Traveling alone, especially as a woman, is sometimes seen as unwise and generally advised against. But, as someone who has traveled to four countries and many states alone, I can say I’ve made it home safe (and with a new and improved skill set) each and every time. Solo traveling might be an acquired taste — there are certainly moments when solitude and loneliness blur together — but if you like that taste it will open an entirely different palate of traveling to you.
So you’ve never traveled alone? No problem. With a few tips and an example of a trip you could make in 24 hours, from Denver, you might be heading out for your own solo adventure before the summer is over. There is little disagreement that any traveler should explore their own home before venturing out, and lucky for all of us, Colorado offers a cornucopia of adventures easily accessible from Denver. Don’t wait around for your friends who keep saying they want to go camping some weekend and pack up a small backpack for a little getaway by yourself.
Start With Something Comfortable
Using a vehicle or campervan is the easiest way to feel safe, especially as a beginner solo traveler. When traveling alone, renting a car or van provides an extra cushion of comfort. That’s because they usually provide roadside assistance if something happens, there is a record of your trip and someone will be expecting you to come back on a certain day. Maybe this sounds morbid but in all honesty it is always better to be safe than sorry. You can lock yourself in it at night, change behind closed curtains (and sometimes while standing up) and get the hell out of dodge if you really need to.
You can also throw more supplies in — like a cooler, firewood, camping chairs and a tent — or use the amenities of an outfitted van — like a stove, purified water system and comfortable mattress with covers. This past week I rented a “Biggie” version of a Native Campervan, equipped with seven gallons of potable water, a camping stove, two chairs and a camp table, a mini-fridge, all utensils and dishes and a bluetooth speaker. I chose them because two Denverites own the company and shared my same experience of driving a campervan around New Zealand a few years ago, before coming home to outfit a fleet of vans for Colorado adventures.
Regardless of renting a car or van, if you travel alone you should always tell someone where you are going and for how long (and if you aren’t willing to do this, watch 127 hours and re-think your stubbornness). Plan on doing activities solo that you feel competent doing already. Don’t go climbing off trail if you never have before, for instance. And if you want to do something new, make sure other people are around or are helping you. I spent my time relaxing in a hammock, taking a three mile hike to a well-known Colorado peak and painting some of the scenery.
Talk to Strangers
Yes, we have been told that strangers are dangerous. Let go of that assumption a little bit, if you decide to solo travel, because strangers are going to inevitably help you or enhance your experience at some point. Whether taking an overnight trip or a month long journey, interacting with strangers opens many possibilities that often are passed up when following guide books or online reviews.
On my solo road trip, I decided to drive across Guanella Pass via I-70 to Georgetown. Pulling onto the main street of Georgetown reminded me of the quaint charm of mountain towns in Colorado — a romanticized nostalgia of mining and industrial centers — and I parked the van to walk around and stretch my legs. I found the newly opened Guanella Pass Brewery, on 5th and Rose Streets, and then talked to the owner about the work it took to open the first Georgetown brewery over the past two years. While enjoying my beer outside, a woman and I spoke about the best stargazing in Colorado, ending in her revealing one of her favorite spots. These kinds of conversations don’t happen often when you travel with others because you spend your time with the people you already know.
On the other hand, traveling alone takes a certain level of vigilance that can become exhausting if you worry more than you observe. Talking to strangers will be necessary and should be a positive experience but it also comes with a warning to not give too much personal information. Learn to ask more questions than you answer and if you experience any kind of “gut” feeling about someone or some situation, listen to it. As with notifying people about your whereabouts, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
The other aspect of staying aware while solo traveling has a lot to do with navigation. GPS and Google Maps are revolutionary tools for traveling, but they are not always reliable. Buy an atlas or road map and look up the directions before you start driving or hiking. Start paying close attention to any and all signs and landmarks, as you can’t ask someone else to look for things with you.
