Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Traveling Solo: Being Alone Is Not the Same Thing As Being Lonely

I just spent five nights alone, camping in my tiny trailer on a bicycle-riding focused excursion. I enjoyed the exploring (and getting lost), the cooking, and the time alone to rest, read, and write. My trip to Lake Red Rock in Iowa was a solo trip because my wife had to stay home to work and prepare for another trip we are leaving on in just one day.

She urged me to head out, though, because she had lots to do and also because we had wondered if the campground I was considering would be a good one for us both to stay at--meaning could our tiny trailer aka "Mobile Office 1" be a base for my wife to work while we camped. I confirmed that, yes, with our signal booster, a cellphone hotspot is strong enough to allow for online work. We've decided to later camp together at Howell Station Campground (see the blog post of my stay).

During my solo stay, I had the chance to read full-time tiny trailer camper Becky Schade's article "Five Things I Do To Avoid Going Crazy in My Teardrop Camper." I have written a tiny trailer owner profile about Becky and her Hiker Trailer, and I appreciate and enjoy her lifestyle and how she writes about it. Therefore, while sitting in my "standy" teardrop during an very hot and humid afternoon, my air conditioner purring away, I was ready and able to read Becky's five ideas of tiny trailer living.
  1. Choose locations with a view
  2. Have a comfortable space inside to sit and sleep
  3. Stay active
  4. Spend time outside
  5. Go on adventures away from the camper

Howell Station Campground

I had to pat myself on the back because I was following all her suggestions--even before I had read her article. Howell Station Campground is a beautiful, flat meadow-like park filled with tall shade trees. My site was about thirty yards from the Des Moines River, and looking upriver provided a majestic view of Red Rock Dam. My RTTC Polar Bear is a comfortable space for either sitting or sleeping, and the AC certainly provided comfort from the heat, humidity, and insect hatch that the heat wave had prompted. I had been riding my bike on excursions (not long but from 8-12 miles) so far every day on the trip and was enjoying a bit of rest, so I could check off active, outside, and away from camper.

Becky's suggestions were both useful and practicable. My first thought, though, when I had first read her title prior to reading the article, was more on the idea of "not all who are alone are lonely." Becky's list is about how to not feel cooped up in a very small living space--and is spot-on. Perhaps because I had been thinking how much my wife would appreciate the beauty of the campground when we camped there, the title's "avoid going crazy" came across for me in a more social than spatial sense.

I think it's fair to say that being alone--traveling solo--might make people wonder if the person traveling is ever lonely. In an online Psychology Today article, "What Is Solitude?," author Hara Estroff Marano differentiates solitude from loneliness. "Loneliness is marked by a sense of isolation. Solitude, on the other hand, is a state of being alone without being lonely and can lead to self-awareness." The perspective of the article is that choosing time to be alone can be beneficial, whereas being unwillingly alone can be a negative state.

My immediate thoughts were of Henry David Thoreau, who chose to build and live in a tiny house on the outskirts of Concord, Massachusetts, in 1845.
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms...” (Chapter 2, Walden)
Traveling solo can provide opportunities for those moments of reflection when one can "live deep and suck out all the marrow of life." Tiny trailer living is certainly an opportunity to travel solo, to travel "sturdily and Spartan-like," and tiny trailer travel can certainly provide the opportunity for living large, or as Thoreau said in his journals, "I have a room all to myself; it is Nature." When we live simple lives close to nature, it can have an essential, nurturing effect on our lives, one Henry David recognized and wrote about in his journals: "I was describing the other day my success in solitary and distant woodland walking outside the town. I do not go there to get my dinner, but to get that sustenance which dinners only preserve me to enjoy, without which dinners are a vain repetition." He believed the precedence of food for the soul over food for the body--seasoned with a dash of wit: "As for the dispute about solitude and society, any comparison is impertinent."

