My First Solo Camping Trip

I’m sitting in my car in the parking lot of a Charlottesville coffee shop. I’m fueling up after a stretch of road back up the East coast of the US. But before I make my way back to Philadelphia, I am going to spend a couple of nights solo camping at Shenandoah National Park. 

“Aren’t you supposed to do that with people? You know, the buddy system?"“Well I can’t keep waiting to do it with somebody - otherwise I’ll never do it!"

My dad is one of the people who thinks I’m a looney tune for solo camping. To be fair, this is my first time tackling a solo trip, so I don’t even have any responses as to why it’s awesome. In reality, I’m heavily freaking out about this too. 

But I finish my dirty chai and muster up all the courage I have. 

…..

Last Summer, Paul and I took a road trip down to Savannah, Georgia to visit some of his family. He had to leave from there to go on a work trip and I was taking the trip back solo. I was going to pass right by Shenandoah National Park and I didn’t even think twice about adding it to my itinerary.

It was a good thing I was so matter-of-fact about it and didn’t think too much about the “solo” camping thing, otherwise I don’t think I would have gone. I didn’t get nervous until I was sitting in that coffee shop sending my dad my itinerary. You know, just in case.

Oh, and I was pretty terrified of the high bear activity warning on the National Park’s site.

Nevertheless, I found myself entering Shenandoah National Park and twisting and turning along Skyline Drive. The sun was getting ready to set and it was that perfect windows-down-arm-hanging-out setting. I was listening to The Dirtbag Diaries podcast (in fact, it was definitely an episode titled Mothers Have It Hardest) and was hightailing it to my campsite for the night.

There wasn't much daylight left once I got there so I set out to pick a spot to stay. I chose to stay near the camp volunteers for the night. Was this backcountry? Um, yeah definitely not. But could I have my car right there? And the bathrooms? Yes. And I’m a firm believer that car camping 100% counts as camping. Was this the safest choice? I honestly don’t know, but that’s what I went with!

I had eaten dinner down in Charlottesville with a friend, so once dark fell I snuggled up in my tent to read Into Thin Air and drift peacefully off to sleep.

EXCEPT FOR let’s talk about where your brain goes when you’re solo camping for the very first time. I’ll tell you it doesn’t go anywhere, especially “off to sleep” or anywhere peacefully. You’re (probably) in for a terrible night of sleep.

Every whistle through the grass becomes a black bear about to eat your entire tent. Raindrops starting to fall on your rainfly are definitely herds of deer descending on your campsite, ready to trample you. You keep tangling yourself up in your sleeping bag from so much tossing and turning.

And yet, somehow the sun still rises and washes you with a feeling of calm.

And also rain. A feeling of very wet rain.

…..

Originally I had planned to stay at Shenandoah for two nights of camping, slowly moving north up Skyline Drive. I hung around to do a day hike (stay tuned for THAT solo story…) but after being rained on the whole time, I called it and started heading home. I wish a little bit that I had stayed and “toughed it out,” but the beauty about camping/hiking/adventuring solo is that you’re the only one that matters.

Sure, you aren’t able to depend on anybody. But nobody is depending on you either. You can do only what you want and nothing more or nothing less.

And much to my father’s chagrin, I think I’ll be doing this again sometime!

Let's Chat!

  • Are you a solo camping adventurer? Would you ever try it?
  • Any skills that you feel like you should learn before you head out on your own? 
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