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Solo Travel: 4 Ways to Reduce Anxiety Outdoors

Updated: Mar 21, 2019



Have you ever wanted to spend the day outdoors only to realize no one was available to go with you? If you didn't go, that's ok because you're not alone.


There are times when it can be daunting to think about being alone on the trail or even in the woods. After all, you probably weren't raised by a pack of wolves.


I too have neglected trips into the outdoors because I didn't have the comfort of others to make me feel safe. But after a while, I began to feel bad about myself, and I couldn't resist the urge any longer. Then I started to pay attention to what was holding me back from my outdoor desire.


Fear and Anxiety

The number one thought that held me back from outdoor experiences was fear of the unknown.


Some specific fears I had were getting lost, my vehicle breaking down in a remote place, being eaten or attacked by something, the vulnerability of sleeping at night, etc. I'll also add that I spent most of my childhood in the outdoors, yet these thoughts still cross my mind today.


The outdoors is not always safe, but neither is living. There is more to gain from living and experiencing than doing nothing.


Getting Started

To get started, it helped me to discover what thoughts were holding me back. Here are a set of questions I asked myself many years ago that helped me understand my thoughts better.


  • What do I specifically fear about the outdoors?

  • What are the chances of these things happening?

  • If they did happen, could I prepare or minimize the risk?

  • Would I regret the experience if I didn't go?


These questions allowed me to write down answers, which ultimately allowed me to address my fears one by one. Then I was able to formulate a plan that eased my worry.


For example, having a fear of an animal attack is healthy. But the chances are slim. Instead of worrying about it, learn what animals are present in the environment you seek out. Find out how they act, what they eat, when they are on the prowl, what you can do to avoid them or ward them off.


I would do this for all my worries. I concluded that there are many things I can do to avoid taking unnecessary risks by planning. The crazy thoughts still come up from time to time, but they don't bother me the same way anymore. I have learned to respect the outdoors and everything it has to offer.



Here are four tips that might help you discover a life outdoors when no one is available to go with you.


Seek Comfort

Where are you comfortable outdoors? The idea is to start where you are comfortable and then begin to push further into the unknown.


You might start at a state park during the day where you are comfortable and ease into the evening hours where it feels much different. Maybe you push yourself a bit more and go camping for the first time but where people are nearby.


As long as you define what you are afraid of, you can set goals and work up to anything you desire with more ease. Each time you are building a set of skills and learning to control your anxiety every step of the way.


Remember the fear I mentioned about being attacked by an animal and the vulnerability of sleeping outdoors by myself? The first solo trip I took was in Arkansas in 2010. I drove fours from home, kayaked to an island, and slept in my tent. Being on an island alleviated my fears because I felt comfortable.



Leverage Desire

Use your desire to leverage yourself into the unknown. Perhaps you want to photograph a natural feature, paint a picture of a mountain, read in peace, write, observe the milky way, run, etc. Focus on these desires and what you aim to achieve without letting your mind think of all the other things that can happen.


For many years, I have used the desire to create photos at night as a means of pushing through fears. Each time I accomplished this task I feel stronger and more enthusiastic than the time before. It's still not always easy, but the drive to create photographs works very well for me.


If your desire is not enough, leverage time. Give yourself a time frame to go outside and try staying out until the time is up. That could mean setting a timer to hike for an hour in the day or even just 15 minutes in the dark. More often than not, you find that once you meet your time limit, you stay longer because you feel great for accomplishing your goal.


Once you start the small steps, you eventually begin to discover that it is much easier than you think to leverage desire as a means to overcome your fear of being alone outdoors.



Calm the Chatter

Being alone in the woods, desert, or in the mountains can create anxiety. It doesn't have to be too stressful though.


What I found that helps tremendously is learning to control the mind through breathing. Take full breathes through your abdomen. Focus on making the lower stomach push out if you are not familiar with full inhalation techniques.


The anxiety typically vanishes quickly and allows you to start thinking logically again. From here you can reflect on the four questions previously mentioned and you're back to pressing on.


Once you calm your body, the mind is not far behind. You'll find it much easier to slow down the chatter and relax while making better decisions.


You're Rarely Alone

So your friends couldn't join you for the day. Well, there is a good chance you will run into other like-minded people along your journey. I've met some people I still stay in touch with today who I met on the trails across the country.


It's so easy to strike up another conversation with others in the outdoors. We are all mostly here for one thing--the outdoors, sunshine, and good times.


Maybe having people within view would help get you going. Hike by yourself but far enough back that you can see people. Just don't act like a stalker and stop when they do or hide behind a bush if they see you. Just wave and move on or turn back if you need too.



Summary

Don't let the thought of being alone outdoors stop you if you want to go and make some memorable experiences. Spending time in the wild is not for everyone, and it comes with its own set of risks, but it's also one of the most rejuvenating places to find peace and relaxation.


The confidence you gain throughout your journey is unmatched by most experiences.


If you are afraid to go outdoors alone or have fears about it, this is natural. Remember to define what causes you fear. Then try to start where you are comfortable and branch out from there. Leverage your desire or purpose to get you through your worries. Calm your chattering mind and know that you are rarely alone.


Mother Nature welcomes you. Respect her and have the time of your life. Good things are waiting for you.


Safe travels!




All Content © B. Scott Dodson. Please contact scott@bscottdodson.com for all photography and/or editorial collaborations.