I hesitated on the title for this blog post….
Why, you ask?
Well, there’s the obvious elephant in the room. I’m a guy.
And, I’m anything but safe. As an adventure photographer, I’ve gotten stuck on mountains, teetered on the edges of cliffs, been nearly submerged in water, sunk up to my waist in wet, mud…you name it!
To see more examples of the crazy situations I’ve found myself in and the dangerous (but beautiful) places I’ve been and unique places I’ve found myself in, check out my Instagram account at www.instagram.com/swagginscottricks.
I also am wimpy and get terrified at just the slightest noise in nature when I’m alone.
Why this blog post, then?
I needed a resource similar to this when I began my outdoor journey, but I found that there was very little advice out there from people who had actually encountered difficult situations and experienced the complexities of being on the road.
I created this resource as a guide for anyone that might have a mental hurdle to conquer before embarking on a solo road-trip (including but not limited to women) and to help separate the actual, real-life dangers from the imagined, unlikely to occur dangers.
I’m not and I don’t (and will never) proclaim to be an expert on women.
So why is this blog post focused on women?
The fact of the matter is that I’ve NEVER had a male reach out to me on social media and ask for advice on how to stay safe as a solo traveler (not to say that they don’t need it. They’re probably just too afraid to let another man see them vulnerable haha).
However, I have had A LOT of my female followers ask me to write a blog post aimed not only at how to make a great solo vacation, but how to make the most out of a vacation that was supposed to be great, but went downhill fast.
So why should you keep reading this post if I just admitted to not being an authority on this matter?
For One, I’ve been to a lot of places and gotten myself into many precarious situations.
Second, As a nature photographer and adventurer who spends a lot of time alone in the middle of nowhere, I know a little about what is out there, both the seen and the unseen.
Third, I’ve experienced a lot of difficulties on my solo road-trips compared to road-trips when I have company so I definitely know the elements that make solo road-trip preparation of utmost importance.
Before You Even Start Packing
The first thing you should do is make sure that the area you’re going to visit doesn’t have any trail closures, require registration or a permit, and isn’t experiencing any other logistical issues in the area. This will ensure that you don’t spend all the time preparing for a trip only to get there and not be able to see what your heart is set on (believe me, it happens more than you would think it does).
If there is a National Park in the area, you can search that National Park on the National Park Service Website (www.nps.gov) and find National Park Service alerts and conditions to include any closures. For example, changes this year at Zion National Park include
- As of April 1, 2022: Hikers need a permit to hike the renowned Angels Landing Trail, one of the most popular trails at the National Park.
- Monday-Thursday until Early June: The Canyon Overlook Trail is closed for improvements.
*This trail is how you can get beautiful views of the main canyon.
- From March through November of each year, private vehicles are not permitted on the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. You are required to use the Zion Canyon Shuttle System during that time period.
- As of May 17, 2022, cyanotoxins harmful to humans have been found in the streams of Zion National Park.
*By knowing this from researching the location in advance, you will know to not submerge your head or filter your drinking water in the stream. It literally could be life or death.
Packing for the Trip
When packing for your trip, focus on the things that are absolutely necessary for survival, safety, or to get you out of a bad situation the quickest. After you are confident with the results of that packing process, you can then focus on the comfort items.
How to Not Be Stuck in a Bad Situation for Too Long
Try to anticipate everything that could possibly go wrong (no matter how unlikely it is that it will happen) or any supplies that you might need (no matter how unlikely it is that you will need them).
PRO TIP: Run some scenarios through your head (without getting too emotionally worked up because the process is to foresee the unlikely occurrences). If you get stuck in a snow drift, on the edge of a cliff, lost in the dark and unable to drive, etc., do you really want to be thinking about big juicy sandwiches or do you want to be thinking about which sandwich you’re going to eat first out of all of the big, juicy sandwiches you brought in preparation for this moment?
Some Initial Items You May Need if Things Go Wrong
- A gas can with extra gasoline
- Snacks on snacks on snacks
*The top thing on my list for road trips even if I wasn’t talking about emergency preparedness
*But why does this fall on an emergency preparedness list?
Remember when I said to try to anticipate anything that could go wrong?
What if you’re stranded in your car for several days? There is no Doordash in the middle of the desert!
