain, France, Italy, or the Balkans (or less enthusiastically, to return to the good ol’ UK) from my infinite list of hiking to-dos, I actually decided when I sat down to really think about it, that I wanted to keep the momentum of being ‘out there’ going, so therefore striking out into a new unknown region that hopefully missed most of the worst of the summer’s crowds and heat.

Navigation and Map Reading

Once I can identify where I am on the topographic/quality maps, I compare the name of the next location where the road connects with another or changes direction, and I memorize it. If I am in a foreign country, I seek advice from locals about how to pronounce it or how to recognize the place, write a phonetic reminder in my electronic dictionary, and give the road another 15/20 minutes before I repeat this process. Being repetitive in my memorization helps me to remember names that might occur later or that I missed on the map. If the map I’m using also has elevation contours, I can have an added safety since I can estimate the distance to the next village or city.

When walking on smaller roads or following specific tracks, I ask as many people as possible if the road that I think I am on does in fact reach the place I aimed for. Then, as soon as I can find a crossroad or something that might show up on the map, I try to locate it as accurately as possible and look for signs that correspond to those on the map, such as river names, isolated buildings, important rock formations, sharp turns, noticeable changes in the overall direction of the road, etc.

My paper maps are usually pieces from my big world maps that I try to fold so that they show the parts I will walk through. They are not great for choosing intermediate destinations or following specific routes but work reasonably well for walking on main roads if I choose well the section of world map to take with me.

One of the big challenges of solo hiking around the world is navigation. In some places, people have given me excellent quality topographic maps, but more often than not I am limited to handheld world maps or terrible quality Southeast Asian style maps. Before hitting the road, I was lacking map reading experience and used GPS navigation on my phone. However, due to the challenges of living and working in India, which very often means unreliable internet access, constantly changing phone numbers, and consequently no possibility of using Google accounts for maps or high battery consumption for GPS (among other things), I quickly had to learn to get by using traditional techniques.

Packing Essentials

For a 2-day stay, my favorite thing to pack is a large bottle of valerian extract which is chamomile, and in general anything that will induce relaxation like lavender, anti-cramp drops, valerian, and melatonin. If I’m cold during the night, a hot shower with an herbal bath cube will do wonders temporarily, but again the portable battery can plug the wall heater in case of power failure. Also, bring essential oils and teas that induce relaxation like valerian, chamomile, lemon balm. When I consider that it’s a longer stay, I plan to add sleep enhancing items in my luggage like a pendant diffuser, a red light soda because studies in Neurobiology have shown that red light does not inhibit the production of melatonin, but it is the same light that would be produced from a campfire, for example.

My favorite things to pack are portable battery life for music and podcasts, a light down pillow, a collapsible water bottle for travel, luggage locks, and a yoga towel that can be folded into a small cube and takes up minimal space. Clothing-wise, pack clothes with very soft linings. Geox or Hogan are perfect for airplane travel because the uppers are composed of soft leather, and the thick technical insoles keep the feet supported. Travel essentials could also include sunglasses, a carry-on bag inside of your personal item, and make sure you have a light, summery look and a comfortable, breathable chic look for your arrival destination (like linen or viscose garments). Sporty and roomy sneakers are perfect for the airplane, but they can be worn apart with thin stockings.

When embarking on a solo journey, especially to exotic or secluded locations, it’s of the utmost importance to pack wisely. As they say, “If you forget anything at home, you will buy it at your destination.” But you only really learn what is essential and what isn’t by experience. Here is a list of items I consider to be the ultimate packing essentials: small travel-sized skincare pamper products such as moisturizers, lip balms, sunscreen, cleansing cloths, and sanitizer. An extra phone battery, a SIM card signal booster, and power cords concealed in small furniture pieces in case of damage or theft.

Emergency Preparedness

**Personal Care & Safety** – Sunblock and large hat – Sunglasses – Lip balm with sun protection – Insect repellent – Toothbrush and toothpaste – Foot care and toenail clippers – Emergency sign (/crawl) if you’re trapped – Signaling mirror – In villages, you can buy a kerosene pressure stove with translucent tank or attach a wide-mouthed translucent plastic bottle to a bomb-style spirit stove. It is a good safety measure to carry enough fuel in that bottle to cook for several days. – A part of a fire starter (1 match, steel waterproof, a piece of a stick match and duct tape, and fire-starting materials). – Multi-purpose tool – Float bag to keep your pack afloat in case you need to swim with it across a rapidly flowing river – Nylon cord

Any reasonably thorough first aid text can give you information on how to use the various items in these categories. A wilderness emergency training course can offer useful additions to your first aid kit and valuable training. While the items are often important, your attitude, judgment, and resourcefulness are more so. Confidence and understanding in the tools and materials you carry is essential.

The following list is designed to help you prepare for various trail emergencies. Some, but not all, of the items I mention are aimed at serious wilderness travel; you should decide which of them are appropriate for your adventures. The ideas are organized into a few categories: Personal Care & Safety, First Aid Kit, Fire Starting, Gear Repair, Keeping in Touch, Cold Weather Safety, and Major Equipment.

Try to anticipate problems that could arise and plan for them. Bring spare equipment and clothing, and enough funds so that you can deal with troubles. If you are undertaking a significant journey into the wilderness, you should invest in such emergency preparation. You may find emergency preparedness worthwhile in any hike.

Leave No Trace Principles

Be Considerate of Other Visitors: Simple common sense, manners, and consideration for others of the world. Remember, alone in the wilderness isn’t alone from the world – just people. Tread lightly because of the bear in your footprint and plan and pack enough to survive until you meet someone if you have to.

Respect Wildlife: Basically, don’t do anything stupid around animals.

Minimize Campfire Impacts: The best way to have a campfire is to not have one. I have never had a campfire on any of my solo thru-hikes in and out of the United States.

Leave What You Find: This is simple to follow. If you want a memento of your trip, build one out of trash and other environmental degradables. Never pick flowers, disturb rocks, roll rocks to feel big, or scratch initials into trees or anywhere else.

Dispose of Waste Properly: When solo hiking, this primarily concerns waste – especially human waste disposal. I do not use bleached or scented toilet paper, nor do I use any feminine hygiene products that are not biodegradable.

Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces: This simply means keeping to established trails, roads, and campsites. This is extremely difficult to do as solo backpacking/hiking usually means high mileage days. I spent much of my time getting from place to place only to set up camp, eat, ‘tend’ to my feet, and sleep. As a general rule, 2-3% of solo backpackers/hikers’ time is spent on the total duration of their trip at wherever they’re camping. When you account for potty breaks, which shouldn’t be closer than 200 feet from water or the trail, it’s easier to follow this practice.

Plan Ahead and Prepare: Poor planning is responsible for many adverse impacts on the environment, search and rescue operations, and creates an unhappy experience for those seeking a respite from the cares of day-to-day life. Unnecessary fires, erosion of trails, and damage to fragile areas are common problems associated with a lack of education about the environment and the routes being traveled.

“The Seven Principles of Leave No Trace” is a concept to reconnect all Americans with their natural world. This is a brief summary of each of these principles.