Humans are social creatures. If given a choice, most of us will spend our time with other people, whether at work, at home or when travelling. But when you look back at the long arc of history, you soon discover something: people who had the greatest insights often spent a lot of their time by themselves. No, they weren’t “loners” – just introspective people who used their time alone productively.
Solo trips aren’t common, but they can be an incredible experience. On a solo trip, you’ve only got yourself for company. You have to rely on yourself for all your needs. It’s your action, and yours alone, that pushes you forward. You do everything under your own steam.
Although we all like to think that we’re independent people, most of us rely on others every day. Your spouse might drive you to work or cook you a meal in the evening. And your family might look after your finances. But when you’re on your own in a foreign land, you have no choice but to fall back on your own skills and resources: you’ve got nothing else.
It’s for this reason that solo trips are thrilling. Trips alone teach you a lot about yourself and what you’re capable of achieving under the right circumstances. Solo adventures can also be life-affirming because they allow you to prove to yourself how much control you have over your life.
The Nature Of The Challenge
What constitutes a challenge differs among people. Some might consider travelling for a weekend to a foreign city as something big, while others would only view a polar expedition as an adventure.
The type of challenge you choose for a solo trip depends on how much experience you have. In general, people consider more challenging trips to be the most rewarding. Challenge shows you what you’re capable of.
If you’ve never gone solo and challenged yourself before, then you’re in for a treat. Those who have done it say that their first trip is always the most difficult. That should come as no surprise: you always have the most to learn the first time around. What’s more, something usually goes wrong: you lose your luggage at the airport, the place you want to stay is closed for the holidays, or your equipment fails. These difficult experience teach you how to be resourceful.
But with the challenge comes a sense of thrill and wonder. Many people seek out exciting and unusual places to go on their expeditions. Travellers will often choose places in the grip of historical change. Before the fall of the Soviet Union, many people, for instance, went and stayed in countries behind the Iron Curtain. Seeing what life was like in these places wasn’t pleasant, but it did provide a new perspective on life we don’t often get to see in the West. Watching guards patrol the streets in Warsaw, Poland, in the 1980s was a very different experience to say, visiting Barcelona in the year 2019.
As a solo tripper, you’ll also have to contend with cultural and language barriers: another way in which you’ll have to adapt. The language can be a challenge, especially if it’s not related to your mother tongue. Mandarin, for instance, is a very different language from English in practically every way. Likewise, languages in Africa, if native, are almost irreconcilable with those of European-origin.
Going solo is always a risk, so you’ll want to make sure that you’re prepared for the challenge. If you’re headed into the wilderness, you’ll want to take some sort of tracking device with you. Relying on a map might not be enough – or your mobile – just in case you lose your position or get out of range of communication towers. Devices used for D of E tracking tend to be a safe bet because they show you exactly where you are, even in remote locations and at sea.
If you’re hiking, you’ll need a range of additional equipment. Walking canes, a waterproof backpack, food and water are essential. On top of that, you might need a pocket knife, rope, a change of socks, loo roll and a compass.
Solo Challenge Destinations
So, now that you’ve decided that you’d like to go on a solo trip, where should you go? Which destinations offer the best combination of beautiful scenery and physical challenge?
The Gobi Desert, Mongolia
Although there is a city in Mongolia – Ulaanbaatar – the vast majority of the country is stepped wilderness. Mongolians are used to living a nomadic life, living off the land and grazing their yaks. Mongolia is home to part of the Gobi desert, a big strip of land that runs through central Asia that experiences very little rainfall. Settled civilisation never developed here because people couldn’t rely on consistent rains to nourish their crops. In Mongolia, you live directly off the land, making it the perfect place to go solo.
The Gobi desert is an extreme place. It experiences substantial changes in temperatures from one day to the next. Some days can be mild and temperate while others cold and icy, depending on how far north you go. The Gobi desert isn’t for people who are just starting out, but it could be a great place to go for a trek if you are a more experienced adventurer. Meet up with local herders and slot into the nomadic lifestyle of this fascinating place.
Far to the north of Nairobi lies Laikipia, an underexplored wilderness in this equatorial country. Laikipia is a prime destination for safaris because it is under-commercialised. Unlike some places on the African savannah, you’re unlikely to run into tour buses here. If you decide to go to Laikipia, you’ll need a local guide with a gun with you at all times. Not only are there dangerous animals everywhere, but people too. However, if you do decide to go, you’ll be able to see a range of exotic animals in their natural habitats, such as tropical birds, aardvarks, lions and elephants.
Laos is a country in southeast Asia, to the south of mainland China. The state has a checkered political history, making it one of the most interesting places in the region. Though the country has had its troubles and hardships, it’s turned a corner in recent years and opened its borders up to tourists. The fact that it’s not the most-visited place makes it particularly interesting. You won’t find big tourist development here, especially in the little-known Salavan region. In fact, you’re unlikely to find much in the way of tourist infrastructure at all.
Salavan tends to attract the adventurous. The lack of amenities means that you’ll have to rely on yourself for most of your basic needs. You could travel from village to village, stopping off to eat with local people. You could also trek through the surrounding countryside, taking in the beautiful scenery.
Turkmenistan is a central Asian country that was once part of the Soviet Union. The state is mainly steppe, interspersed with unusual features. Perhaps the most interesting geological place in the entire country is the Door to Hell in the Karakum desert. The Door to Hell is a crater in which magma bubbles up from the core of the Earth to the surface. The cavity, according to geologists, has been burning continuously for nearly forty years. Although it is spectacular during the day, the crater comes alive at night, raging like a giant glowing inferno. It’s an incredible sight for any adventurer who looks geology.
The Bolivian Highlands
Bolivia is a popular destination for personal challenges. Young people from all over the world travel to the country, thanks to its political security, vast wildernesses, and relatively predictable climate. Bolivia is perched in the mountains of South America, sitting high above the relatively flat expanses to the east of the continent.
Bolivia is home to the Uru Chipaya, a tribe that has survived in this special place since the time of the Incas. Because they live at high altitudes, local people have adapted to living with less oxygen. Uru Chipaya people have an adaptation that helps them to utilise oxygen more efficiently.
The Bolivian highlands provide solo-trippers with an authentic experience. There are no comforts out here. You’ll have to rely on your own supplies and trading with locals for food and water. Because Bolivia is close to the equator, you’ll need a hat and sunscreen, especially when the sun is directly overhead.
The Cairngorms, Scotland
The Cairngorms have been described as northern Europe’s last true wilderness. Although they’re situated just a few dozen miles from the port of Aberdeen, the Cairngorms have a character all of their own. You won’t find much in the way of mobile signal here, so GPS tracking devices are advised.
The Cairngorms are a perfect place to go on a hiking expedition. Not only is the scenery as impressive as you’ll find anywhere, but the along the way you’ll discover bothies – little huts for shelter and freshwater. Pick up a footpath or bridleway and start your adventure today.