- My staple to deal with exhaustion as an adventure photographer: Red Bull Energy Drinks – Even when a place doesn’t have my favorite kind (Redbull yellow tropical flavor), I can usually find the original unflavored cans (and they’re in larger cans and less expensive than the newer different flavored cans of Redbull)
Don’t just think about the most obvious things or limit your brainstorming to those things you’ll need if everything goes perfectly. The point of this process is to ensure that you have what you need if things go WRONG.
What Could Possibly Go Wrong?
- YOU GET LOST
How to not get lost (or at least to not be forgotten while you’re lost)
(1) First and foremost: Everyone, regardless of gender or anything else, should always leave a detailed itinerary with a friend or family member and indicate the day and time that you plan to return home.
If you’re anything like me and just drive endlessly, your itinerary won’t be 100% accurate, but it’s ABSOLUTELY better than nothing at all for your loved ones to go off of.
(2) Choose your hiking trail(s) in advance of your trip. Focus on well-marked, popular trails. Research how long the hike should take as well as the total distance of the trail out and back. In advance of your hike, identify noticeable landmarks to use as a visual guide on your hike.
(3) Bring a GPS and have back-up directions for the specific place you are going to.
Consider the Garmin inReach Mini 2 Two-Way Satellite Communicator
-Global satellite coverage (requires a subscription)
-Compact size (4” x 2” and weighs 3.5 ounces)
-Up to 14 days of battery life in 10-minute tracking mode and up to 30 days in 30-minute mode
-Impact resistant and water-rated
-Alert emergency services of the need for assistance.
*You can even trigger an interactive SOS message to the Garmin 24/7 staffed emergency response coordination center.
-Messaging to send and receive status messages with loved ones
-Location sharing via MapShare
*Feature I like: You also have the ability to share your actual Coordinates. Sometimes that’s the only thing you can give to ensure you’re found no matter where you are.
-Navigational directions to lead you back to your starting point when you’re lost
-Ability to post to social media
(4) You can even download Google Maps for an area in advance of a trip. Even if you don’t have phone reception, those downloaded directions will still be available to you.
How To Download Maps
Step 1: Download the Google Maps App to your cell phone
Step 2: Search the general area that you plan to explore, such as a city.
Step 3: Tap the name of the location on the bottom of the screen
Step 4: Scroll Down to the bottom of the page to see the following options (from left to right)
Step 5: Selecting Download will open up a map with general area and a rectangle with an outline.
Step 6: Drag the rectangle to more fine tune the area you want your map to cover.
Step 7: Select Download and you’re good to go.
*You can then use Maps exactly as you would when you have cell phone connection.
(5) Use an App on your cell phone (such as the Find My Location App) to share your location in real-time with a loved one
•Bring a physical map as backup
*You can usually get a local hiking map from the nearest tourism division or visitor center
- YOU ARE AT RISK OF AN ANIMAL ATTACK
One of the types of photography that first drew me to photography as a whole is wildlife photography. I quickly learned that it is magical to be able to experience them in their natural habitat when they do not know they’re being watched – the love between mother and child, how they achieve peace, the sweetness that shows in their eyes…
A lot of the same things that wildlife photographers do to come home with the perfect shot apply to ensuring that you come home with your arms or legs.
This includes researching the type of wildlife located in the area you are traveling to gain an understanding of their
•behaviors (what time of the year and day are they most active, where do they sleep?)
•habitats (where do they hang out?)
PRO TIP: This is largely determined by food and water sources.
•defense mechanisms (what do they do when they feel threatened?)
EXAMPLE: When they feel threatened in danger, moose
-lower their heads,
-lick their snout, or
-pin back their ears
If the Animal Hasn’t Seen You…
If the animal hasn’t already seen you
•Follow all camping rules and posted signs and stay on designated trails.
•Make a lot of noise when hiking so that the animals know you’re coming.
•Don’t leave food unattended
If the Animal Has Seen You…
If the animal sees you
•Be calm (or try to) and act brave; Don’t run or make sudden movements.
•Give the animal space to run away
•Mountain Lion: tend to attack from behind; Don’t turn your back on them
•Bears: Playing dead works with brown (grizzly) bears, but not black bears
•Do things that make your body look bigger.
