- “Layers” - Grand Canyon NP (Tsékooh Hatsoh Bídaaha’izt’i (Diné)), June 2019; Havasupai, Diné (Navajo), Hualapai, Hopi, Paiute and Zuni Ancestral Homeland. Photo: ©Michelle Ranee Johnson
“Once the travel bug bites there is no known antidote, and I know that I shall be happily infected until the end of my life.” - Michael Palin
As we are self-quarantining during COVID-19, I am reflecting on my travels and wishing I was out exploring. The good news about this downtime is it has given me the time to actually reminisce and think about why I love traveling — especially alone. I have traveled and hiked alone for many years and often I get asked about why I do it. That is easy as I absolutely love to travel, hike, photograph, and climb, but not everyone can join me on my travels. I could live my life in fear and stay home until someone can come with me (but life is busy for all people, things can occur, and then someone can get disappointed). Or I can go explore my world solo (let’s be real: my dog Bart joins me all the time so I’m not actually “alone”). This world is a beautiful place and I want to explore as much of it as I can while I am physically able to do so.
So how do you start if you’ve never traveled alone yourself? Lao Tzu says it best: “A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.”
So what are the benefits of traveling alone? The list is long, but I will post my top five reasons:
1. I can choose my own path and destination.
- “Every Day is a Winding Road” - October 2013, June Lake Loop, Carson Peak, Eastern Sierra (Pamidü Toiyabe), CA; Paiute/Mono Ancestral Homeland. Photo: ©Michelle Ranee Johnson
“All you need is the plan, the road map, and the courage to press on to your destination.” –Earl Nightingale.
This quote has always driven me. I set a plan (but not in stone), prepare the necessary equipment and clothes, and then I take off. As I’m driving down the road in an area (or hiking on a trail), if I see a fascinating sign or geological feature, I can take a detour without asking others if they are okay with it. I can look at a map and add on a place I would like to go to if time allows. I can also spend as much time at a location that I want to, or if the place is too crowded/not as fascinating as I would like, I can leave when I desire. There is no pressure to stick to a plan.
2. I meet a lot of people.
- Lower Photo: My beautiful friend Valentina relaxing while taking a photo at Cañada de la Virgin, Mexico (San Miguel de Allende, Mexico; Otomi Archaeological Site).
“Wherever we travel to, the wonderful people we meet become our family.” - Lailah Gifty Akita
I have made many friends by traveling solo — people I may not have taken the time to get to know if I had been with a group. I have had numerous dinners with families at campsites next door and have made friends with campground hosts that are absolutely fascinating, who know so much about nature and the area that I am in (Jenna from Green River Lakes Campground, WY comes to mind). Randy and Lori are wonderful friends that I met at Green River Lakes in Wyoming. We ended up running into each other (pun intended - they are ultramarathon trail runners) on the Devil’s Staircase Trail on the western side of the Tetons, and then even saw them again in Bozeman, MT and we’re hoping to see each other again this summer (as long as the roads open up to travel again). I have made countless friends while climbing (you know who each of you are - love you all!). Many of these strangers I’ve met end up becoming incredible friends and I am grateful to know them and have them become a part of my story.
3. You learn to go at your own pace.
- “Love of Mountains” - Looking towards Mt. Tom (Winuba), Eastern Sierra (Pamidü Toiyabe), CA. Newe and Nüümü Ancestral Homeland. Photo: ©Michelle Ranee Johnson
“Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson
When you travel alone, you find out what pace you like. There’s no pressure from someone else to do anything at any specific time (unless you paid for a guide service one day or you’re meeting a friend). So, some mornings you may feel like having a leisurely breakfast; others you may want to get up super early to catch the sunrise at an amazing location. It really is up to you. But this also means you have to keep setting goals so time doesn’t get away from you (unless time getting away from you is your goal-that can be fun too).
4. You truly see the world.
- “Golden Light” - Gros Ventre Campground, Yellowstone NP, WY. August 2019. Shoshone-Bannock, Eastern Shoshone, and Cheyenne Ancestral Homeland. Photo: ©Michelle Ranee Johnson
“To move, to breathe, to fly, to float; to gain all while you give; to roam the roads of lands remote; to travel is to live.” - Hans Christian Andersen
You truly see the world. Not through someone else’s eyes, but your own. You become the master of your ship, as the saying goes, and you set the pace. Instead of hanging onto conversations, you hang on to the skyline of the mountains in front of you, the reflections of a still lake, the sounds of the rushing waterfall, etc. You can move as fast as you want, or meander along. For example, if I don’t have a lot of time, or if I want to cover a lot of ground, I set a whirlwind pace for the day. But if I have the time (and that is a luxury), I tend to try to ‘stop and smell the roses’ as the saying goes. This way, maybe I’ll see wildlife I may have hurried past or I will see a deer trail which takes me to a gorgeous vista I would not have seen if I had been in a rush.
5. You find peace and that peace helps you find yourself.
- “Mono Craters and Mono Lake at Sunset” - October 2017; Eastern CA, Kutzadika’a Ancestral Homeland. Photo: ©Michelle Ranee Johnson
“You find peace not by rearranging the circumstances of your life, but by realizing who you are at the deepest level.” —Eckhart Tolle
If you are constantly with other people, you may not get to know yourself. Hopefully we all have an excellent support of friends and family. But when it comes right down to the nitty-gritty of life, there is one person who will always be with you no matter what: You! Finding time to travel alone, you get to find out who you really are as a person. Find a way you can make friends with yourself! Sometimes in life, the person you need to make your best friend is you. This way when the world seems to come crashing down upon you, you know you have within you someone who can weather the storm.
“If there’s no inner peace, people can’t give it to you. The husband can’t give it to you. Your children can’t give it to you. You have to give it to yourself.” - Linda Evans
Traveling alone can give us the freedom to choose which path we want to take, the independence to listen to our inner clock and mind, and to find peace and joy along the way. During this time of self-quarantine, maybe list out places you would like to travel to (as we are all stuck dreaming of traveling from within our mind’s eye right now). Think of places both near and far, and maybe explore the idea in mapping out a way of going to those places. It doesn’t have to be far. Maybe start small — just a drive along the countryside near your home by yourself. And then maybe branch out to an overnight trip. See what you are comfortable with. No one will be judging you. Get to know who you are and explore the world with you!
I leave you with a picture of my dog Bart as both he and I hope you find places to dream about exploring!
- Bart enjoying hiking up and over Devil’s Staircase to the Teton Crest Trail wearing his Ruffwear Singletrack pack in Teton Canyon, Alta, WY (get there by going through eastern Idaho), July 2019; Eastern Shoshone and Shoshone-Bannock Ancestral Homeland. If you would like to know more about Dog Backpacks/Saddle bags, here’s a great article by Your Dog Advisor! Photo: ©Michelle Ranee Johnson