We’ve all heard the warnings. Any of us women who’ve traveled solo, camped alone, or even hiked by ourselves have probably been told, Be careful. It’s dangerous out there. Why don’t you take a guy with you? Why do you have to go alone?
And, despite what our mothers think, we don’t do these things to give them grey hairs. There’s something irreplaceable about heading into the wild blue yonder with only our own mind, body and heart to guide us. Sometimes it’s challenging. Sometimes it’s scary. But even when it is, it’s rewarding. In her revolutionary 1949 book The Second Sex, Simone De Beauvoir wrote about how young men have long been encouraged to go out into the world to find themselves and learn about life—like the European “grand tours” of the past, while women have often been discouraged from that kind of thing, for a variety of reasons. “Yet such experiences have an inestimable impact: that is how an individual in the headiness of freedom and discovery learns to look at the entire world as his fief.”
A lot has changed since 1949, but her words still hit home. If you need a reason to pack your bags and head out on your own—even just for an afternoon on the trail—here are seven.
It builds our mental confidence. It’s easy when we’re traveling with others to defer to their opinions and not have to take the proverbial sharp end. When we adventure alone, we’re the only one responsible for our actions—nobody else will make the decisions for us. Something shifts in our minds as we step off the plane solo in a foreign country, or take the trail we’ve never been down before. We’re forced to become confident in ourselves.
It makes us better friends/girlfriends/wives/mothers. “Self-knowledge is no guarantee of happiness, but it is on the side of happiness and can supply the courage to fight for it,” wrote De Beauvoir. When we have the quiet time to replenish our souls, we’re more balanced and happy. And who doesn’t want to be around a happy, centered person? Plus, doing exciting things on our own gives us awesome stories to tell afterward.
It shows us what we’re capable of, physically. An adventure doesn’t have to include climbing Everest or hiking the Appalachian Trail to help open our eyes to what we can accomplish. With nobody else around to encourage us, even a long run or a big hike feels like a personal victory—and lives on in our memories as an example of the strength we possess. Pushing through pain or exhaustion by ourselves distills the experience and helps us build toughness.
It pushes us to search our souls and refreshes our dreams. Our lives are full of expectations from others—families, employers, etc. Sometimes it takes a solo journey to get out of earshot of all those voices, and tune into the tiny but important voice inside, guiding us. Our dreams often get lost in the shuffle of everyday life, and unless we take the quiet time away by ourselves, we risk losing them for good.
It gives us a career edge and makes us better employees. The confidence, strength and clarity of vision we earn when we’re pushing ourselves out of our comfort zones and tuning in to our passions and gifts translate directly into our abilities on the job. The skills we hone in the crucible of solo traveling make us better leaders, and help us learn to think critically and solve problems independently.
It attunes us to our instincts. When we have no one else to rely on, we have to pay close attention to both our gut and the voice of reason. Deciding where to camp, whether to head to the summit in iffy weather, or whether we’re in a risky situation, and all the other little choices we’re forced to make on our own helps hone those instincts. And the more time we spend tuning into our surroundings without the protection or filter of a group, the more we learn to parse out situations and make smart decisions. Instincts only work if you learn to listen to and heed them.
It opens us up to new experiences and friendships. When we travel or adventure with partners, we’re often less likely to find ourselves in the random conversations and experiences that come from looking outward from ourselves. When we’re constantly in conversation as we walk down a trail, we often miss the small details that might speak volumes to us—like the hawk circling in the sky that we somehow overlooked. And if we never open ourselves to others around us, we’ll miss those special connections along the way, that might just be a single shared magical moment, but could also be the friend of a lifetime.