SOLO ADVENTURES: 7 MEANINGFUL THINGS HIKING ALONE TAUGHT ME

I’ve ventured off by myself a few times the past years. Apart from big hikes like the Camino de Santiago and the West Highland Way, I regularly fetch my backpack for a microadventure in the Netherlands.

When sharing my enthusiasm for solo adventures with others, I often get lots of questions or confused faces. Isn’t that scary? How can that be fun?

I totally understand

First, let me say this – I totally understand this reaction. Going places without the company of others; the thought might indeed be frightening at first. No one to entertain you when the journey’s getting boring, no social shield when things get complicated…

…just you, rocking an adventure all by yourself!

I admit, sometimes it’s freaking scary (when you get attacked by a dog) and yes, some of the moments spent by myself are close to horrible (remember my tour through Northern France).

So why still go?

With that in mind, why do I still want to go? It’s something rather straightforward. Every single time upon return, my solo adventure has taught me something new about myself or the world around me. I always return with a new insights, a different perspective, an exciting idea or a lesson learned… curious to hear what they are?

Here are the 7 meaningful things hiking alone taught me:

The man who goes alone can start today; but he who travels with another must wait till that other is ready.

Henry David Thoreau

1. you’re stronger than you could’ve ever imagined

Wind, rain, hailstorms, -5 nights, getting lost, blistered and bleeding heels, dog attacks, mental breakdowns… and a few more ridiculous things you wouldn’t even think possible happening to you. Yes. I’ve encountered it all and it all turned out fine in the end.

Your body and mind can take so much more than you think. It’ll survive, push through and thrive! It’s pretty amazing and, above all, it has a miraculous effect when faced with a similar, yet less severe situation upon return. It rains. Oh that drizzle ain’t nothing!

2. strangers care about your well-being

Although I did encounter some pricks that clearly cannot be subdued in this category, the majority of strangers do care about your well-being when venturing off solo! I’ve been invited for coffee whilst it was pounding down, someone took me for a beer when waiting for my train to Arles, I’ve been gifted a miraculous medal by some French nuns, a woman walked me past a big farm dog that was barking at me in the middle of the road…

I could give countless examples of strangers that’ve helped, guided or supported me during my hikes and other trips. In every situation, listen to your gut – it’ll tell you all you need to know.

3. there’s a solution for every single problem

Crazy as it sounds. There is a solution for every single problem, no matter how big or small. And I’m sorry to break it to you, but accepting that you’re fcked is one of them.

4. you’re never really alone

You’ll always meet people when hiking alone. Some stick around, some are just there for a moment. Many of the encounters I’ve had, hold a special place in my heart. I think these people appeared during my trip to show me something, to teach me something. I’ll carry their wisdom, energy or inspiration still with me right up to this moment. Totally random perhaps, but hereby a big thank you to all those souls who have featured in my adventures the past years!

5. nature heals

Feet through the dirt. Rain on your face. Trees all around. Mountains to climb. There’s something about being in nature that heals. It connects you with all that is. It strips you from all the distractions. It’s soothing to the soul. Heading out with a body and mind carrying all the stories you’ve told yourself and the stress you’ve accumulated. Returning unburdened. All that remains is space for new things and you. It’s fascinating, what a bit of nature can do.

6. you’re enough

But travelling and hiking on your own seems so boring! Hearing people say that made me wonder: Am I not enough? Isn’t it possible to fully enjoy and have fun exploring without the company of others. I think it is! If you’re not used to hiking by yourself it can be a little awkward at first, but once you get the hang of it you realise it’s pretty cool hanging out with yourself. I can entertain myself, tell myself stories, laugh about myself and comfort myself. So yeah, no crowd needed!

7. embrace the magic of the everyday

If I could name one thing my solo adventures have taught me, it would be this one: embrace the magic of the everyday. There are no ordinary days! When you live moment to moment, you will see that everything the day presents to you is extraordinary. Even the most profane things, like eating a sandwich or a walk in the park, can turn into something enchanting… you just have to embrace the magic of the everyday!

Do you rock your adventures solo?

Whatever I encounter, it makes me grow as a person and be more aware of all the beautiful things I see and experience. For me personally, that which I get in return is more important than the discomfort and occasional suffering that comes along with it. That’s why I often rock my adventures solo!

How about you? Ever ventured off on your own? Where did you go and what did you learn? Tell me all about it!

