Traveling Solo in the Alps

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Here at Alpinehikers we’re often asked questions about traveling solo in the Alps.  I recently sat down with Abby Strauss-Malcolm, a veteran guide and head of sales for Alpinehikers and our partner company Run the Alps, to ask about her many solo miles traveled throughout the United States, the Alps and all over the world.  As you read about Abby’s incredible experience on the trail it’s important to keep in mind that we all start somewhere.  Deciding whether solo travel is for you is an incredibly personal decision and should not be taken lightly. In the end you may find yourself hooked after one adventure, ready for the next.

Abby’s beloved Osprey 30 liter pack

Eryka:   What’s your background?

Abby: I’ve always been drawn to the outdoors and find myself comfortable there.  Being able to slow down, relax and move away from life lists and society’s stimulation.  In the wilderness is where I feel most at ease.  I grew up in New England and found myself drawn to the outdoors and pursued an education and career that has kept me outside as much as possible.  I’m incredibly lucky to travel to Europe each summer with my job and often have large stretches on the trail by myself, sometimes up to 3 weeks.

Eryka:   What type of solo travel have you done?

Abby:   I’ve done a lot.  The most note worthy is that I through hiked the Appalachian Trail by myself at 18.  As a precursor to that I hiked the Long Trail in Vermont.

Eryka:   What’s the Long Trail?

Abby:   The Long Trail runs north to south in Vermont and overlaps with part of the Appalachian Trail (AT).  I did it the Fall prior to hiking the AT to see how solo hiking felt and quickly found that I loved it.  In the United States solo travel in the wilderness feels more comfortable than places where nature intersect with cities or in big cities in general.  Some of the interactions I have in cities I don’t appreciate, but I feel like I’m in my element in the wild.  However, this is different in Europe.  In Europe I feel equally safe in cities and in the wilderness.

Abby hiking in the Italian Dolomites

Eryka:   Have you ever felt uncomfortable on the trail by yourself?

Abby:   I’ve been lucky enough to feel comfortable because I know what situations to steer clear of.  Making sure I know where I am at all times and being aware of my surroundings. That kind of stuff.  From my experience the culture in the Alps is not hyper focused on what could go wrong on the trail.  It’s extremely unusual for a young female traveler to go hiking by herself in the U.S., it’s not as unusual in the Alps.  I was raised with a healthy understanding of what can happen in life and the world and I was supported to use my common sense and keep myself safe.

Eryka:   What advice do you have for planning a solo trip?

Abby:   Be honest with yourself and know your limits and your comfort zone.  It’s important to do your homework and know where you are.  Make sure to let people know where you’re going to be and check in with them often.  Above all, be open to the people and place around you, because that’s one of the best parts of solo travel.

Eryka:   What advice would you give for how to actually do the trip?

Abby:    When you travel with a group or with anybody else there is a natural delegation of roles or responsibilities.  When you’re by yourself it’s all on you.  In a lot of ways this is great. You get to make decisions on the fly and don’t have to talk them through with anyone else.  On the flip side of that you have to trust yourself and be aware on your limitations and knowledge around map reading, navigation or traveling safely through certain weather situations.  Overall I would say traveling by yourself is empowering.

Abby hiking in the desert of the U.S.

Eryka:   What’s your favorite place to trek as a solo female traveler?

Abby:   Anywhere I haven’t been before.  If I went somewhere again to hike by myself I would say Switzerland.  I feel very comfortable and at ease traveling by myself in Switzerland.  A lot of this has to do with the precise clock work that the country runs on. There’s no guessing about when your bus is going to arrive.  I know that trains will be on time and I don’t have to worry about the little things.

Eryka:   What’s your favorite piece or gear on a solo trip?

Abby:   My backpack.  I have an Osprey 30 liter.  It goes hand in-hand-in with being self-reliant. My pack allows me to be self-sufficient because I have everything I need with me.

Eryka:   What’s your best story from the trail?

Abby:   A few summers ago I went to explore the Trift Bridge up valley from Meiringen.  It’s near Nessental, Switzerland. The hike to the bridge was fun and the bridge itself was impressive. I was a bit surprised by the entrance and exit.  It has a deep arch to it where you walk down to the middle and then up again to the ends.  That day the weather was beautiful and I was excited to be in a new place and I was so energized that I decided to run back towards Meiringen (it’s quite a distance fyi).  It’s experiences like these that are why I love solo travel.  It feeds my soul and keeps me excited for each new day.

Abby on the Trift Bridge outside Meiringen, Switzerland

Eryka:  What are the must download apps for traveling in the Alps?

Abby:   The SBB Mobile app and MeteoSwiss.  I don’t use topo apps that often and prefer to stick with paper maps but there are some good ones out there.  I also use google maps in new locations, while traveling on public transportation to learn names of the places I’m seeing.  For cell service abroad I upgrade to a program that allows me to use local towers and providers. Most major carriers offer these types of programs.

Eryka:   What are your must have trail foods? Chocolate?

Abby:   I can’t say that I have much of a sweet tooth.  I’m more of a salty, protein kind of gal.  My favorite trail snack are nuts. In particular cashews or almonds.  Last year I took up the habit of breaking out cans of sardines on the trail for an extra bit of protein.

Eryka hiking in the Lauterbrunnen Valley in the Bernese Oberland

Eryka:   What do you carry for rescue gear?  Do you take a Spot or Delorme locating device?

Abby:   I carry a small first aid kit and I have a cell phone programmed with local emergency numbers when I’m traveling solo.  As I’m hiking I stay aware of where my resources are in case I don’t have cell service in an emergency.  I don’t carry a spot device or Delorme and haven’t seriously considered it.  I started hiking before cell phones and used pay phones on the AT. In general I don’t put myself in risky enough situations where something could happen where no one could find me.  These days the areas where I solo hike are visited by other people. I also make sure that I have enough warm layers and rain gear for any type of weather.  I always carry tape too because I have weak ankles.  I do carry a head lamp and a whistle already built into my backpack.

Eryka:   How do you prepare for your hiking trips?

Abby:    I pack and come up with my plan so that I know my starting direction and then I let everything else unfold as I go.  In general I keep myself pretty fit with weight training, yoga, cardio, and the manual labor involved in building a house so that I’m ready for whatever adventure comes around.

Eryka:   Any last words of wisdom for others planning a solo trip?

Abby:    I’d encourage any woman that is thinking of traveling by her self to go for it.  You learn a lot about yourself and the world around you. People go out of their way to make you feel welcome and comfortable.

Eryka:   Thank you Abby!

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