Let’s face it, we are inundated by social media images and postings of travel and adventure that make just about everyone’s lives look meager in comparison. Solo travel looks glamorous, full of giddy smiles and beautiful backdrops, and full of places and locations that none of us recalls learning about in Geography class.
I won’t bore with you with the perfectly crafted images of solo adventuring, but hopefully will instill in you eight truths behind solo road tripping, with the harsh realities and the highs and lows. I get it, solo adventuring is not for everyone. I recently made a winter road trip to combine some solo travel intermixed with family time over the holidays. My trip began in Colorado, heading north through Wyoming, Montana, into Alberta and British Columbia and curiosity took me back home a different route through eastern Montana, Idaho, western Wyoming and finally a safe welcome back to Colorado. Road tripping allows for such spontaneity, however, make a plan and be ready for it to change especially on winter travels…unexpected car needs, shifting, inclement weather, your own fatigue and a plethora of unknowns.
I don’t care what time of year it is, the truth is to have some semblance of confidence on your road trip your vehicle should be fully equipped with an emergency safety bin or two. A full list of suggested items can be found at the end of this article. Car safety and preparedness are number one priority, and if you are anything like me, as a women traveler, it’s pretty awesome to see someone in need on your travels and be able to assist whether it be jumping another’s car battery to providing some snacks for stranded travelers waiting for help. And please, make sure your vehicle has gotten a full checkup, equipped with the right tires, especially if winter traveling, and is in condition to allow for your safety to be its highest.
I started my trip at 5:00 A.M. fully caffeinated and soon noticed that it was very dark, yet the headlights were on. It must be due to the caffeine not fully kicking in, right? Wrong, I pulled over to a gas station and sure enough one of my headlights was out. What?! I just had them replaced. Quick, what next? No auto stores were open and it was holiday week so some businesses were showing closed already. I found the nearest coffee shop that was open, researched my options and found a shop opened up soon nearby. Perfect, time to enjoy another cup of coffee. Not as perfect as I thought, this small town garage couldn’t help me for several days. Guys, it’s not always true that the pretty ladies just need to turn up a smile or give a hair flip and they can get what they want. That’s only in Hollywood. What next? I searched again and found the next closest store open and with a sigh of relief, I had new lights within minutes, great conversation and was sent off with holiday cheer.
Second reality of solo road tripping, it’s up to you to stay alert and vigilant on the road, which can be exhausting over time. You don’t have your bestie sitting next to you with an extra set of eyes to watch for wildlife or debris on the road, or even that cool scenic lookout or sign for your favorite photographic shots. Know your driving limits and don’t exceed them. Stop and rest before you are tired. I’m very cautious about getting to my next destination before darkness. I’ve had too many close calls with large mammals crossing the road and quickly became known as “Wildlife Safety Patrol” by some locals as they could hear me for miles honking my horn to save as many wildlife from crossing the roads. Stay alert, stop before you are tired and take in one of the many joys of road tripping with the spontaneity to take a detour to that cool town you passed through or enjoy that scenic hike. Enjoy that and be flexible to adjust travel plans to get you to a safe place to rest before you are too tired or putting yourself and others in an unsafe situation.
A third reality of solo road tripping is you don’t have an extra pair of hands to grab the steering wheel or manage your spilled coffee pouring down your face and onto your favorite cozy sweater. Not to mention the frustration to deal with that you now have no more coffee. A real bummer if getting an early start to your trip and needing that extra boost. I prefer to bring all my drinks and snacks with me, including a camp stove and fuel, unless I discover a historic or interesting dining experience to add to my adventure. Organize your snacks in advance, making them easy to grab along the way, and don’t hesitate to stop at rest areas to get meals prepared in advance. Keep yourself fueled up with healthy snacks to stay mentally alert.
Fourth reality is where to safely use the bathroom?! Pulling over on the side of the road as a solo women traveler is just not smart. I’ve done it way too many times because I waited too long and now was left with no option. But just in case you find a safe place, I highly recommend you have the women’s pee device, Tinkle Belle. Yes, that is exactly what it’s called. It avoids the need to do any squatting and allows for some modesty. Where available, use facilities where there are crowds of people and avoid late night rest stops, if at all possible. And always carry with you an emergency keychain emergency alarm.
Admittedly, I wished I had followed this last piece of advice on my recent trip. I pulled into a rest stop after dark with lots of semi-trucks parked, but very few cars in the lot. I rushed into the ladies room and soon after I could hear slowly moving footsteps. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up. I quietly began to exit the ladies room and before I knew what was happening, I was running, slamming a door into the man whom suddenly was running after me. I managed to get in my car, start the ignition, and as I locked the doors, he was slamming on my windshield. I quickly reversed, honking the horn, and sped off in a most uncomfortable panic. If you have parents anything like mine, they are right, it’s not safe to go out alone at dark.