Love,

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A WAYFARING GUIDE TO THE WEST HIGHLAND WAY #2 | GET YOURSELF SORTED AND PLAN YOUR HIKE

Last April, I decided to celebrate spring with yet another long distance hike. One that I look back on with a huge smile on my face: the West Highland Way. I’ve been collecting all things preparation in this Wayfaring Guide to the West Highland Way. Meant for all those wanting to embark on this magical journey through the Scottish Highlands.

In the first part of the guide you can find all the basic information regarding the West Highland Way. Since you are reading this, I guess you’ve decided to embark on this adventure, yeey! Now it is time to get yourself sorted and plan the next steps of your journey.

the route

Getting lost is rather hard as the entire West Highland Way is marked with the thistle sign. If you’re planning to go out and about in winter or early spring, snow might cover the trail. In this case, it obviously would be smart to carry another form of navigation with you.

I just stated it is very hard to get lost, I seem to be preprogrammed for it. In anticipation of this, I thus downloaded the gpx route for my phone, which came in super handy when I suddenly found myself off-trail in the midst of a forest!

You could plan out your route from start to finish, depending on the amount of days you want to walk. The Official West Highland Way website offer many different itineraries.

I estimated to walk for 6 days and decided on an itinerary. The first day I was so excited I decided to keep on walking and abandoned my initial route. Eventually, this is the route I ended up walking:

  • Day 1: Milngavie to Milarrochy Bay (35km)
  • Day 2: Milarrochy Bay to Inversnaid (19km)
  • Day 3: Inversnaid to Auchtertyre (25km)
  • Day 4: Auchtertyre to Kingshouse (35km)
  • Day 5: Kingshouse to Kinlochleven (15km)
  • Day 6: Kinlochleven to Fort William (25km)

Apart from the amount of days you want to walk, your route will depend mainly on how you will be spending the night.

(wild) camping or accommodation

You get up, you open the zip of your tent and look out over Loch Lomond. The West Highland Way was my first time wild camping, and I was sold: it’s the ultimate freedom experience!

That said, if you enjoy the idea and have the right gear, I’d advice you to go for it! When wild camping, you can be as flexible as you want, making it easier to adjust your journey to the needs of your body. If you like to have a shower now and then, they’re also a couple of campsites along the way. I’ve spend three nights on campsites and two in the wild. A good mix, although if I’d go again I would decide to do the entire thing wild camping.

A note on wildcamping: Although it is permitted, make sure to leave no trace or cause any problems. Also be aware that between March and September there are some camping bylaws in place within the Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park areas that forbid you to camp or require you to have a permit. Make sure to check them out before you go.

If wild camping is not an option for you, I’d advice you to pick a route that fits you and book your accommodation accordingly. In peak season it can be rather busy, so I guess booking in advance would be a good thing. As I’ve been camping, I cannot offer any good suggestions. Definitely check out the West Highland Way website or give it a good google.

eating along the way

The most important thing besides sleeping is food (of course!). Carrying food equals carrying extra weight, but it also cheaper than buying lunch or dinner at a pub. I brought some the basics with me, and stocked up in Tyndrum. As far as I can remember I’ve walked past a pub or cafe every day, so plenty of possibilities to eat out. If you are a cheap skate like me, bring your own food (it will taste good anyways when you’re hungry) and enjoy the occasional cake, coffee or beer as a reward!

money

Your accommodation and food choices will eventually determine how much money you need to bring along. In case you are planning to eat out every day, make sure to keep account with that. I brought enough cash for the entire hike. It wasn’t a lot as I didn’t really need much. Although there are ATMs along the way, keep in mind you always run out of money at the wrong time.

hiking alone

You know what the fun part is… you can do this all by yourself! There are many people walking by themselves and the trail feels safe. If you’re up for a chat, there are lots of people around that you can connect with. I met some awesome people along the way, with which I shared some parts of the trail and camped with at night. Some days I didn’t feel like it and just walked by myself, or walk together in silence. It’s all possible and it’s your choice entirely!

That was part two of a Wayfaring Guide to the West Highland Way. Hope this will help you to further plan your journey. Don’t hesitate to contact me if you have more questions. I’ll be happy to answer them. The third and last part of this guide will be all about the final preparations before you embark on your West Highland Way adventure!

See you soon!

Love,

REMEMBERING THE WAY TO SANTIAGO #5 | BIKING TO REIMS

There I went. Carrying a tremendously heavy backpack, I closed the door behind me and faced the freezing cold on my way to Santiago. On the 1st of March it was already one year ago that I commenced my journey! The past months I’ve been looking back through a series of stories.