The appropriate action to take if a wild animal sees you is different depending on the species
*Note: It may be impossible to make the distinction at times. Certain animals (think mountain lions) see you (and are slowly stalking you) even when you have no idea it’s happening.
This is why it’s important to know common behaviors that certain animals display in different situations.
Staying hydrated with water and ensuring intake of salts (such as that in trail mix) are both important to prevent dehydration.
Why? Salts impact your body’s ability to regulate the water that you take in.
I’ve learned that the secret to drinking more water is to make it as effortless as possible to get your intake by focusing on making water 100 percent accessible with the least inconvenience.
Other Drinking Tips
•If you wait until you’re thirsty to drink water, you’ll put yourself in catch-up mode. When you actually feel thirsty, you’re already dehydrated.
•Wait until after your hike to drink alcohol to avoid dehydration! This also will be a great way to celebrate your hiking milestones!
•Remember that drinking water after your hike is as important as drinking water before and during your hike.
•Always have a back-up plan! Add purifying water bottles to your shopping list.
The simplest way that I’ve found you can increase accessibility of your water and convenience in drinking it is by purchasing a hydration pack.
What Are Hydration Packs?
A hydration pack is a backpack or waistpack with a reservoir to hold water and a bite valve allowing you to drink water hands-free.
Top Things to consider: water capacity, weight of the pack when the water reservoir is full, fit, and presence of other pouches in which to store additional outdoor must-have items.
When shopping for a backpack, look for a bigger bladder. Ok I’m not referring to your anatomical bladder (although you’ll wish you had a bigger one after drinking all of that water).
What I’m referring to is the bag that you fill up with the water (that you place inside your hydration backpack).
If you took all of these steps and still feel weird, monitor your symptoms for some of the signs that you’re severely dehydrated.
Signs of Dehydration
•disorientation or dizziness
•lack of appetite or other digestive issues
- YOU GET INJURED
The biggest thing I’ve learned when hiking for my photography is that the majority of my injuries (it’s inevitable that you will have some) have occurred due to me being distracted.
It’s like my camera sucks the common sense out of me. When my mind is set on getting a particular shot, I get carried away and everything goes out the window (sometimes literally).
You may not have a camera, but you have something that does the same thing to you (other than your kids).
As discussed above, make sure you research and are familiar with the terrain of the location you are going to hike at in advance.
Helpful tips on doing this are included in the GETTING LOST section of this blog post.
Stay focused and minimize distractions (even if that means you can’t read this blog post when you’re climbing Mount Everest haha).
Choice of shoes and socks makes a huge difference!
To prevent injuries (one of the most common being a sprained ankle), I focus on ankle support, traction, fit, cushioning, and water resistance.
They (The shoe “experts” ) generally say that low cut shoes are ok for day hikes, but my personal preference and recommendation is to look for a higher cut model. Since I live in Utah and regularly hike tight, twisting slot canyons, that extra angle support to keep my ankle in a proper position has made a huge difference.
I currently wear the Crag Rat from Danner Boots and have yet to seriously injure myself (which is quite an accomplishment for me).
With socks, the primary considerations I focus on are cushioning and fabric. In addition, because I wear the high cut hiking shoes, I look for a sock that goes as high as (or a little above) the cut of my shoes.
When selecting socks, it definitely is all about more cushion for the pushin. Proper cushioning from your socks and shoes, together with shoes that fit and don’t slide back and forth, are key to minimizing the likelihood of developing blisters. In addition, socks made of synthetic fabrics are less likely to give you blisters.
Rule #4: Minimize impact on the joints as much as possible.
One way to do this is to use trekking poles.
What Are Trekking Poles?
Trekking poles are walking sticks that provide stability and reduce strain on the joints.
Tip for selecting trekking poles
*Find ones that are collapsible and can be fastened to a backpack as needed.
INCLEMENT COLD OR EXTRAORDINARILY HOT WEATHER, POOR ROAD CONDITIONS, AND OTHER UNEXPECTED OCCURRENCES
- Extra layers, wool socks, hand and feet warmers, and gloves to avoid hypothermia
- Hat, sunglasses, sunblock, and breathable outfits for hot conditions