Ho Hum.

4 11 2009

One of the questions that I am regularly asked about solo hiking, camping, or road-tripping is: “Don’t you get bored?” 

The answer: Sometimes.  But not as often as you’d think.

Now, I should say up front that whether or not I get bored does not necessarily have a bearing on whether you will be bored.  I was always one of those kids (and am now one of those adults) happy with a book and my own company.  That’s not to say I don’t enjoy being social, interacting with crowds, and being in the company of others.  I do.  But I also like having time to myself.  So I am probably less likely to get bored than someone who needs other people around all the time.

Still, fear of being bored shouldn’t stop you from giving the solo thing a try.  You might be surprised at how interesting you are to yourself.  Or how creative you can be when left alone for a while. 

Here are some ideas for how not to get bored while striking out solo:

Other people.  Yes, yes.  We’re talking about solo camping and hiking and road-tripping.  But just because no one you know right now is going with you, that doesn’t mean you’re entering some bubble where no other person exists.  To quote Willow, in response to Oz’s news that he has to go somewhere and not be around people for a while: “People?  Kind of a planetary epidemic.”

In National Parks, there are often tours and guided hikes that you can join — even informally.  I’ve been known to just tack myself on to the back of a tour (which, when I start asking questions, makes other people look at each other and think “who the heck is that?”)  There are likely to even be other solo travelers you can link up with for a hike, dinner, maybe even a portion of your trip.  Don’t be afraid to be friendly and make friends (of course, using your head and trusting your instincts all the while).

BooksRead.  If you’re like me, there are stacks of books you’ve been meaning to read, but you don’t take the time to do so.  I read snatches of books on the subway, but truly taking the time to lose oneself in a book is rare in this age of constant connection and communication.  When you’re packing for a long hike, go ahead.  Bring a book.  Read for a little while during your lunch break reward.  Read with your headlamp in your tent at night (though, from experience, I’ll caution you not to read a fast-paced cop/murder thriller while camping alone…you won’t get any sleep that night).  Read under a tree on the banks of the Mississippi.  Read in a bar. 

Side note: Oddly, I’ve had more people approach me while I’m reading than not.  Perhaps because it gives them an opening line.  I don’t know, but I’ve met more people over a book than while sitting and staring at a television or noodling on my phone.  So maybe reading can accomplish two things!

SingingListen to music.  So you’re on a road trip.  You’re by yourself.  You’re cruising along on a big empty road out west.  Where better to indulge your love of singing loudly and badly?  No one is around to hear you — or even see you (and if you’ve ever stopped mid-song in heavy traffic to see the guy in the car next to you pointing and laughing, you’ll know why that’s important).  Go ahead, put on your guilty pleasure music, that stuff you don’t want anyone to know you want to listen to.  Who’s judging?

Books on tape.  So this is a bit of an anachronism.  No one listens to books on tape anymore, or even books on CD.  It’s audiobooks, thank you very much.  Whatever you call them, the end result is that someone is reading a book to you.  If you aren’t sure you’d like this (for example, I hate being read to), pick a book you know you’ll like, or go with a recommendation from a trusted friend.  The key to a good audiobook is a) being interested in the book; and b) having it read well.  This second one is probably the most important, and now with iTunes and other online purchasing of audiobooks available, you can listen to snippets and see if you can stand the voice.

Podcasts.  Do I really have to explain this one?  There are bazillions of them.  Surely there’s one out there that will hold your attention.

WritingWrite.  If you keep a journal, you should have plenty to say while traveling.  If you write other things, like poetry or fiction, use the time to compose your epic.  Okay, so I’m a writer.  I am not, however, a journal-er.  I have never been able to keep a journal, something that has bothered me my entire life.   When I travel, however, it’s so important to me to record as much as possible so that I can use it in later writings (hey, like this!).  Alice Steinbach, in her lovely travel memoir Without Reservations, describes an ingenious method of keeping travel notes: send yourself postcards.  Yes, you heard me.  Do it every day.  Find a postcard you like at a place you stop, and that night, write out a sentence or two.  Something that made an impression, or something that someone said, or something you saw.  If that feels too weird for you, pick someone back home and send them a postcard every day.  The nice side benefit of this is that it also focuses your memory and forces you to reflect on what you have seen and done.

Learn something.  No, I don’t mean study physics (unless you really want to).  There are plenty of things to know, and one of the fun things about solo camping, hiking and road-tripping is that you can choose precisely which things you want to know more about.  As noted above, the National Parks often have guided hikes and tours, ranger demonstrations, and even museums.  If there’s nothing scheduled, chat up a ranger — they are usually glad to share their knowledge and expertise.  Go to a museum (even a non-National Park museum!) and wander at your own pace.  Grab the audio tour.  Find an old-timer sitting on a porch and ask him about his childhood.  Learn something.  And then, when you get back, you can impress your mom with stories.

You know what?  Sometimes you’ll be bored.  At least you’ll be bored while doing something interesting on the grand scale, rather than just sitting around your house.  And then you’ll find something else to do, and you won’t be bored anymore.

What about you?  How do you stave off the boredom while traveling alone?

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