Reacting with Fear: A Woman’s Perspective on Solo Travel

Disclaimer: I am going to share ONE experience. Before you read this article know that my intention is not to complain or insult, but to share knowledge – to make people aware of how discouraging it can be when they react with fear in response to hearing that a woman is traveling alone. 

Please know that not everyone reacted in a negative way! Many people were overwhelmingly positive and supportive.

Additionally, not all female hikers feel the same way I do. But, as a woman who has traveled many miles by herself – with no dog, no gun, and no partners in tow, I think this topic is worth discussion. 

Negative reactions get old quick. And they make an impression.

I was utterly exhausted. Some friends and I had woken up at 4AM to catch the sunrise from Clingman’s Dome, the highest point on the Appalachian Trail. It was noon now. I was almost to Newfound Gap where I would hopefully hitch a ride into Gatlinburg for some real food and a shower.

I saw a parking lot in the distance. As I made my way to a large sitting rock by the parking lot, three people came into view. I caught the tail end of their conversation as I put my pack down some distance away.

“What a great adventure,” an old man said to young backpacker in a raspy, excited tone. “Those scout skills are coming in handy, huh?” the older man laughed with joy as if he had hiked the trail himself. After a few moments of back-and-forth, the old man and his female counterpart wished him luck and told him to have fun.

Minutes later, the backpacker vanished into the woods as is the way with those traveling the trail.

The couple looked at me. Now it was my turn.

Although I normally don’t enjoy being social with strangers, I was looking forward to this conversation. The couple seemed nice, and I was still on my new thru-hiker “high” from starting the trail. I wanted to share all the positivity the trail had shared with me by telling people about my experience so far. I wanted to rejoice in this journey with people who shared my same passion.

I was about to – so I thought.

Just as I thought they would, the couple approached me only a few minutes after the other hiker had left. The conversation was lovely. They were excited for my journey and incredibly supportive of the adventures that lay before me.

Until they asked where my hiking partners were.

This question was unfortunately not new to me. Disappointed in the fact that I was being faced with this inquiry yet again (why did people always assume I had a partner?), I proudly announced that I was hiking alone.

The woman looked shocked with wide eyes and her mouth slightly parted. The man appeared stern, with a distant, grave look in his eyes. Needless to say, the tone of our conversation took a drastic turn.

“All by yourself?” The woman asked. “You must be brave!” She said, seeming somewhat disingenuous.

Slightly annoyed at how shocked the two reacted, I chose my words carefully in an attempt to explain my perspective on how I always had a hard time understanding this concept. Solo hiking hadn’t ever seemed scary or intimidating to me in the slightest. How did that make me brave?

As the conversation moved forward, the couple seemed weary of my responses, continuing to reprimand me on how incredibly dangerous it was for me to hike by myself.

When the lecture subsided, I stood in silence. I was utterly disappointed that they had not met the excitement I anticipated entering the conversation.

Awkwardly, I excused myself, picked up my pack, and kept walking North. The couple didn’t tell me to have fun as I walked away. They told me to be safe.

The male backpacker’s conversation with the couple had been filled with such excitement; he seemed to inspire and awe the couple. I wanted to inspire people too. The other hiker and I were of similar ages; we were hiking the exact same trail.

Why had our two interactions been so different?

I could go on about how unfair I felt this was and provide more examples of similar conversations I had on trail, but I would much rather take these last few moments of your attention to elaborate on what I believe to be the root of reactions such as this.

It is my belief that (in most cases) confounded reactions are driven by the emotion of love mixed with a strong sense of fear. Love is the concern in their voice, while fear overtakes their thoughts and words.

These reactions, although understandable, felt negative in many cases, characterized by shock and concern with tones of confusion and disapproval. While I know better now, it would be a gross fabrication to say that negative tones from these conversations did not affect me in the beginning stages of my hike; I genuinely believed these words were rooted in hatred, ignorance, and disapproval.

In retrospect, I understand now that I shouldn’t have taken other peoples’ emotional qualms as seriously as I did – their emotions are theirs and theirs alone. Still, I am of the strong belief that people of all types should be met with encouragement when they’re up against a challenge. Not fear.