In the fourth part of this series, I’ve talked about the Via Monastica – the Camino de Santiago route through Belgium that I’ve taken, as well as my decision to attempt to continue my pilgrimage by bike for a bit. My extremely strenuous bike ride to Reims will be the topic of this week.

up and down

found my way to the “official” Camino de Santiago route, which happened to be on a highway

I kept thinking that my trip with Barry would be easy as, but I never could’ve been more wrong. I don’t recommend anyone to travel through Southern Belgium and the North of France on a city bike – it happens to be a little different than pedalling through the Netherlands. Why? It’s not flat! Days filled with endless repetitions of getting off my bike, pushing Barry, my bag and me up the hill, jump on the bike and swoosh down… the only fun part of it.

perpetually lost

I didn’t really think about the whole bike-pilgrimage thing. Secretly, I’d hope my navigation app would know send me in the right direction. Unfortunately, the app was just as lost as I was. Disoriented was a daily state-of-being, when biking to Reims. “…I’d never expected to arrive.” was a sentence I’ve written down in my notebook more than once.

a little bit scary, passing this rock with a bike and pack

On my way to Givet, I mysteriously ended up on the wrong side of the river. Barry and I bounced further on what I thought was a mountain-bike track, but ended up being a hiking trail. At a certain moment, I pushed myself, Barry and my pack past a rock on a very tiny path next to the water just to discover the path ended there. Bad luck. Between Givet and Rocroi, I got lost in a monstrously big and dark forest where the muddy truck tracks were so frozen, I couldn’t bike. I walked for hours without a phone signal, thinking I’d never make it out of the forest. On day four Barry got stuck in a muddy creek, on day five I was stuck… and not just in the mud.

warming up in a nursery home

Arriving in Rocroi, I locked Barry somewhere. I had to wait an hour before my accommodation opened. It was freezing cold and it was Sunday, so everything was closed. I was sliding through the frozen streets of Rocroi, just to keep moving. It was so cold, I couldn’t feel my toes anymore. Afraid they’d fall off if I would remain outside for another hour, I was looking for a place that was open. I saw a building where the lights were on, and went inside.

while I was defrosting, they tried to escape the building

I explained in broken French that I was on my way to Santiago and had to wait for my sleeping spot… can I wait inside? I could. I even got a cup of coffee. I ended up sitting in the hallway of a home for elderly people with dementia whom – while I was sitting there with my cup of coffee defrosting – tried to escape, hit each other and played with the elevator.

a new plan

With an immense feeling of relief, I’ve arrived in Reims. After 21 days of pilgrimage I concluded that cycling through the cold wasn’t for me. I longed to walk again! It was sunny in Southern France, and there too happened to be a beautiful route to Santiago: the Via Tolosana. In Reims I thus decided to catch a train to Arles. This became a new beginning – the next stage of my Camino de Santiago.

See you next time!

Love,

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A WAYFARING GUIDE TO THE WEST HIGHLAND WAY #1 | WHAT, WHERE, WHEN AND WHY

This year at the end of April, I decided to celebrate spring with yet another long distance hike. One that I look back on with a huge smile on my face: the West Highland Way. I’ve been collecting all things preparation in this Wayfaring Guide to the West Highland Way. Meant for all those wanting to embark on this magical journey through the Scottish Highlands.

what and where is the West Highland Way?

The West Highland Way is a long distance walking route in Scotland. The path is 154 kilometres (96 miles) long and runs through the Scottish Highlands from Milngavie to Fort William. Every year, the West Highland Way is visited by 120,000 wayfarers in total and 36,000 of those traverse the entire trail. Although not necessarily a pilgrimage route, the West Highland Way does consist of ancient roads that were used by the military and by farmers to move their cattle.

how long does it take to walk the West Highland Way?

That depends on several things! Before choosing, you should ask yourself the following questions:

  • how much time do I have?
  • how many kilometres do I want to – and can I – walk every day?
  • do I want to do some sight-seeing along the way?
  • how fit am I?

On average, people take 5-7 days to walk the entire track. If you have heaps of time on your hands and want to do some sight-seeing, go for eight or nine days. If you’re superfit and want to walk till dawn, go for five.

when to walk the West Highland Way?

Spring and Autumn are the preferred months to hike the West Highland Way. May is the busiest month, so if you like a more quiet trail experience, I wouldn’t opt for May. Summer can be quite warm and apart from that, it’s the peak of midge season in Scotland. I hiked the trail in late April and have only seen (or felt) a few of those midges in the evening. It doesn’t have to keep you from walking the trail, it just requires a bit more planning.

If you wish to camp, make sure you are preparing your trip according to the weather. I was extremely lucky with the weather; it was beautiful right up until the final day. When hiking in early Spring or late Autumn, you can encounter snow. If you want to hike in these periods, don’t go out without the right gear.

why you want to walk the West Highland Way?

