“You’re going by yourself?”
These were the first words out of my mother’s mouth when I told her that I was taking a six-week road trip to camp and hike in America’s National Parks – solo. Her concern wasn’t a surprise, and I was frankly skeptical myself. Who was I to take a solo hiking and camping road trip? I was (and still am) a city girl. I like the convenience of take-out and access to the nearest salon…and to my high-speed internet. Nevertheless, it was time to live up to the independent-woman-with-a-sense-of-zany-adventure reputation I had so carefully cultivated. I knew this was something I had to do – that is, if I could figure out how to accomplish it without getting myself killed.
Because, of course, the second thing my mother — and anyone else I told about my plans — wanted to know was: “Isn’t it dangerous?”
Yes. Yes, it was dangerous. I was twenty-seven years old, and female. I am small in stature. I tend to believe the best of people and am overly trusting. Traveling solo will always be a little more dangerous for me than for, say, a male built like a linebacker, and traveling solo will always be a little more dangerous than traveling with companions. If that weren’t enough, I was planning to hike and camp alone, so that at any moment I could fall off a mountain (or be eaten by a mountain lion), and I planned to fall asleep at night with nothing more than a thin layer of nylon separating me from terrifying evil-doers.
Did that stop me? Of course not. To me, the safety calculation was a simple one: what is the ratio of the risks I faced in relation to the precautions I could take to limit my exposure to these risks? This is because safety is always about balance.
This calculation is the same one we use every day of our lives. When you walk across a busy intersection, is there danger that you will be hit by a car? Yes, of course. Can you limit your exposure to that danger, by paying attention to the lights and the traffic and not tripping in the middle of the street? Yes, of course. You wouldn’t never cross a street just because you might get hit by a car. And by the same token, you wouldn’t cross a street with your eyes closed listening to your headphones and just hoping you timed it right.
So as I prepared for my great adventure, I evaluated the risks:
- Getting lost (on the road or the trail)
- Car trouble
- Car accident
- Losing wallet/important documents
- Getting robbed
- Getting attacked (physically or sexually)
- Injuring myself on the trail
- Running into dangerous wildlife
As I looked over my list, I realized that I face many of these dangers in my hometown. I can certainly get robbed (I was, a little over a year ago, in fact), attacked, have car trouble or get into a car accident, and lose my wallet right here in Boston. The greater danger of it happening on the road, while alone, is that I would have to deal with it alone. I then came up with the following list of precautions/things to do to minimize these risks:
- Have lots of maps
- Make sure cell phone is always charged and working
- Get mechanic to look at car
- Drive carefully
- Make lists of numbers and photocopies of important things to keep one in the glove box and leave one with the parents in case I lose my wallet
- Make lists of phone numbers in case I lose my phone
- Don’t get drunk
- Pay attention to people around, try not to end up completely alone
- Don’t trust everyone so fast
- Get a first aid kit
- Learn about potential wildlife and how to handle it
- Leave itinerary with lots of people and check in often
I could do all of that. I did do all of that. You know what? I didn’t have any trouble. Yes, I blew out a tire in the middle of nowhere in New Mexico. I dealt with that just fine. Yes, there were a couple of times that I decided not to stay at a campsite that just didn’t feel right to me. Yes, I sometimes skipped a hike because it looked too devoid of others and I wasn’t yet confident in my solo hiking ability.
The bottom line is that I didn’t take any unnecessary risks. I thought about the risks that were out there and did whatever was in my control to minimize my exposure. I balanced. And that’s really all you can ever do, male or female, traveling solo or with companions.
I’m sure, despite all of this, my mom still worried. That’s what moms are for.