20 Essential Tips for Your Solo Car Camping Trip


I had the amazing opportunity to spend a few weeks on a solo trip to New Zealand. The trip involved days of car camping, a few of backpacking, and also a few hostels. Many people from home were amazed that I’d take a long car camping trip like this by myself, whether for safety concerns, loneliness, boredom, etc.

How did I take this picture? I traded taking a picture of a stranger if they would take mine. It’s a common practice when you’re on your own. I might have been the camera-man for your friend and you would never know it.

Without a degree in psychology, I can’t tell you exactly why this works for certain groups of people, but I’m certain more people are capable of a solo traveling trip like mine. There are so many great experiences you can have, so I’ve decided to put 20 tips to help your solo car camping trip be amazing, healing, and safe.

Also, there is a lot to know about car camping in New Zealand. See my post on tips to make an awesome car camping trip to New Zealand.

How To Not Be Lonely Camping Solo

Taupo Lake, NZ

It may seem counter-intuitive to try to not feel lonely when camping alone, when part of the reason you’re camping alone is so you can be by yourself!

Even so. When you’re on your own for several days, it’s good for your sanity to feel some connection to the planet, while still maintaining the peace that comes with being on your own.

Some of these tips will appeal to different people, so hopefully there are enough for everyone’s needs.

1. Bring a Dog Or a Cat

If you’re camping on your own for a while, sometimes it helps to have a little extra company. A dog or a cat can be the perfect amount of companionship to maintain the inner stillness of your trip while still having comfort from a creature that loves you and trusts you.

Man’s best friend. Image by Audrius Vizbaras from Pixabay

This can carry its own complications, of course, as you have to follow the leash laws of the park you may be staying at and of course provide food and take care of your animal’s waste. So, make sure to weigh the pros and cons of taking an animal before deciding on it.

2. Connect With Others While Car Camping Solo

It doesn’t feel like you’re “getting away from it all” if you are on your phone all the time, but when you have cell phone service, choosing one or two times a day (or a week, depending on your needs) to get on the internet and text or make phone calls can still help you feel apart but still connected.

3. Write Letters or Postcards

Not only is writing letters a great way to maintain the inner stillness of a solo car camping trip, but it’s also a great gift for your loved ones. Receiving a real letter is so rare, and it means much more than a text or an email (for some reason).

4. Keep a Journal for Your Solo Car Camping Trip

I remember during my 3-week solo trip, that a day would pass before I heard the sound of my own voice! Which to me was an amazing experience to connect inwardly, and not have interruptions to think.

Being out in nature or just being on the road, you can more easily connect to your thoughts and assess life and your goals. Keeping a journal (especially a handwritten journal) helps capture these valuable thoughts, and helps you feel connected to your inner thoughts.

5. Talk to Strangers

This really depends on your personality and the situation. I can’t tell you the rule of thumb that helps you determine whether someone is trustworthy or not, besides trusting your own instincts and following common sense.

That being said, I’ve had some amazing experiences with those precious, but temporary friendships I’ve made with complete strangers.

On my car camping trip to New Zealand, in my second to last stay in a hostel, I had a chit-chat conversation with some other random guy from America, and we fell into conversation of where we had been and where we were going (the usual travel conversation, actually). Eventually we decided to go throw a Frisbee around in a nearby field.

Some amazing folks from Germany approached, and eventually, these people became my best friends for the day. We hung out and had great conversations, and even made weird cookies from all the leftover ingredients in the hostel that others left behind.

Another random incident I’ll never forget was when I met this other random guy walking down the streets of Queenstown. He said hi to me, and I felt pretty apprehensive starting this conversation, but we talked for an hour or so in one of the most open and real conversations I’ve ever had. This conversation helped me to move forward with my relationship with my girlfriend who is now my wife.

Sometimes just saying hi can open a door to a friendship, albeit a temporary one. I’m not super good at remaining connected to folks, but some people do remain connected after making these friendships.

Solo Car Camping Safety

Safety is always important. But safety is even more important when you’re by yourself. Travelling in a group is a natural safeguard because you have someone that you can rely on to get help. Here are some tips for staying safe while camping alone.

Make An Extra Effort To Not Be Desirable for Bears

When you’re car camping in bear country, especially by yourself, it’s very important to take precautions to keep yourself safe. Animal attacks are rare, but a factor statistics don’t show are the reasons why animal attacks are rare. In other words, you can help the statistic stay low by being careful.

To see more details about the statistics of animals attacking humans, see my post here.

6. Safety In Numbers Even While Solo

The Wildlife Society studied some statistics of black bear attacks and found that over 90% of black bear attacks occur with groups of 1 or 2 people.

Although the probability of being attacked by an animal itself is extremely rare, being around others (even if you’re not in the same group) brings safety since a group is considered to be a more difficult target.

