Solo day trips in my youth were the norm, but I haven’t ventured out alone for almost twenty years. Deep down, I must have longed for a return to wandering ways because when Ontario’s Highlands sent me a travel assignment that I couldn’t refuse, well, I couldn’t refuse.

My new solo chapter wouldn’t be like the aimless roadies of my twenties - a time long before Google Maps when my random destination would be any coffee shop that I passed.

No, this would be different because I’m over 40, and I’ve worked as a travel photographer and blogger for the past several years. Hitting trails on my own was a shift from couples trips with my husband, Mike, but I was up for the challenge.

Photo by Mike Hector

My Romance with Solo Travel: The Early Years

I’ll never forget my first solo hike, where I found a new love: slow walking the trails. It was liberating to set my own pace and stop every ten seconds to photograph anything that caught my eye. It was exhausting but worth the long hours of sweaty, unhurried exploration.

That trip reawakened my desire to start checking more journeys off my travel wishlist. I went from zero to more than a dozen solo excursions per year.

As I prepared for my second solo trip, I pictured the voyage - from the drive on Highway 60 to the walking paths and parks I would visit, especially the food. My dreams included a balanced BeaverTails lunch at the famous pastries’ birthplace in Killaloe.

Later, when I settled in the first night, I thought: “Today went exactly how I’d imagined!”

When possible, I limit the planned challenges during my experiences. That way, I can never have an entirely horrible time, only a partially bad but mostly laughable trip.

Reality Bites: Romantic Stories Make Me Cry

Everything was going according to plan, except I missed home and seeing smiling faces. We were entering the first summer of wearing masks and social distancing, and under this stress, the charm of solo travel washed away under a deluge of tears.

Spoiler alert, those weren’t my last teardrops nor my last trip. After annual hibernations with Mike, and our dog, leaving every spring on the first solo journey moistens my eyes without fail.

It’s true. I miss companionship, but I don’t need my partner to follow my adventurous and curious heart into the wild; however, I never thought the most challenging aspect of being by myself would be, well, being alone.

The irony isn’t lost on me.

It’s cool to go on solo trips when you’re in a relationship. Just don’t forget, your partner might want a getaway with you! I often take a break from my solo excursions to take trips my husband would also enjoy. - Photo by Mike Hector

New Year, New Romance: Solo Camping

Last year, I solo glamped six times and went on an epic two-week roadie through Northeastern Ontario. The camping bug bit me hard while I explored northern bogs and the boreal forests because I grew obsessed with sleeping in a tent.

Now that I’ve gone on five solo camping trips, my experiences have won me over to tenting.

My anxieties about being alone are not powerful enough to keep me from heading out. My connection to solitude is growing stronger.

I’m learning how to keep my own company and building a repertoire of activities because I quickly discovered that I have lots of time on my hands when camping.

I don’t rush to reach my site. Then I take half my daylight hours to set up my camp. If I’m ready for downtime, I swing in my hammock and listen to podcasts. If I’m restless, I look for more chores. When I’m anxious, I collect firewood, sorting it methodically.

And if there’s a signal, I call home when I’m lonely.

To keep honing my abilities, I recently picked up a spoon-carving knife to whittle my own wood utensils and a knot-tying booklet to further my skills.

The rest of my calendar is booked with almost weekly trips, from drive-up campsites to paddle-in camping and backpacking. I’m pushing the limits of my 3-season tent and sleeping gear until the snow sends me glamping!

The cabins at Silent Lake Provincial Park strike the right balance between nature immersion and being close to amenities for newcomers to glamping and solo travel.

There ARE things that go bump in the night.

When trying to sleep, I think about anything but the tent’s thin material that separates me from the outside world. If this is my shield, it’s a poor one. Any creature with teeth and claws could easily tear its way in.

I wonder if sleeping in a hammock - like a human burrito - would be more, or less, comforting at night.

Is there anything better than swinging in a hammock on a sunny day? What about at night?

I’ve woken up to the hooting of multiple owls and listened to the repetitive car alarm-like song of a whippoorwill - the bird’s call echoing through the darkest hours.

The shadows playing with the full moon made me jump at shapes moving across the translucent tent fly. I panicked when leaves and seeds rained down on my tarp, and I was startled by noisy toads crashing through the underbrush at midnight.

I’ve questioned, what animal is such a horrible night hunter that it needed to dive into the water over and over without pause? I cursed the birds chirping at 4:30 am when I hadn’t slept a wink and rued the bright dawn hours when I had just started to fall asleep.

I have come to question my decision not to bring earplugs to help with uninterrupted sleep, but as there would need to be a loud clatter for me to wake up, I don’t use them.

The Bear Truth

I recall sleeping soundly in my yurt while a bear wandered the campground - then shot out of bed at the explosive sound of bear bangers being set off. Having seen other campsites full of unattended food and other poor practices, I wasn’t surprised that an opportunistic bear had moved in.

It never ends well for bears that frequent human encampments.

For three days, the big animal roamed campgrounds, becoming habituated to the buffet of refuse left out by campers before being chased up a tree by unscrupulous photographers, gawkers and selfie-takers alike. That’s when MNR came to tranquillize the terrified, cornered bear for removal. I honestly do not know its fate - whether it was relocated or if the bear had scavenged its last meal.

We’re standing our ground, and the bears are leaving, but they’re not in a hurry.

I once had a wild encounter, spotting a trio of bears from quite far away while hiking with Mike. Even from that distance, I’ll never forget the formidable size of the sow and her two summer-fattened cubs.