Besides dealing with potential attackers, perhaps the fifth and worst part of road tripping solo is getting sick, whether it’s the common cold, to stomach flu or any number of unexpected ailments. You have no one to help do the driving, locate a pharmacy or healthcare provider, if needed, or pick up your favorite natural alternatives. Always carry a first aid kit with a variety of healthcare products, such as Imodium, cough drops, ointments, etc. Being sick and getting tired are a disastrous combination so use the acronym STOP: Stop, literally, somewhere safe. Think. Options: consider your safest and healthiest choices such as resting in the nearest lodging. Plan and adjust your travel plans.
Along the same lines of getting sick, a sixth reality in solo road tripping is it can become exhausting. You are doing all the driving. If you are in snowy conditions, you are possibly shoveling and clearing all the snow too. I recently had my driver’s side windshield wiper fly off after presumably being frozen in wintery cold conditions. You are responsible for deciding what to do next. I tried duct tape, but no luck and instead had to safely keep my lower part of my body in the driver’s side, while leaning into the passenger side to get some semblance of a clear view to get me to the nearest auto parts store. As the leader on your journey, you don’t have someone to bounce ideas around, to brainstorm solutions, to make mistakes together and to know someone has your back. It’s just You. And the truth is, at times, that can become mentally, emotionally and physically exhausting. So, give yourself some space in your schedule to allow for all these unknowns.
Sickness, exhaustion, attackers? Convinced yet that solo adventuring is not always glamorous and quite frankly not always safe? Could it get any worse? The truth is at times, solo road tripping can be extremely lonely. While I’m a proud introvert, I too get lonely on long road trips. The upside is that as a solo traveler, I’ve found I actually make new connections, friends, and enjoy some very meaningful interactions with strangers. But it doesn’t come easy. You have to overcome your own discomfort at times of being alone, oftentimes feeling awkward or socially out of place, or just exhausted from your travels that conjuring up a conversation with anyone is just daunting.
However, once you make the choice and put yourself out there—signing up for a ski lesson or snowshoe tour, if on a winter trip, or booking an AirBNB experience with your local host – you will find you have an amazing opportunity to connect with new people, and possibly make new life-long friends. I had been driving for 11 hours straight and quite frankly when I checked in to my lodging in the 150 person snowy town of Field, British Columbia, I just wanted to isolate even more and rest. I took a nice hot shower, fancied myself up, and went outside for a walk. I stumbled upon a pottery store and before long I was learning the history of this unique railroad town, shown around the gallery, picked up some lovely holiday gifts for family and was invited to join at that evenings Christmas Concert. You just never know the joys you will find.
That is until you’re approached by creepy or unwanted men, wanting to invade your space. Listen to your cautionary voice, trust your instinct, and when you feel that unnerving discomfort, this is the time, to excuse yourself and be sure you aren’t walking out alone. If doing a group activity, and he is wanting to meet up later, it is fine to say you have other plans and if he pushes for your phone number, stay strong and say you are not interested in meeting up. Prepare in advance of your road trip some responses to have handy to keep yourself safe. And never leave a place alone to get back to your car when you get that extra creepy vibe that you may be in danger.
Solo travels are definitely full of some real and often unsafe challenges, but I can say on the flipside of all those truths, that something fundamental gets stripped away when you only have yourself to rely on, and because of that I’ve found myself over the years become more confident, more self-reliant, more strong, more self-aware, more honest, and more clear about all sorts of things that once would have stifled me. So, are you ready to give road tripping a try? Don’t leave home without your safety bin of my suggested items to ALWAYS have in your car at all times. And please be safe out there.
1. Jumper cables⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
2. First aid kit ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
3. Tire wheel jack lug wrench tool⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
4. Air pump⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
5. Tire pressure gauge tool⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
6. Tool Kit
7. Hazard triangle/flares⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
8. Tow strap⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
9. Duct Tape⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
10. Extra warm down jacket, gloves, hat, scarf⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
11. Flashlight and extra batteries ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
12. Gallon water ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
13. Extra windshield wiper fluid
14. Quart of motor oil
15. Paper towels
16. Durable Shovel – not a plastic one
17. Ice Scraper⠀
18. Chains or winter or snow tires (if going in winter conditions)⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
19. Personal care items in case you get stranded (I.e. toothbrush, paste, warm layers)⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
20. Extra food such as nuts and seeds, dried fruit, veggie chips, etc.)⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
21. Portable cell phone charger⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
22. Blanket and/or sleeping bag⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
23. SPOT satellite communication device ⠀
24. Tinkle Bell pee device
25. Toilet paper
26. National Geographic Road Map is my favorite
27. A handful of body and hand warmers