The trip I’m planning now will be my third solo outback adventure -- which included driving across the Simpson Desert on my own last year -- and still, I still get questions.
Overcoming the fear of travelling alone
I even get them when I’m out there in the middle of a trip. “Aren’t you scared?” or “isn’t it dangerous?”.
I do still get scared. I’m out there on my own, often a long way from any help. If something goes wrong, well … I’ve got emergency plans and we all have to die some time.
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Of course it’s dangerous. But statistically less dangerous than driving on a major highway. Though if I get bitten by an inland taipan …. see above paragraph.
“Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” — Helen Keller
I know that whenever I start thinking about another trip, or when I’m about to start one, or even sometimes in the middle of the trip, I start worrying that I can’t do it. I don’t have the skills or experience. I get that stereotypically female thought that “I’m not good enough''.
There are steps you can take to overcome that anxiety, to help you get out there and explore.
Do some research
Find out as much as you can about the place/s you are going to. This includes the basic information about what the weather’s going to be like while you are there, through to interesting places to visit, and the history and culture.
If you’re planning on travelling solo, it’s also important to know if there are any places or experiences you should avoid, that might be less safe. You may decide to visit those places anyway, but at least you’ll know more about what to expect.
Even as somebody who likes to wing it, to be flexible, I still at least make some plans.
Before I travel, I spend months poring over maps planning possible routes, working out which roads are ok, ones that may be difficult to drive, or have long distances between fuel stops.
I’ll come up with a basic route, including approximately how long each stage will take me. I also have a plan B in case I change my mind, or a road is closed because of weather.
These plans always get changed while I’m travelling, but at least I’ve worked out enough to know what can be dropped, and where I can save time if I’ve spent longer in one place.
This is particularly important when you’re travelling alone. Always let somebody know where you are, where you’re going and when you expect to be there.
Have a communications plan where you contact somebody every few days, and let them know what they should do in case you don’t get in touch.
Even in the middle of the Simpson Desert, I called Doc every second day to let him know I was still alive.
The conversation consisted of: “I’m still alive. I’ve got so much to tell you, I’ll call you when I get to Birdsville.” But it was enough so that he didn’t have to worry about me, and he could let my kids and parents know I was ok.
He also had instructions on when he should call out a search party if I didn’t get in touch.
You don’t want the plan to be too rigid, but if you say you are going to contact somebody at a certain time, make sure you do. The last thing you need is somebody calling out search and rescue because you decided you had to watch the sunset before you made the call to them.
“Everything has to have more than one use” is a common piece of advice. This includes your clothes.
Have things that you can mix and match, or that you can layer for different weather. Things that are lightweight and easy to pack. Even for cold weather you can get some amazing light, woollen materials. I have thermal tights and long-sleeved T-shirts that fold up as small as a pair of socks, which keep me very warm when worn under other layers.
Start packing at least a week before you leave. Get out everything you think you need and lay it out on a spare bed, or somewhere it won’t get disturbed. The next day, go in and take half of it away.
The following day go and take away another half. You’re almost there.
The last thing you need is to be lugging around heavy luggage that you won’t even use. You'll get tired, cranky and, if you’re somewhere warm, you’ll get hot. It will spoil your holiday. Just trying to get a big, heavy bag from the airport to your hotel can put you in a bad mood.
If you forget something, you can always buy it while you’re away. It’s not as easy to leave things along the way though.
Another tip: If you roll your clothes rather than fold them when you pack, they take up less room in your bag and don’t crease as much.
Talk with (and listen to) other people
You’re not the first person to travel where you’re going, or to travel alone. Other people who have done it before you have great tips based on experience.
There are also excellent online resources to help solo travellers, particularly women. Travelling solo doesn’t mean you have to be on your own all the time.
You could take a group tour and they will organise everything for you, or if you want company, there are always places to meet other people – cafes, community events and yes, even in bars and pubs.
If you’re driving outback, then you also need to know about your car, but that’s a whole new story.
What would you prefer? A daring adventure – or nothing at all?