While I was looking for a place to park the camper van for the night, I drove up and over Guanella Pass and onto Highway 285, toward a county road with dispersed Forest Service campsites. I lost cell reception after Georgetown but found my way easily with signs. When I chose my spot, I backed the van into the area so that I could easily drive forward and away if I needed to. This also allowed me to open the back doors of the van and be hidden from the road if I wanted to be (as well as gave me a fantastic view of a river and forested ridge.) I took into account the other campers that were along the county road and gave myself some distance from them.
What to Bring
Even though it may seem like you need to bring more things if you are alone, you should pack light. Bring the essentials and enjoy the freedom. For my trip I packed: rain coat, down coat, fleece, wool socks, hats, gloves, pants, shorts, a shirt, underwear, camera and tripod, journal and watercolor paints, a basic first-aid kit, natural bug spray, a hammock, toiletries, a pocket knife, sunglasses, toilet paper, hot dogs, avocado, chips, cheese, cured meat, apple, dates, coffee, a bottle of bubbly and a fun string of lights. I wore my sandals (pictured above) and brought dog food, which is not pictured. All of these items fit in a 30L backpack, with room to spare. If you plan on using your own vehicle or going without a vehicle at all, make sure you have enough water for the temperature outside and level of activity you hope to accomplish (the general recommendation is two liters daily without strenuous activity.)
So you’ve left the comfort of your home to be alone in the wilderness somewhere. Now what? The best advice is to bring something you enjoy doing no matter where you are. It might be unnecessary, especially if you enjoy outdoor activities and pursuits and that’s why you want to get out there. But being able to relax anywhere is easy if you are doing something familiar. My go-to is always writing (as I’m sure you already guessed) but I also enjoy watercolor painting and drawing. Maybe yours is yoga and you should bring a mat and any props. If it’s reading, bring an e-reader or a stack of books. Of course, there’s always the option to bring a camera and take pictures to make your less adventurous friends jealous.
My beautiful and relaxing 24-hour solo camping trip from Denver began on a Tuesday morning, when I picked up the Native Campervan from its location in RiNo at 3712 North Downing Street. From there, I took I-70 to Empire (exit 232) to stop for lunch at the Dairy King and let my dog out for a short walk. Getting back onto I-70 west for a few minutes until the Georgetown exit, I stopped in Georgetown for a beer and to look around. Then I drove to the top of Guanella Pass to hike the three miles to Mt. Bierstadt. After that hike, I continued the drive down the pass, onto Highway 285 by Grant to find my campsite for the night. After camping out, taking photos of the stars and enjoying a leisurely cup of coffee with a hot breakfast in the morning, I drove back to Denver via Highway 285, arriving at 2 p.m. on Wednesday.
- Great Sand Dunes National Park : four hour drive from Denver, RV/trailer camping, car camping spots, backpacking options, pets welcome on leash, potable water and toilets available at campgrounds.
- Moraine Park in Rocky Mountain National Park: two hour drive from Denver, tent or RV camping, accessible by driving or walking, pets allowed, potable water and toilets available.
- Sol Mountain Teepee near Rio Grande National Forest: four and a half hour drive from Denver, sleep in a teepee (for $30/night), potable water and toilets available, pets allowed.
- Holy Cross Refugio Tents and Cabin: almost three hour from Denver, tent sites and one backcountry cabin available, toilets but no potable water, pets allowed.
- Steamboat Lake near Steamboat Springs: three hour drive from Denver, there are plenty of campgrounds and you can enjoy the water if you have a SUP board or kayak. You can also enjoy Strawberry Park Hot Springs (and even stay in one of those cabins instead, if you have a little extra cash.)
Solo adventures can be one of the most gratifying ways to travel. You will inevitably feel a sense of accomplishment, no matter how small your trip. Just remember to remain observant and trust your intuition. Don’t be surprised if you return from your solo trip with a new sense of confidence, or patience or something even more unexpected and rewarding.