We stood our ground and kept talking, making our presence known to mama bear, who ignored us as she led her family in the opposite direction. Only then did we start backing away, slowly.

These big and beautiful creatures command respect. I never take chances when I’m in their country.

A common sight in Northern Ontario Parks - reminding visitors: we’re in Bear Country.

I always keep a clean camp to prevent tempting birds, bears and other animals, plus I carry bear spray as a deterrent should the big mammals come too close. I have an Ursack and Bear Vault for storing food, utensils and cooking gear that may still smell tasty. Scented items like soap, toothpaste and snacks are always packed away in odour-proof bags.

Thankfully, the only campsite crumb scavenger I’ve had to chase away are chipmunks, raccoons, blue jays, and grackles. I’ve seen the last three dig through campfire ashes for cooked morsels!

BBQ hotdogs and chips pictured with my red “Canadian Fast and Furious” mug - two cars chased by a massive bear. Warning: Overdoing it with electrolytes can also make you run.

Those Aren’t Butterflies In My Tummy

Speaking of food, what makes me think I can eat whatever I want while camping without my tummy getting angry? I’m mature, yet somehow, I still forget to skip the rice, pasta and spicy stuff when I travel, and I indulge in deep-fried foods and sugary baked goods. That was fine when the bathroom was an en suite, but not while camping!

I’m not sure where I got the idea that I had an iron stomach, but let me tell you, some foods shouldn’t come with me on trips - or I shouldn’t eat them at all! Like, if milk doesn’t sit well at home, why am I bringing the dehydrated version on trips?

That only leads to farts I can’t trust!

Because I haven’t learned any better, I don’t skimp on bathroom luxuries. I bring a fresh roll of TP, an entire pack of wet wipes, garbage bags and a BIG Ziploc to easily pack out my litter and #leavenotrace. Hand sanitizer, soap and a water bladder with a shower nozzle complete my kit. It’s worth carrying the weight.

I enjoy camping more when I spend less time on this seat.

While we’re on the topic of poop, the idea of camping during inclement weather scares the crap out of me. I had plans to paddle-in camp at Mair Lake in the North Frontenac Parklands, but the rainy forecast turned to thunderstorms for the first two days, and two nights of the trip, I broke down and didn’t go.

Anxiety has bested me in the past, but choosing to stay home from a solo trip when the chances of lightning are high, was a good decision.

For novice-level safety, I’ll only camp in fair to slightly foul weather and paddle when the winds are lighter than 20 km/h.

An Uninvited Trip Companion

If bad weather wasn’t reason enough for cancelling, my monthly visitor, Aunt Flow, had come early. I’ve beaten back her influence for glamping, car camping, and walk-in sites, but she’s too much to handle in the backcountry.

Trapped at a paddle-in campsite by continuous rain and thunderstorms while managing her would have totally cramped my entire trip, so rescheduling made sense.

When I don’t have unexpected company, though, spending time at camp on rainy days can be relaxing, but only when I have a dry shelter!

My first backpacking adventure. It rained for the hike in and stopped an hour later, only after I finished hanging my tarp. Knowing a few knots by heart should’ve been a priority before going.

A Tarp Tied Me Up In Knots

I remember the heavy rains that crashed on my first night of camping. The implications of not knowing how to hang a tarp became apparent very quickly when the only dry place was inside my tiny tent.

I felt trapped, and my anxiety was rising. After a few hours, I heard thunder rolling across the lake, which did me in. I tossed my wet gear into the trunk and drove home towards clear skies, leaving the early evening storm clouds at my back.

The next time it rained on a trip was my first backpacking adventure. I had a printout of the Prusik knot in my front pocket, which was a soggy mess when I arrived at camp. Thankfully it was still legible enough to read for hanging my tarp.

My front porch isn’t perfect, but it’s dry, cozy, and a great spot to wait out wet weather.

Know how to set up your shelter and a nice dry space to wait out the storm.

It Dampens My Mood When There’s No Fire

I haven’t yet started a fire with my striker - I’ll probably wear through the ferro rod before a spark catches. So, I always have a lighter in my kindling kit, which contains fatwood shavings and sticks, and jute twine collected from packages to start a fire with mostly dry wood!

After it rains, I can’t seem to keep my campfire going. Once, I tried for two hours, aided by my pocket bellows, feeding air to the flames, but I burned through my little pile of scavenged kindling quicker than the fallen, wet logs were drying out. So, I now have a brand-new hatchet to chop damp wood into smaller sticks to dry faster and build a cozy campfire.

I will master this essential survival skill, but in the meantime, it’s good that I have a fuel cooking stove to boil water reliably so I won’t starve!

A cool breeze came off the water at Campsite 43, Black Donald Tent and Trailer Park. It’s a good thing I always bring a toque!

A Rocky/Rock Steady Relationship With Solo Travel

After reading about my adventures, from the fantastic to the foul, perhaps you wonder, why does she keep doing it? I know repeating “I love solo travel” doesn’t express the depth of my feelings nor my attraction to it.

So let’s just say it’s complicated.


Heidi Csernak

Addicted to coffee, burgers and outdoor adventure, Heidi is always searching for the next challenge, chip truck, and caffeine fill up! Aiming to inspire travellers to explore the incredible diversity of destinations in our region, from hidden treasures to famous tourist attractions, she shares her photographs as @organicroadmap. When she’s not blogging about her latest discovery, you can find Heidi wandering in the wilderness, kayaking waterways, or enjoying the charm of rural Ontario!