There are so many reasons why you would want to walk the West Highland Way! If you are up for a challenge and cannot get away for a long period of time, the WHW is a relatively short alternative. Similarly, if you are structurally broke – like me – than this is a cheap way to have a massive adventure! Apart from that, the nature in Scotland is just something out of the ordinary. Whether you end up being a fan or not, the experience of walking through the Scottish Highlands is one you will never forget!

So this was part one of a Wayfaring Guide to the West Highland Way. Hope you’ve enjoyed it! The second part will be all about getting yourself sorted for your trip through the Highlands. Any blazing questions? Please ask them in the comments. I would be happy to incorporate those in this guide!

Love,

Let’s wander together ♥

REMEMBERING THE WAY TO SANTIAGO #4 | VIA MONASTICA

There I went. Carrying a tremendously heavy backpack, I closed the door behind me and faced the freezing cold on my way to Santiago. On the 1st of March it was already one year ago that I commenced my journey! Time to look back, which I’ll do through a series of stories.

In the third part of this series, I’ve shared my experiences of the first days walking through the Netherlands. This week, I’ll narrate about the Camino de Santiago route I walked through Belgium: the so-called Via Monastica.

gone with the guidebook

Armed with a beautiful guidebook, I continued my way on the Via Monastica: a Camino route that stretches from Den Bosch to Rocroi. After five minutes, I’d already lost all my confidence and concluded me and guidebooks just do not work together. Standing still to read a description and looking for clues like “the bridge” or “the fence” didn’t just require a lot of time, I also walked into the wrong direction a couple of times. Under the guise of “saves weight” I thanked and discarded my guidebook and continued wayfaring with my gps-app. An arrow pointing the way is challenging enough 😉

the Postel abbey

the Postel abbey

On my journey, I met several people and experienced certain places that have become very dear to me. The Postel abbey is one of such places. The abbey’s location was truly magical and the subsequent welcome of the Father was so warm and kind that I felt at home immediately. The union and safety that I felt within the walls of the abbey, were something extraordinary.

To soak up that feeling entirely, I stayed at the abbey for two nights. During my short time there, I walked through the gardens, went to a few services and conversed with one of the guest about divine love and loving yourself. The next day I had to continue my journey. With my pockets stuffed with food for thought, my heart full of gratitude and my eyes filled with tears, I carried on to my next destination.

“Ask, and it will be given you. Seek, and you will find. Knock, and it will be opened for you.”

Matthew 7:7

featured in the newspaper

That next destination was Westerlo, a place I reached after a full day of walking in the rain without any breaks. As I was soaked, cold and tired, I decided to drink something warm first before heading to the Youth Hostel. I saw a bar and went inside. My perhaps rather strange appearance (a drenched figure with a large backpack) was immediately noticed by all of the bar guests.

“I’d like a coffee please.”

beer included

By chance, I’d walked into the bar of a fellow Dutchman in Belgium. And it became an unforgettable experience. I talked to everyone, told them about my journey, drank beer and, to top it all of, a journalist rocked up to make a picture for the local newspaper. Despite the buzzing atmosphere, I had to go on. I thanked everyone and grabbed my backpack. The owner quieted the guest and said: “Ladies and gentleman. This girl is walking to Spain!” With an applause and a grand smile on my face, I left the bar and walked on (slightly drunk). Sure thing, s couple of days later there was indeed a tiny article in the local newspaper.

a new accomplice

Barry besides the hut in Diest

My body was already protesting after the first week. My knees, my back, it was all hurting so much I didn’t know what to do with it. When I arrived in Diest, I rented a super cute trekking hut on a beautiful terrain. I decided to take an extra resting day to think about a possible solution for my bodily discomfort.

My internal dialogue went something like this: Why can’t you just bike a little bit? – No! I cannot do such thing. I can’t just bike, I would walk, that was the plan! – But if you bike then you can carry on and the eventual goal is the journey not the walking? It’s still a pilgrimage if you bike. – Hm. – And if you don’t like it, you can always decide to walk again. Maybe it’s just for a little while, just to give your body some rest. – Yeah, I guess it’ll allow me to proceed. Hm. Yes. Ok. Where is the nearest bike shop?

Once I arrived at the bike shop, I immediately fell in love. This is the one, I thought, this steel steed is going to accompany me from now on. Full of new energy and courage I went back to my hut, together with my new accomplice Barry.

Little did I know that the following week would be one of the hardest yet. More about that next time!

Love,