We as humans need to be mindful of how our words and body language are perceived, while still taking others’ opinions with a grain of salt and understanding. We are each different in culture, how we were raised, and the privileges we have received.

So open your mind, and silence your fear.
You may be surprised what a new perspective can do.

Read more about my travels on the Appalachian Trail on


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Comments 31

  • Renee : Apr 24th

    It’s obvious that those who express the most concern have truly never experienced the environment of trail life for themselves. While there are some weird people you might run into on the trail (there are weird people everywhere in this world), there are so many more on the trail that look out for you. I myself got weary of those who reacted in the same way you expressed; however, I learned to dismiss it. The only way for them to change their mind was for them to experience the trail for themselves, and in most cases, that wasn’t going to happen. Figured my coming back safe and unharmed proved a point. Thanks for sharing!

  • Taylor Ciambra : Apr 28th

    PREACH! Thank you for handling this sensitively and honestly. I encounter this attitude of love and fear every time I hit a town and it can be so demoralizing a frustrating even though I know where it’s coming from and how it’s meant. Thank you for writing this.

  • Diane Olans : Apr 29th

    Having a partner is just plain good sense . So many reasons why a woman should not hike alone . It is always your choice but a poor choice . Safety first pride ladt

  • Nunyez : Apr 29th

    You may have gotten more of this reaction because you are a young woman, but it’s nothing to criticize. It in fact is more dangerous for a woman and to say otherwise is silly. On the other side, I have gotten similar reactions for “going alone” and I’m not exactly fragile or inexperienced. (Backpacking since I could walk and served 3 combat tours- I’m good ) People are never going to understand what we do but to criticize their misunderstandings is a waste of time and to be honest sounds whiny. Show more confidence next time possible and try not caring what people think. 😉

  • Vicky : Apr 29th

    I am sorry you had a negative response to hiking alone. I just got done doing a section hike on the AT solo and not one person I talked to made me feel bad about it. I think you just ran into an old couple with old ideas. They were probably thinking that if you were their daughter they would want you with someone. My folks, who are both 88, are not happy about me being alone but understand it when I tell them this: if something happens to me out there at lest it would be doing something that I love. As it is, when I got off the trail I got attacked by a German Shepard and am recovering at my sons. I hike a long way with injury then get hurt when I get to town. Go figure.?

    • Vicky : Apr 29th

      Meant with no injury

  • Lizann : Apr 30th

    I admire you for hiking solo. I am planning on section hiking by myself in June, and have found the same reaction from both male and female, old and young, friends and acquaintances. I’m really tall (5’11”) and big and I’m usually the one intimidating people because of my size. Happy hiking to you and all the other soloists.

  • Melinda : Apr 30th

    I also encounter this reaction. As we came out to rt 52 in New York, a man told us to be careful as my sister and I were hiking. He claimed 17 people had gone missing up in the section we were hiking. My sister was very leary. I had heard this claim before in other sections of the trail. Pure crap trying to scare people. Made me angry but of course I didn’t call him on it.

  • Caroling : Apr 30th

    I got this question recently camping in a state park. The woman who asked was made up and dressed up to obviously allure protectors. I said “no, I’m camping with myself. Great company. Do you think I have something to fear?” She said no but she would be afraid alone. I find that when there is so much to enjoy that fear just doesn’t get my attention.

  • Alison : Apr 30th

    This stupid world is still full of people who will prey on others, and the conventional wisdom is still that women are more often victims than others. Older folks in particular grew up and functioned in a world where women would not have dared to be alone, and that societal norm meant that lone women were abnormal and to be preyed upon. It’s beyond sad that we today must cope with those remainders, but I remember , and view every solo woman hiker as yet another crack in that sensibility! (I’m 60, and planning my retirement thru hike). May you have an incredible hike!!

  • Ivanna Sherpa : Apr 30th

    Glacier! Ivanna Sherpa here. I miss you! Old Drum is thru hiking right now. He left Springer on March 24 and is hiking out of Damascus tomorrow (Sunday may 1). I am in Americas GA for the Fuller a Center for Housing annual meeting (think Habitat, round two).