As someone who travels with a tiny trailer, I have to admit that there is certainly company out there if you desire it. During my recent five nights of camping on the Des Moines River, I had at least four sets of walkers stop at my campground to ask about the Green Goddess. Questions ranged from all topics you'd expect: the inside set-up, cooking, bathroom, sleeping. The one most frequent descriptive word used was "cute." And I can't say I disagree. A lot of folks with bigger rigs are surprised at just how comfortable minimalist trailer camping can be. On the other end of the spectrum, many tent campers are inspired by how small and easy that step up to a tiny trailer is--no change in vehicle required, a small investment, and the possibility of continued use of much of the tent camping equipment.

These encounters can lead to invitations for evenings around the campfire--from either you or your visitors. It seems to me that tiny campers are a magnet for social interactions with many people showing interest in answering their question of "How do you do it?" Also, tiny campers belong to a kind of informal club--a friendly and supportive club, both in person at campgrounds and in online tiny trailer groups. You know, Thoreau wasn't anti-social because he enjoyed and sought out solitude. He said, "I had three chairs in my house; one for solitude, two for friendship, three for society," so when you go camping solo, be sure to pack an extra chair and pull up the ice box for company to sit with you around the campfire if you so desire. As one teardrop camper said, "Being alone does not mean loneliness. On the contrary, I have met some of my best friends while traveling alone."

Teardrop Camper Adventures FB group administrator Mark Busha, in a remote location

Some of my fellow tiny trailer contacts have shared some thoughts about traveling solo. They admit to moments of loneliness but also to a great deal of enjoyment of the quietness of solitude. One man who mostly camps solo, including a lot of boondocking, regularly communicates with his wife. He related (in the spirit of Thoreau, I think), "There is something to be said for the experience of total quiet. Especially, boondocking and being completely alone. Sitting, watching a sunset without a soul for miles gives you a chance to really think. Maybe reflect a bit. Some regrets, some wonderful, happy thoughts. Some funny times and some lost loves. Parents who are gone and close friends you’ll be seeing soon. Last February I spent several days watching an ant hill just feet from my door. I learned it was a complete civilization. Everyone with a task to do, running perfectly, and I am sure, today still there . . . and I am more whole for taking the time to quietly watch."

One tiny trailer owner humorously addressed the idea that traveling with yourself means "having agreeable company."
"Who wants to stay an extra day? All those in favor, raise hands? It’s unanimous!"
"Left or right? That’s what I thought, too!"
"Are you going to fish all night?!" "Why, yes, I am!"
He says that camping solo is a good news/bad news situation. "The bad news is you may end up talking to yourself. The good news is you almost always agree!" This reminds me of another Thoreau quotation: "He who walks alone, waits for no-one."

One aspect of traveling solo is security. I've especially experienced times of security anxiety while bicycle camping--showing up to a county campground mid-week with no one there and then having random people just cruising the park. I've never had any problems, though. Having a tiny trailer helps because there is some security. Even Thoreau's cabin had a door! When I bike camp, I do pack a dog pepper spray canister. I'm sure it would work equally well on mammals other than dogs. I think it's important to find your comfort level. Having a chance to reflect won't be too rewarding if one has a high anxiety regarding safety. One woman solo camper addressed this issue: "I solo camp almost exclusively. But I’m too timid to go for the complete isolation of boondocking. Even in a designated campground, having to handle everything all alone has made me more confident."

Merriam-Webster defines the word solitude as "the quality or state of being alone or remote from society." How exactly do we define "being alone or remote," though? The truth is that different people will feel solitude in different environments. One person camping solo in a campground can feel solitude; another might need to climb to a mountaintop alone to feel a sense of solitude. Thoreau's solitude was in a little cabin on the edge of town--on Ralph Waldo Emerson's land, as a matter of fact. I remember an experience as a student (a ways back in time) during a lunch break when I was just strolling around, enjoying watching the other students play. A teacher came up to me and said, "Why don't you join some group and have some fun with them?" I realized even at that young age that the teacher thought that I was outside the groups, feeling isolated--which was not the case.