If you’re car camping at a large campground, consider picking a campsite relatively close to others so if something happens you can call for help.

7. Staying Safe While Wilderness Camping

Wilderness camping by yourself carries additional risks, and so it’s important to minimize your risk by making yourself as unattractive to bears and other animals as possible. Take extra precautions with your food: Hang your food up away from your campsite, make sure your clothes don’t smell like your food and avoid putting food scraps in the fire.

8. Trust Your Instincts

One time, after a 3-week long solo car camping road trip, I stayed my last night in a hostel on the night before I had to catch a plane for home. I decided to get one good look at the southern hemisphere stars and went out to go climb up to a plateau on a nearby mountain that was a few miles away.

I made it about a quarter of the way when I noticed that the wind had completely died down, and there were no animal noises, even though it was only around 10 PM, and there was no moon, so it was very dark that night.

I’ll never know if something was going to happen. Perhaps it was just fear of the dark or maybe I was just unnerved by the complete lack of nightly noises. In any case, I turned around and headed back to the hostel after looking at the stars from that point in the trail for a short while.

Ultimately, you are only accountable to yourself while traveling solo, and you really only have your own instincts and life experience to go off of to make decisions. It’s better to trust your gut in those situations because that’s all you have.

Staying Safe With Other People

There are different types of “solo”, and you can be solo even among other people. Avoid situations where you can be alone with someone that you don’t trust. Make friends with other groups of people, or simply stay nearby.

9. Avoid Total Isolation

It may seem appealing to be as far away from others as you can be, but if you slip and twist or break your ankle and you are far away from any kind of help, then a casual hop across a river bed may turn into something much more dangerous. It’s definitely possible to get some alone time but still being relatively close to others.

10. Keep a Money Pouch

Maybe it’s just paranoia, but I *do* keep a money pouch. If you’re in an unfamiliar city, or even in an unfamiliar part of the country, it helps your peace of mind to have somewhere you can keep your money safer than in a wallet in the open. Since it’d be odd to be anywhere without money, I’ve gone so far to have a small plastic folding wallet with expired credit cards in case I needed to buy myself a few seconds.

Typically I haven’t felt the need to do this while camping, but mostly for exploring cities. After all, bears don’t want your money, anyway.

11. Keep at Least One Other Person Aware Of Your Plan

For those people who love you at home, it helps their peace of mind tremendously to let them know your plans and to check-in occasionally. A side benefit is that this helps you be safe as well. Your phone may run out of battery, and you may be in a zone with no cellphone service, but keeping someone else aware of that adds a little bit more safety to your trip.

12. Keep an Emergency Medical Kit

This is true even if you’re in a group, but it’s not something to skip out on while you’re on your own. You don’t need to bring the hospital with you, but it’s good to have the basics.

A medical kit is only as helpful as your knowledge to use it. This video is a comprehensive guide to the contents of many medical kits:

How to Stay Focused On Your Solo Car Camping Trip

You’re on your own on the road! This can appeal to the introvert in you. You have plenty of time to do whatever you want, and you have tons of space to think, to meditate, and to enjoy the nature around you. This is the ideal state, right?

Well, yes. But car camping solo takes some discipline.

It’s not hard for an introvert to be alone, but it can be difficult to be productive when you’re only accountable to yourself.

13. Make an Unforgettable Travel Route

One of the most important things to do for your car camping trip is to make your own unforgettable travel route.

What’s amazing about car camping solo is that you can plan things that others typically don’t want to do, but that you want to do!

  • If you want to stop by in that small town and check out that motorcycle museum, you’re the captain of this car camping trip!
  • If you want to go on that 10-mile hike (make sure you tell someone where you’re going beforehand), you can do that!
  • If you have lots you want to do, but you want to first sleep in till 10, you’re the boss!
Confession: There were some mornings I stayed in the tent for a couple extra hours reading The First Formic War series during my solo trip. Hey, you’re on your own, so you make the rules!

One idea is to take a day or two where you purposefully do nothing. After that, when you’ve got all the relaxation done that you wanted, make sure to have at least one major activity planned for each day.

It’s not a contest to see how much you can do. However, I’ve experienced this with myself, that when I didn’t have a solid plan, I just kind of floated between things, or kind of did nothing. Which isn’t necessarily a
bad thing to have some of that. After all, adventure doesn’t have to always be exciting and Instagram-worthy. But, you’ll feel more accomplished if you have some goals you want to do while you’re on the road.

Awesome Route Planner

A fantastic tool for scheduling routes is FREE. Google makes mymaps.google.com, which allows you to enter in a route, and using pins, you can create locations you want to stop by.

Pro tip: you won’t be able to stop by everything, so it’s a great idea to categorize your pins by must-see, want-to-see, and nice-to-see–this helps take the pressure off of needing to see everything, and you always have a backup plan if something falls through.