    I have not hiked solo, but I did ride my bicycle coast to coast solo 15 years ago on the Trans Am route. I, too, encountered many with questions, fear, and disapproval. Here is how I decided to handle it: when questioned by someone, especially if they had a tone of alarm and, especially in a very public place, I decided it was best not to advertise my aloneness for several reasons. So, I responded in a slightly exaggerated tone and opening my eyes wide, “why, no, of course not! I am with Ben and Charley!” Not one person questioned me for more detail so they never learned their last names, Gay and Horse. If they had asked, I was prepared to tell them about how I framed my decision and how awesome I was. But, the fearful enquirers just faded off, completely missing an opportunity to challenge their limited vision or to learn a thing about pilgrimage and facing one’s fears and forging ahead anyway. I was happy you noted meeting us Hickers!

    • Therese : May 3rd

      This is exactly how I plan to hike my hike next year. I figure no one will question me any further and we will have a great conversation. It’s so much easier not to challenge people on this subject. I hope all you women out there have a really great time!!!!!

  • Ron : Apr 30th

    Just completed a section hike from Springer to Fontana, and plan to go back this summer. I saw many young, confident, and single female hikers along the way. No problems worse than single male hikers, I believe. One exception: I encountered a young woman about 1/3 my age and I attempted to be friendly, only with normal conversation, but she could barely respond and not get away from me quickly enough. That left me irritated, but figuring she was trying to be safe. (There were plenty of people nearby, so I’m perplexed as to how I seemed threatening). But all in all, everyone’s cool. Maybe this particular woman read the experiences of the few women who do have problems. Then again, maybe I had bad breath.

  • Christine : Apr 30th

    I’ve been hiking and traveling alone for years. There are times that I’ve traveled with friends but it’s often difficult to line up schedules with someone who has the same interests and who is willing to hike for miles. With each adventure I run into people who make statements about me being alone. The questions used to bother me but the memories that I have and places I’ve seen give me the ambition and tenacity to continue. I happily respond to them with a SURE why not attitude. My adventures have helped me grow as a person and I refuse to sit around and wait for someone to go with me. Time is wasting and there is so much to see.

  • Lizzytish : Apr 30th

    Hiking solo is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. Are there any other resources out there for solo women thru hikers?

  • Bob Watts : Apr 30th

    Hello there, Rachel-
    Thank you for your insight. You helped me in an unexpected way. I am the 62 year old father of an adventurous daughter who has always told me I was way too fearful of the world and new experiences, as evidenced by my often expressed concern (she sees it as condemnation) of her global jaunts, usually alone or in the company of another woman friend. I don’t know where I developed the pattern, maybe from my dad who seemed to be the protector of the family as I was growing up. Maybe it is an antiquated notion, that women are to be protected…I don’t know. But as you say, it DOES come from a place of love, even when I have no reason to care about the person. An example, I recently met the little sister of my son’s girlfriend, a free spirited young woman about 24 years old. In the course of getting to know a little about her, she told us about visiting an abandoned mental hospital up in Maryland, with a group of friends. She directed our attention to her Facebook page to see the pics of her trip their. I understand the fun experienced by young people in exploring cool places, having been a bit of a rebel when I was a kid. But what jumped out at me was she was the lone girl, in a group of 5 guys, and dare I say it?, 4 of them were black! She of course is not. My first thought was how does she know that some of them weren’t thinking about raping her? She had no fear of that, as these were her friends. What makes me think the worst of a situation like that? Maybe in the time I’ve lived it’s reading or seeing the news about so many “friendly” encounters where a girl is hurt or killed by her good friends. But I’m trying to learn that I’m not responsible for the choices others make, even my daughter. And if she is someday harmed, I’ll have to accept that she lived her life the way she wanted to .Without fear.
    on a lighter note, I am planning a NOBO next year, so would like to correspond with you on gear choices, etc.
    thanks for your thoughts.

  • Exploring Curiously : May 1st

    You are absolutely correct that the fear is the other person’s alone and do not let it affect you. Many people live a ‘safe’ life not daring to go on adventures such as thru hiking or traveling. These same people all too often hear of isolated stories on the news of people or animals harming others and they assume this is happening everywhere all the time. If they had traveled or hiked, they would see that, although there is always a risk, you will most likely be just fine.