Solitude does have its geographical aspect, but the geography of one's mind also is important. The words solo and solitude share the same latin root, solus, which means alone. Traveling alone, then, is certainly an apt way to experience solitude. Whereas other animals live within environments and react instinctively to stimuli, we humans have the tendency to create our own reality, making the outer world as we are inside. We can help ourselves experience peaceful solitude by manipulating our environment, but ultimately whether we are peacefully solitary or isolated and lonely is an inner job we have to work out for ourselves.

Tiny trailers provide an excellent means of living a simple life in order "to get away from it all." Even getting set up is a minimalist experience. The first article I wrote for this blog was "Why Such a Tiny Little Trailer?" In the article I listed the reasons my wife and I had bought our "standy" teardrop.
  1. We wanted a trailer small enough to fit those campground sites that aren't linked to the sewer system, sites that fit into the natural landscape, rather than bulldozed, "tract home" sites.
  2. We wanted a trailer we could pull with the vehicle we owned. 
  3. We wanted a small trailer that I could tow and learn how to back more easily.
  4. We wanted a trailer that put us outside more often, where even with our "safe haven" tiny room, the outdoors campsite was still our main living space.

We haven't changed our minds about camping in our tiny trailer. Our experience continues to run parallel with other tiny trailer owners who have spoken up about why they choose to own tiny campers, articulated in the blog post "Why Such a Tiny Trailer? Teardrop Owners Speak Out." If tiny trailer camping fits your lifestyle, your health, and your pocketbook, then enjoy the happy camping experience! My wife and I agree that our Green Goddess camping experiences fit quite nicely into one last quote by Henry David: "I may add that I am enjoying existence as much as ever, and regret nothing." Sometimes the joy of travel is a shared experience, both hands clapping  . . . and sometimes I travel solo, and it's just the sound of one hand clapping.

Some references:

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  1. I have traveled solo by choice for many years and Becky's advice is spot on. For the introvert, solo travel is a wonderful way to reflect, recharge and refresh. I never feel lonely when traveling and I meet many interesting people along the way -- but I always have the ability to return to my own place of solitude at the end of the day.

    I just returned from a three week, 5500+ mile trip through the Maritimes with my cat and my dog as company and, personally, I wouldn't do it any other way.

    1. I think we can have it both ways when camping--and you just described how to do it. Also, I think a small trailer does provide more privacy than a tent, being a sharper barrier.

  2. Well done, thoughtful read. 😊 —Mark

    1. Thank you! It's always a lift to know an article is appreciated.

  3. So true , people that do not understand solitude assume that it is loneliness which you are correct, can be a debilitating situation. If you get a few minutes totally to yourself, you may laugh a little over past times and cry a little over loved ones that are nolonger with us in body anymore but you will always feel refreshed either way.
    When we camp in our tiny Squaredrop , it is our nest. We are there to enjoy the world around us , be it canoeing, fishing , hiking or napping in a hammock. I sure like a comfortable mattress with a dry shelter at my age, I previously did a lot of tent camping.
    Your article really put a smile on my face.

    1. Thank you! I really appreciate the word "nest" you used. It is so apt.

  4. I tent camp alone or with my dog. Love the time on my own. Am considering tiny trailer as it's getting harder to sleep on the ground, even with a blowup mattress. I, too, read Becky's blog, was surprised when she went even smaller than her Casita. I admire how she knows what is right for her. I waffle about what I want so much.

    1. Hi, Dawn! One idea that might help is that some folks considering buying a tiny trailer have rented one first and camped in it to find out what the experience is like. You might consider that. Facebook also has some tiny trailer (teardrop) groups that you could join to learn about the experience of others.

    2. Thanks Tom. Good idea to rent one, will have to research that. Also need to ease my husband into the idea. He doesn't camp at all and doesn't see a need to spend $ on a trailer when you could use that money for a "good hotel room." Hahahahaha. I have told him it's not the same. :)

    3. You might want to make sure your first camping trip has some fun activity nearby besides outdoor stuff, such as my trip to Pella that allowed me to be the tourist in town. I wish you success!