I’ve always been an outdoors kind of guy. It’ll never change. I know in my bones that I’ll be hiking, biking and kayaking until I can no longer move. I’ll wear that as a badge of honour. The way I’ve gone about it over the years has certainly changed though. When I was 20, I lived on the smell of an oily rag, drove a dirt box car, shared a room in a 4 bedroom house with 8 others, and made the most of my free time hiking, surfing, kayaking or biking. My tent was my second home.
After making my way to Peru for the first time in the 1990’s, I decided it was time to hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. Back in those days, it was OK to do it solo, so I took my tent, packed my backpack with food for 4 days and embarked on the journey. Along the way I saw a few people, mostly in groups, having an absolute blast. For me, it was actually an envious, lonely experience. I was flying solo, not solo in a group, but truly solo.
So, there’s solo, and there’s solo.
Confused? Fair enough. I’ll get to the point soon.
Here’s a breakdown of the different aspects of that very first time on the Inca trail for me:
Scenery: Holy moly – my mind was blown. Still is every time I do it.
Accommodation: I still have that tent. It leaked. But at the time I thought it was comfortable. It wasn’t, but I’m sentimental.
Memories sharing the hike with others: Zero. Zilch. Nada. Didn’t happen.
Doesn’t sound glamorous at all, does it? The irony was that I wasn’t the only person visiting Peru as a single. As I sat at my tent, cooking my instant noodles and tinned spam, I spied single travelers, of all ages, laughing, sharing and cohabiting this wilderness space for the evening, and no doubt relishing in the idea that their shared experience, as singles, will be as fulfilling as seeing Machu Picchu in the flesh. I was able to test this theory only a couple of years later, as a guide in Peru. The whole Peru experience, and the Inca Trail, was no longer laced with loneliness and envy. Here I was, heart pounding as I reached the saddle of Dead Woman’s Pass, and jumping for joy on the inside knowing that I was going to high-five fellow hikers (a 61 year old guy from Seattle who beat me up the trail and two people from Los Angeles just behind me) and share a cup of coca tea later in the day.
I think there’s sometimes a fear from single travelers that they’ll be the odd one out, but you don’t get more “odd one out” than cold noodles and spam. I’m married with kids now, so solo travel isn’t something I’m likely to do again, but before my life of domesticity I always sought a trip where I knew I had the opportunity to go it as a single in a group and make new friends. It’s certainly made my Facebook news feed a bit busier and more international these days.
Again, there’s solo, and there’s solo. With noodles and spam.
– Phil, Active Adventures Director