  • Jess J : May 3rd

    I hike alone all the time and I constantly get questioned for being a solo female hiker by people I run into on a trail. Hiking involves risk either way, group or solo, male or female. Being a girl does NOT mean I am in any more danger than a guy hiking. And actually the most dangerous situations I have been in while hiking have been when I have been hiking in a group. Even though as you said people don’t mean any harm by it, having someone stop you and question you or criticize you while hiking is frustrating and hurtful. I have more experience and am better prepared than most of the guys I see out hiking, and most importantly I understand that I am not immune to accidents and danger, just like everyone else on the trail. Knowing that keeps me prepared and guides my actions, and has nothing to do with being a girl.

  • Irvin Valle (COACH IRV) : May 5th

    Wow you really struck a chord with this post. I admitedly was the nervous parent, very similar to who you ran into maybe not as narrow minded. I guess having 2 very strong women in my life (wife- paramedic and firefighter, daughter- photo journalist who has back packed europe twice by herself) you learn to deal with fear. I have been following a bunch of different bloggers on the trail and from what I see the only thing you really have to worry about are MICE. Several people responding have already told you but i will repeat their feelings. Don’t let other peoples ignorance and fear stop you from followin you deams. I now encourage and support my daughter in planning her next great adventure and am training along with my wife (who is in much better shape than me) and our 2 dogs for a yet to be determined start date for our thru hike. Good luck in all of your adventures.

  • BunnyHikes : May 5th

    hey Glacier-Swiss …. THANK YOU for sharing your experience and opening this important conversation!

    I am 62 and frequently travel and backpack solo (AT ’13) and continually encourage other women to step out on their own as well. In my 20’s, I even hitch-hiked across the whole USA …. though I would not advise that now. :/
    Still ….. women are sometimes victims of crimes. Who gets abducted and raped? >:( BUT ….. when we look at statistics, that’s more likely to happen to me this evening as I walk across the dark parking lot after work than it is on the trail. People worry. (I think there are some people who legit have nothing better to do with their time) Most people’s worry is either caring or projecting their own fears onto you. You handled that well. I would have cut the convo short before you did. LOL

    You’re part of the Appalachian Trail: Women’s Group on FB, right? We talk about safety a lot … reasonable caution vs. unreasonable fears. When I get home tonight, I’m sharing this post with the group …. assuming I safely make it across the dark parking lot, that is 😉

  • Amber : Jun 2nd

    Great post, thank you! I am also a female who gets interrogated and lectured while hiking alone. When I do occasionally hike with my male partner people assume he is the expert, though he has never hiked more than 4 miles a day and never slept in a tent! I’m also a physicist so this kind of thing pervades every aspect of my life…

    I’m looking forward to reading the rest of your blogs in preparing for the triple crown 🙂

  • Lillie Stack : Aug 11th

    When I was younger and my children were small, my husband was in the Military. We were stationed hundreds of miles from my family. During times when my husband was deployed out of country I would pack my two kids up in my car and drive 800 miles to visit my parents or my sister. People would gasp, and ask, “Aren’t you scared driving alone?” “Doesn’t it worry you someone will try and attack you out there all alone?” I would just laugh and say, NO, I’m not stupid, I won’t put myself in any situation of vulnerablity, I’m pretty resourceful and I’m really smart. Now I’m 57, and I’m three times smarter and three times stronger. When I told people I was hiking the AT, I got a lot of awe. And that’s the way I like it!

  • Dawn : Aug 11th

    I thought about hiking alone I needed to get my brave self back, but I couldn’t do it. I was a victim of abduction and rape, they attempted to kill me they left me for dead. Maybe in another year or two. I have experienced the dangers first hand and I wasn’t on a trail I just had a flat tire. I hope to regain my ability to do things alone.

  • Eddy Grunenwald : Aug 11th

    Glacier, your choice to hike alone is individual and admirable. But did you ever consider that perhaps the older couple you encountered had reason for their concern? Maybe they had been witness to a nasty hiker experience. And, yes, they exhibited a dated attitude toward women. But there are two sides to every story. Maybe you missed an opportunity to ask them why. It could have helped you understand them and helped them understand you. God bless. HYOH

  • Hjane : Aug 11th

    Before my better judgment could stop me I’d probably blurt out something smart-a$$ like, “you can’t use a penis as a weapon so I’m not sure why you think having one is going to make me any safer.”

