A Born Solo Travler
Updated: Feb 5, 2019
My dad died from a brain aneurism right before I turned 15 years old. The aneurism was sudden but aftermath was two weeks struggling in the hospital in a drug induced coma before ultimately going brain dead after surgery, requiring us to pull the plug. To say that this was a life altering, earth shattering experience as a teenager would be an understatement. The struggle to cope, to survive was real and daily. But I’m not here to go into the details of my family. I’m here to talk about my experiences traveling. How they’ve shaped me. How I’ve learned from them. And how I apply those 10,000 hours towards future travel and now, hopefully, yours as well.
In searching for a way to survive my dad’s death, I was angry, I was lost, and I didn’t know where to go. All I knew was that I didn’t know who I was or who I wanted to be, but I wanted to find out. At 16, I found Outward Bound; an intense survivalist program which started as a reform camp for troubled teens and transitioned into an outdoor educational experience. They boast a mission of changing lives through challenge and discovery which, after having done it, I would describe more as extreme endurance for survival. Though it did change my life.
I decided to join a several week mountaineering expedition in California’s High Sierra’s with seven other teenagers, strangers, relying on each other to survive in the wilderness. I joined the expedition as a smarta$$, angry teenager who thought she could take on the world and after one 80lbs backpack, 15 mile trek, 11 hour day, and over 1,000 feet elevation gain I was wrong. After breaking down at the end of the first day, I told the guide that I wasn’t ready and couldn’t continue. They told me something that I repeat on every journey to this day. They said, “don’t look at the next three weeks, no one can do that. Think about the fact that you made it today, so you can make it tomorrow. Just take it one day at a time”. Over the course of 21 days, one step at a time, I grew stronger physically and emotionally. I learned how to survive on very little, to make a family out of strangers, and most importantly how to take ownership over my impact and future.
Outward Bound set me on a course for world travel from that point forward. If you’re considering a ‘survivalist’ or ‘leadership’ expedition through the program or otherwise, here’s a few pointers to keep with you.
Most importantly – take it one day, one step at a time. You can accomplish more than you think yourself capable and reach new heights if you take it piece by piece.
Learn ways to spend your time while walking – games like 20 questions or yes / no riddles can make hours feel like, well hours – but bearable ones.
Your beanie, headlamp, and Nalgene are your best friends. I love camelbak, but nothing beats the versatility and usability of a good liter Nalgene. Pro-tip – take that extra hot water from cooking and fill your Nalgene. Put inside the bottom of your sleeping bag for those extra cold nights.
Carmex is a life and lip saver during the day and night. Generously apply Carmex to your lips, nose and any other dry spot while sleeping and it’ll keep you from chapping or chafing over night.
If you’re desperate for a shower or just a refresher- having a few Herban Essentials wipes can do just the trick.
On Outward Bound, a solo trip is required as part of your journey. This was the hardest experience for me, but if you can find ways to pass the time like meditation, singing, or otherwise, you’ll come out much stronger. They do not allow you to have electronics, writing instruments, or even cooking equipment. The idea is to be still in nature. I highly recommend practicing before going straight into it.
For altitude gain – Nuun tablets can be a great way to get the nutrients you need in the wilderness.
Lastly, be kind to yourself and patient with others. Everyone goes at their own pace. In Tanzania, the experts say “Pole Pole” or slowly slowly, and everyone will make it safely.
Whether you decide to “survive” the Sierra’s or simply hike them, they’re an absolutely stunning expanse of all types of terrain, through which the famous Pacific Coast Trail runs.
Follow your north,