Maintain Some Accountability While On The Road

Even with a GREAT plan with a decent amount of contingencies, sometimes you may not be feeling great, and you may wind up with a dud day. Not feeling great is completely fine–an essential part of your adventure is working with your own limitations and talents.

14. Friends and Family as Accountability Buddies

One thing that helps many people is to create some accountability. One easy way to do this is in your conversations to your family or friends, to tell them where you’re planning on going next. It’s a tiny push that can be just what you need to get where you want to go.

The next time you talk to your partner or friend, you can tell them all about your adventure.

15. Stay Accountable With Social Media

A very effective motivator for many is to use social media as a check-in. Saying on Instagram that you’re planning on going to x and y and z the next day also can provide that little motivation you need to go through with your plans.

16. Make Reservations

Another way to ensure your solo car camping trip has focus, pacing, and purpose, is to spend money on reservations before you start your trip. If you’re down at the bottom of your car camping route for a few days, having a reservation on the next stage of your journey gives an extra push to make sure you are making progress.

What Do I Need For a Solo Car Camping Trip?

You still want to follow a general camping checklist to prepare for the road. You don’t need to pack the same amount of food as you would normally, but there are a few items that are helpful, specifically to solo car camping I’ll bring up.

17. Solo Car Camping Checklist

  • Everything else on your normal camping checklist
  • Journal and a writing utensil
  • Hobby material such as paints, charcoal, canvas, whittling tools
  • Photography equipment
  • Mini GPS tracker with an SOS button (definitely a good idea if you’re backpacking solo)
  • Pepper Spray–You’re not Rambo, but having something to protect yourself is not a bad idea.

Some of these you may think belong on a normal car camping checklist, and that’s up to you–but I’ll talk about why a few of these are on here.

Things To Try While Solo Car Camping That Makes An Amazing Experience

As you can see in the solo car camping checklist, I put down hobby materials and photography equipment. Why are these on a list of things to bring on a solo car camping trip?

As any photographer knows, taking pictures in a group vs. taking pictures on your own are two very different experiences.

18. Take Time to Get Into Photography

When you’re in a group, you can’t fiddle with settings and ensure your levels are good, and you can’t make sure the lighting or the framing is perfect. It often takes time to take amazing photos.

Besides the fact that you can post your favorite photos to Instagram, or you can keep them to yourself and and print them and put them on your walls, there are other benefits of trying out photography.

It’s fun to be out in nature with a camera because now you are looking through a different lens (ba-doom-psh). Here are a few of the reasons why:

  • You gain a different connection to nature, as you now are more able to appreciate the color and lighting of the natural world
  • It’s a genuine challenge to find the right shot, and this may lead you off-trail trying different angles, helping you to explore where you might have been content to just walk through
  • Slowing down and appreciating the beauty of a moment as you try multiple modes and settings to capture a special point in time
new-zealand-south-island-queenstown-landscape-lake
Queenstown, NZ. I really enjoyed spending time trying to capture the beauty of the landscape.

On a contrary note, sometimes you can get lens-myopia, where you don’t appreciate a moment unless you’re taking pictures of it. It’s a balancing act (like everything), and on some hikes, sometimes the best thing to do is to leave your camera behind so you can focus on the present.

19. Try Your Hand at Writing

According to this research study done in 2012, spending immersive time outdoors enhances our creative abilities.

This will not automatically make you a better writer, but if you want to give time to your creative ideas and need some space to help them take shape, then spending time outside may be a fantastic outlet.

Even if you already are a writer and you need help with writer’s block, using your time on your solo car camping trip to write can help you with your next breakthrough.

Whether you’re writing in your journal and just trying to be more expressive, or whether you are developing a story, make sure to at least bring a small notebook and something to write with.

20. Try a New Sport

Mountain biking, hiking, kayaking, bungee jumping, surfing, and on and on… there are so many sports out there. On your own, you don’t have anyone to impress or cater to, so this is a good time to try something new.

If you’re on your own, though, make sure to either join a group or ensure you are close to others, as any new activity carries risks (even hiking. This study on backpackers shows that 69% of backpackers didn’t achieve their goal for various reasons).

Variety is the spice of life–stretching out of your comfort zone and trying something new is what makes great memories so memorable.

Should You Go Solo On Your Next Car Camping Trip?

From my own experience, I would highly recommend trying your own solo car camping trip–especially if you enjoy alone time and the outdoors. It’s a fantastic opportunity to get to know nature, and also to get to know yourself, and to learn what you value most.

Peter

Peter is a software developer who loves to take every opportunity to go outside that he can get. Peter grew up going on long backpacking excursions with his family every Summer and now enjoys staying at the beautiful Texas State Parks and swimming in the amazing Texas Rivers.

Recent Posts