This is a question a lot of people struggle with. “Should I travel alone or should I get a bunch of friends together?” It is not an easy question to answer, even though advocates on both sides of the debate have good reasons to support their decisions. Let us look at some of the arguments on both sides of the fence.
Travelling alone has many advantages. One can set one’s own pace. One can stop to smell the roses as one travels along the trail. One knows what one wants to eat and drink ... and when. If you want to stop to rest, for no apparent rhyme or reason, you are free to do so without having to get into a discussion or an argument or a misunderstanding.
If you want to sleep under the stars, wrapped in your sleeping bag, you can just go ahead and do that. The location of your shelter is a decision only you and you alone are responsible for. The number of days you plan to be out is dictated by your own interests and time frames.
You are free to sing a completely tuneless melody with the only danger of spooking off the wildlife. If you want to stay awake in the night counting the stars and revelling in the majesty of the Heavens, feel free. You are the master of your own adventure and there is no one you need to carry on board for any decision you make on the trail.
However, on the other side of the debate, there are definite advantages of travelling in the company of friends.
Whether it is a single companion or a dozen people. You do not have the pleasure of sharing the joys and wonders with anyone when you are travelling alone. The view of the rainbow, the Sun sparkling through the trees, the colourful bird, the exotic wildlife, the fish you caught, the wonders of the night sky, are savoured better when shared. Stories and photographs and videos can never hope to replace the joys of immediate sharing.
The other practical advantage of travelling in a group is the sharing of responsibilities.
Gear can be shared among the group. When the time comes to build a shelter, someone cuts logs, another gathers branches, a third collects dry grass and pine needles to make a bed while still another attempts to light a fire. Maybe another person has gone out to set or check the traps and snares. When alone, all these chores have to be done by one person. It is strenuous, it is time consuming, it is energy sapping and at times, it is extremely frustrating. And frustration can sometimes lead to stupid mistakes.
Travelling in a group really comes into its own in a survival situation, when emergencies present themselves. If you are lost, it is good to have someone to share your thoughts with and plan your next actions. If you are injured, another person can be a Godsend. Two heads are better than one.
However, group dynamics are not always predictable. The wilderness is outside of our comfort zones and misunderstandings are bound to develop. Stress is something that comes with the territory of being in the wilderness. A group has to work as a team if the adventure has to have any chance of being a happy one.
Every individual is different and in a crisis situation reacts differently. You do not want a person who is panicking in your group. It demoralises the team, precious time is lost, nothing is gained, and the situation progressively goes downhill. Panic is contagious and can quickly spread to the rest of the team.
The answer to whether you want to travel alone or in a group is one that only you can answer. It depends on where you are going, your temperament and the temperament of other members of the group, how long you have known each other, the mutual trust that exists, etc. Sit down and jot down the pros and cons of travelling alone or in a group.
If you decide to travel in a group, make sure that all the people in the group are like-minded and want the same things from the journey out there. If you decide to travel alone, accept the responsibilities that come with it, along with the dangers and pitfalls.
If you are travelling alone, your back pack will be larger and heavier, your Survival Kit will have a lot more equipment and you will have the silence of the Universe for company. Travel alone, if that is what you want.
As for me, I would rather travel alone. For me, the benefits of travelling alone outweigh the disadvantages. I am essentially a lone ranger (loner, some would say) and I like my solitude. Yes, I do miss company when I want to share some majestic sight or unforgettable experience, but all in all, I would rather travel alone.
But I do not know if I will regret the decision when I get into a survival situation. The one time I did get into a survival situation travelling alone, I survived, but it was scary. My motorcycle gave up at 16,000 plus feet, on the high mountains on the way to Ladakh. I was travelling alone and was not acclimatised to spend a night at that altitude and had to sleep in the open, hoping I would wake up the next morning and not die in my sleep. It was a difficult and cold night and the only person I could and did speak to at length was my trusted steed. The motorcycle became my companion for the night and we had long conversations between ourselves with the cold wind whistling through the valley, kissing the mountainside, carrying with it the bitter chill of the snow clad peaks.
The second time I got into a medical emergency, again on a motorbike journey, I rode straight into a cow in the dark of night, smashing the cow’s jaw and shattering my knee to smithereens. I had a friend of mine who was riding pillion and if it was not for him, it would have been extremely difficult for me, if not impossible, to stop a passing vehicle, go to the hospital about 50 km away, get emergency treatment and then get evacuated to Delhi for surgery two days later. We chatted through the night in the hospital ward, trying to take my mind away from the excruciating pain. I wonder what would have happened had Thomas J Elliot not been riding pillion with me that day.
Would I still travel alone? Probably I would, and I still do often times. Each to his own. Temperament is very important. Like I said before, there are arguments on both sides and it is only you who can take the final call.