    Of course, this statement is going to be most effective if and only if they make it a point to explain that their concern is solely due to you being female.

    Otherwise I’d have a terrible comment about being a convincing tranny and using my penis power to thwart those who might otherwise bring me to harm out there on the trail.

    I don’t recommend you use this comment as advice, by the way. I’m kind of a terrible person

  • H2O : Aug 11th

    I just got back from hiking AT section (AT approach to Neels Gap). I am a mom of 3 kids, teenagers!
    I didn’t go alone, my husband went with me. For this being my first time, I think I did pretty good.
    I was also frowned upon when I mentioned my hike to friend, family , co workers, but to each it’s own.
    More power to you–
    can’t wait to go back myself !

  • danyell : Aug 11th

    hey. i am 41 and do solo hikes fairly often as well as paddles, biketrips, roadtrips, etc. when i was younger i hitchhiked, sometimes alone, but i preferred to have a partner. women are at higher risk. i am not nearly as afraid of bears or injuries as i am of men. it is important that we do not let that reality stop us, but to act like people’s concern is unfounded is concerning. i do recognize how the concern can introduce an element of fear that you are not choosing to make your personal reality? have you ever been harassed, molested? do you have a daughter? i ask these things because it seems to me that your expectation of people not to express their concern is oddly akin to asking a victim of sexual abuse to shut up and get over it because no one wants to hear about. that said, my daughter is setting up a rideshare across country with a man she has not yet met. i want to tell her to get pepperspray and send me a picture of his license. i don’t dare ask her to do this (even though i think it is totally reasonable and responsible as a woman to take precautions) because i think she is likely to perceive it as introducing an uncertainty that does not need to be a part of her reality. i trust she knows what i would want her to do and i also trust her choices, but it seems to me that given a statistic like 1 in 4 or 1 in 5 women are sexually abused, i am not introducing an uncertainty. it is there whether i choose to fear it or not. i generally don’t let it stop me, but neither do i think it is wrong to acknowledge it and even prepare for it. i will be solo hiking the at next year. i hope when i get the concern i can honestly say “i appreciate your concern, but if i don’t do this i have lost to the idea of that which i fear which is worse than losing to the thing itself, so wish me luck enjoying my life”

  • The Captain : Aug 11th

    “So open your mind, and silence your fear.
    You may be surprised what a new perspective can do”.

    I’m a social work major and if there is a chance would love to quote from this insightful writing!

  • Carol : Aug 12th

    When you feel the call, you must go. I support you wholeheartedly. Almost 70, female and now alone in life, I feel that call. Perhaps I will go.

  • DelusionalWesterners : Feb 17th

    Women had been going to the woods alone since forever, to pick berries, mushrooms, herbs, gather firewood….Though mostly they did go in groups for such activities, they did these alone too. Going in groups helped to ward off bears and not to get lost. Everyone should hike their own hike. I personally won’t go anywhere isolated alone. (no, thanks I had seen my share of things neither I grew up in a bubble called US of A. Out there…in the most of the world….you’re a fair game, any time….US women are only safe out there on trails because of 2nd amendment because there’s overall undertanding, by all kinds of 2-legged scum that they MAY get shot if their tried anything. Too bad brainwashed ones don’t realize it, what keeps them safe, but it’s OK, they’ll learn…sometimes they learn the bad way, like when you read about them in the news).

  • Ant : Jun 24th

    Unbelievable. Im not part of a hiking culture and since making my decision to do the AT in 2018 most people think im nuts. People need to understand that not everyone has someone to hike with or even wants too. I will be 54 next year when i start my hike. All my nine children have left home and im definately suffering empty nest syndrome. I lost a son last year and decided i need time to get my head together and also set myself a challenge, just for me. Not only will i be hiking alone but in another country with no support system. Im still excited. NEVER LET ANYONE DULL YOUR SHINE.


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